National Mental Health Awareness Week took place earlier this month. We are lucky that theatre, as an industry, is far more caring and supportive than most. And during the week, friends and colleagues talked openly about their experiences with mental health issues, some of them for the first time.
However, of all the people I saw speaking out, the majority were performers. There are obvious reasons for this: performers open themselves up more to be able to do their jobs and are more connected with their emotions as a result. Expressing inner turmoil – whether it is their own or a character’s – is a skill for which they are better equipped.
Unfortunately, for people working in technical theatre, there is less room for introspection. Our job is to facilitate other people, so we tend to make other people the priority. This all too frequently spills over into our personal lives as well.
Technical theatre is a stressful place to work. There are obvious times of stress, such as technical rehearsals or load-ins and outs on tour, and these moments need to be prepared for emotionally.
However, there are moments of micro-stress, which can build to create an insurmountable crisis. If a stage manager suffers from social anxiety, walking into a rehearsal room on the first day and having to appear confident and in charge is a mammoth task.
If a sound designer struggles with depression, a production meeting in which their budget is tightened or their ideas are criticised can undermine their confidence and send them spiralling. If a production manager has obsessive compulsive disorder and is preparing for the first leg of a tour, they will work themselves into the ground. They will lose sleep, and probably not eat, while they repeatedly go over the details of their logistics, checking and rechecking but essentially pushing themselves into a state of exhausted, anxiety-riddled ineffectiveness.
A lot of pressure is put on technical teams to provide answers when seemingly there are none. This can often make you feel as though turning to someone and asking for help yourself means you have failed. It’s easy to believe that when people are depending on you to find a solution and you can’t, you must be bad at your job. This is not the case.
It is okay to tell your colleagues that you don’t know something. It is okay to ask your colleagues for help in return. People who work backstage on a show together are referred to as the technical team. Use that team. Ask your teammates for support when you need it and be ready and willing to provide it in return. Small gestures of support take nothing and mean everything.
And if you are working in a team that you feel less comfortable with, there is an industry full of previous colleagues, friends and family members, who are rigging the safety net for you as we speak.
Katie Jackson is a freelance stage manager. Read more of her columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/katie-jackson