Theatremakers ‘scared to admit mental health problems for fear of losing work’

Ashley Christmas in Proteus Theatre's recent prodution Becoming Hattie, about the Carry On performer Hattie Jacques. Photo: Richard Davenport Ashley Christmas in Proteus Theatre's recent production Becoming Hattie, about the Carry On performer Hattie Jacques. Photo: Richard Davenport
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Theatre professionals are so frightened about losing work that they will not admit to mental health problems, according to director Mary Swan.

The artistic director of Proteus Theatre Company, which specialises in touring productions, was speaking at the Touring Symposium organised by UK Theatre.

Insisting that producers must be open and honest about mental health issues, Swan said: “A lot of people who work in performing arts, although we’re very understanding about these things, are so frightened of not getting work that they don’t want to admit anything like that. They worry that people will find them difficult.”

She added: “The industry needs to begin addressing it very seriously, so that we all have decent guidelines, and so that performers who do have a history of mental health issues and may enter a crisis during the time they’re spending with you have some recourse.”

Her comments were backed up by Phil Barley, founder of website Theatre Digs Booker, which allows touring actors to find accommodation across the country. Barley recalled an incident of a host complaining about an actor’s behaviour, before finding out that the actor was “really depressed, an alcoholic, far away from his family”.

“One thing I keep getting in situations like that is ‘don’t tell my company manager, don’t tell my producers, it will affect my future work’. It’s finding a safe way of communicating, finding a third party to talk to,” Barley said.

Swan added that it was important for show producers to communicate with the company.

“If you’re not talking to them in some form or another, even if it’s just a text, you’re not going to know and suddenly you are going to have a problem where you’ll have to pull a show. It’s about being present,” she said.

Earlier this month, Equity’s Women’s Committee called for more mental health support for actresses affected by negative body image.