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BWW Blog: Overcoming the Overworking Mindset in an Industry That Never Sleeps

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This brain revolt or ephemeral enthusiasm to create is commonly referred to as “burn out.”

I am exhausted. With the pandemic, adjusting to college, classes, job applications, and the election, I have every reason to be. Naturally, when I find myself in a state of stress, like right now, I resort to some de-stressing activities such as writing, acting, or dancing. For the first time, I am finding some of these go-to de-stressors to be the creators of stress. I no longer have the energy to think about play structure, focus on jazz technique, write dialogue, or dissect a scene for acting class.

It's hard for me to sit down and write this blog! I'll tell my brain, "It's time to write my first full length play!" and it responds, "I want to lie in bed, watch RuPaul's Drag Race, and eat Ben & Jerrys. So no, Macy, you won't hash out the action sequence tonight." Real dialogue and real struggles. This brain revolt or ephemeral enthusiasm to create is commonly referred to as "burn out." Personally, I think this artistic exhaustion is inevitable. Artists aren't machines; we are people with lives beyond the canvas, barre, stage, booth, and blackbox. Of course, we are going to reach burn out many times, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Think of it like a car. You fill up the car with gas. You drive the car. Super fast. Super far. To the Grand Canyon. You blare Nine Inch Nails and Foo Fighters with the windows down and do that car jump thing in Thelma and Louise. WILD adventures. But you can't drive forever. You have to stop and refuel the tank. You need to go home, do some laundry, and repack before you can head out again on another adventure. Same goes for our brains and (not to get too "woo-woo") our artistic spirits. You fill yourself up with inspiration, creativity, motivation, images, ideas, goals, and passion. You create-fervidly-in the artistic medium you choose. Unfortunately, that inspiration and motivation might have an expiration date; hence why we are constantly absorbing the world around us in search for a new nugget of inspiration. In order for us to create, we have to listen. Our personal experiences are irreplaceable, but not enough.

So how do you avoid burn out? Just rest, right?! Take a break?! Put down the work and relax?! Super easy right? Ha. Haha. *sigh*

There is a toxic approach to training in the performing arts. You can't just be an actor or a writer or a dancer or a stage manager. You have to be an actor, AND a dancer, singer, writer, guitarist, producer, lighting designer, filmmaker, painter, horse wrangler, chef, basket weaver...maybe I'm over exaggerating...or am I?

A teacher once told me in a workshop that every weekend I choose to hangout with my friends or go to a party, there is a group of aspiring actors my age studying acting technique together on their Saturday nights. Sure that's not wrong, but there are billions of people on the earth. Statistically, that is very likely. The odds that a group of aspiring actors are doing this on a Saturday night are pretty high so checkmate, anonymous teacher. I used that comment for years to justify my work obsession. Justify giving up sleep and friendships for voice lessons and acting technique books. I was, and still am, terrified to slow down. I want to create constantly so I can be a fully developed artist, but time is ticking. All I hear are stories of Broadway actors who have worked in professional theatre since they were ten or playwrights who were first published at age sixteen. I feel miles behind, and I can't let up.

The words of my former teacher still ring in my ears, projecting a ticking clock in the front of my mind. Every time the minute hand moves, it asks me "You want to be an actor don't you? You're gonna have to fight tooth and nail to get it. Time's ticking and it's you against the world."

Theatre is necessary for me. I have sacrificed and put so much trust in my ability to create for a career, failure can't be an option. In response, I work myself to the bone, extracting every ounce of creativity until I am bone dry of ideas and drive.

If you're reading this and feel that same pressure to always create, have that ticking clock in your mind, or are motivated by the "you vs a small group of teenagers watching a VCR tape of "Cats" (1998) in their parent's basement on a Saturday night " mentality, running yourself down won't do you any good. In order to create, you must refuel. Refueling looks different for everyone. It might be sleeping in or going for a run. For me, refueling is dancing. Nothing recharges and releases me like dancing. Just as it is your responsibility to use your creative gifts, it is your responsibility to take care of and be kind to yourself. You are not a working machine. We both know you are a human being who requires some extra care sometimes. Before you get on tik tok and freak out because you don't know how to contribute to the Ratatouille musical or belt an E5 at the end of World Burn, remember that we seldom see creatives in their "refuel, rest, do the laundry" time. All we see is "Nine Inch Nails and car jumps."


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From This Author Student Blogger: Macy Mae Cowart