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Keeping Theatre Makers Safe

Arts Hub, Richard Watts

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The physical and psychological impacts of working in the arts generated vigorous discussion at the Australian Theatre Forum.

In 2013, a nationwide study of actors’ wellbeing was conducted, surveying 782 of the 8000 actors working in Australia. The results of that study, which was responding to anecdotal reports of high suicide rates, poor mental health, and an over-reliance on alcohol in the theatre sector, were frightening.

Discussing the results of the Actors’ Wellbeing Study at the Australian Theatre Forum on Wednesday was Associate Professor Ian Maxwell of the University of Sydney’s Department of Performance Studies. He said that as well as surveying actors on their experiences of bullying and harassment in the workplace, and asking them about training and income, the study revealed dangerously high levels of alcohol abuse throughout the sector.

‘When our psychologist colleague came to report on those findings she actually looked quite shocked. She basically said to us, “this population is basically drinking itself to death.” The level of alcohol use among actors is not just significant, it’s very significant,’ Maxwell said.

‘We also asked actors about their warm-up routine and every actor has a warm-up routine, but what do you do to warm down? And the overwhelming answer was “we go out for a drink.”’

While the full results of the study are yet to be published, the findings by Maxwell and his colleagues resonated strongly with ATF delegates…

Among the recommendations raised to improve conditions in the theatre sector, delegates suggested embedding access to counselling services industry-wide, especially for touring productions who are away from friends and family for long periods, and that theatre companies should partner with organisations supporting positive mental health initiatives. The need for better post-career support, a professional code of conduct, and for our elite training institutions to teach coping strategies and an awareness of the risks involved in the acting profession were also raised.

The formation of a working party that would discuss these issues in greater depth was proposed at the end of the session, with significant support from attending delegates.

You can access the ATF 2015 media page here.

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