Recently I’ve been experiencing a terrible bout of Theatrical Apathy. Things are happening, and yet nothing is causing me to panic.
The show ahead of us is delaying their load-out for 24 hours? Okay.
We’re sharing the stage with a performance artist who covers the theatre with bubbles? Sure.
The set designer wants to weave a web of bungee cord around the proscenium? Go for it.
All of these are problems that could potentially cause major tragedies, and yet I’ve remained calm and cool. What’s wrong with that? You ask. Isn’t calm and cool a good way to be? You say. Well, yes. It is. But the difference is being under pressure and handling it with a calm and cool resolve, and not being under pressure such that nothing is an emergency. When the later is true, as it is with me, I begin to worry that I might have a case of Theatrical Apathy.
Theatrical Apathy, by definition, is what happens when the fire that burns under theatre artists – the thing that gives them the passion to create – starts to dwindle. It has many causes, including doing work because you have to rather than because you want to, doing work that is stifled by some sort of unimaginative overseer, or doing work in some menial position that carries no consequences for your career. It’s a condition that, when left un-checked, can cause people to up and leave the business or, even worse, become corporate.
And so the question (for a person who has come down with TA, or a leader who sees the TA affecting his or her crew) becomes how to fight it, and keep the fire alive. Though I am no expert, I offer the following suggestions:
1. Do something else for a while. Taking a mental break from theatre might be just the thing you need to come back in with a fresh perspective.
2. Get excited and make things. Maybe you’re a costume designer having a case of T.A. So instead of working in fabric, try making something out of wood, or paper. Changing up your medium – even if you’re not very good at working with the new medium – might make you more excited about what you ARE good at. For managerial types, often just getting our hands dirty in the paint or paper mache is enough to make the paperwork look like a really good option again.
3. Talk about it, especially with your collaborators. TA happens to everyone now and then – it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Getting your situation out opens the door to conversations that might jump start a fresh round of ideas and inspiration.
5. Surround yourself with things you love. Comfort food is called such for a reason. Whether you take comfort in cookies, a warm quilt, or a good book, find something that makes you feel at home. Creating that safe, comfortable space can free you from the pressure to be perfect all the time
Of course, as I sit here in my apathetic state, I have to look at my list and laugh a little. Yeah, right, I say. None of those things are actually going to help me. But the thing I know for sure is that even if I scoff at them, doing nothing not an option either. A leader – like a production manager – like me – isn’t really allowed to take a break and be apathetic for a while. We have to be cheerleaders of our team, lifters of our artists, and inspirers of creativity in others. Scoff though I may, recovering from my Theatre Apathy involves taking my medicine (in whatever form I choose) and getting back in the game. Now.