Author Topic: Moving to fight off burnout  (Read 1203 times)

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mkristinect

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Moving to fight off burnout
« on: Jun 08, 2017, 06:06 pm »
Hi folks,

I considered a couple different forums for this topic but, since it covers so much ground, decided that this would be the most likely candidate.  Please forgive a bit of a ramble as I simultaneously get some things off my chest and ask for some multi-faceted advice.

For the past 2-1/2 years I have worked pretty much non-stop (27 projects in the last 24 months alone).  The past 6-8 months have been dominated by very challenging shows for one reason or another, and the last two have been the actual productions from hell.  Due to my own poor decision-making I am now facing severe burnout.  It's an identity crisis, really.  This is the only thing I want to do with my life, but I also hate it intensely.

SO, my original plan was to go overseas to work (not in theatre) for an extended period.  If I don't speak the language, I'll be less likely to get gigs, right?  Now that is looking unlikely and probably for the best since, in my present psychological state, a move halfway across the globe feels unbearable. Plan B was to go on a significantly shorter international excursion but, if I'm not working, I can't really afford to do that.  Staying Stateside without a job prospect would present similar challenges.

Plan C, which was hatched last night, is to take a long road trip and look for regional work at the end of it.  Maybe a mini-vacation and a change of scene would help?  So here are my questions if any of you have thoughts on one or more of them:

1) Can anyone speak to their experience as a transient freelancer?  Staying in town for a single show or season?  Is this possible for a non-union SM?  I haven't ruled out AEA, but Seattle is my home base and there aren't a ton of Equity contracts here.
2) I am considering Minneapolis (because it's a hoppin' theatre town with, I believe, a similar vibe to Seattle), DC (because it seems to be a well-kept industry secret), or Miami (because I have contacts there, not so much because I want to go to Florida).  Really what I want is a smaller pond than NY or Chicago that is robust enough to support its artists.  Does anyone have experience in those markets, particularly job prospects for someone looking to officially break out of fringe work?
3) How have you clawed your way back from a period of burnout?  It's pretty devastating to me right now...not to mention frightening.  I allowed myself to become so consumed by my work that it feels like if I lose it...I'll lose my identity. 

Thanks for letting me go on.  Not sure if my desperation came across, but this is causing a great deal of heartache and I appreciate your advice and/or commiseration.

Cheers,
Maren

loebtmc

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #1 on: Jun 09, 2017, 04:19 am »
I think we all have those moments. I know I went thru a hellish period of several years with high-maintenance actors, directors and designers, all during a particularly stressful point which included my dad's last two years and dealing with his beyond difficult 2nd wife. I made the mistake of continuing to work.

Here's the first suggestion. Take a break. A real break. Take a vacation, whether you hide from the real world or work in a totally different field, but do something that gives your mind and body a break and takes you into a new and different path. It needn't be full time or long term — it could be waiting tables. Just something to break the pattern. Start a hobby, read a book, do things you haven't had the chance to or wanted to try.

When you feel like you've had a rest, give yourself a chance to rediscover what you love about theatre, and how you want to be a part of it. Maybe take an arts admin course and work from that end. Or build props, or direct, or even just be crew and allow that last word to be someone else's. When you are coming from that new perspective, the jobs you want will come.

And, one of the most important words you can learn to say is one we as stage managers are taught to remove from our vocabulary, but actually, saying "NO" is a skill that can be vital to our survival at times like these.

Good luck. I know there is great wisdom on this site and others will have other ideas to help you along. But taking a real break can be a life saver. And remember to always breathe.

megf

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #2 on: Jun 10, 2017, 08:44 am »
I second a lot of what loebtmc recommended, with a few personal additions:

Your recent experience (a super busy run-up to severe burnout) is very familiar. I spent 6 years going from gig to gig with no more than two weeks of down time, which were often devoted to drumming up work instead of resting. By the time I was done, I was DONE. A well-timed reminder about a post here on SMNetwork helped connect me to a great graduate program that allowed me to relocate twice in the first year (it's a low-residency program) without disrupting my school work. I kept SMing for the first semester, and then decided to pull back and focus on homework while taking day jobs and quick crew gigs. Between the first and second years of the program, I joined a consulting firm that a) works exclusively with arts organizations, and b) offers a greater degree of financial and calendar freedom than SM work ever did.

Based on your remarks about SMing being part of your identity, I'm going to make a guess that you're young-ish, or young within the SM profession. Please consider this: you are more than the sum of your jobs, your references, and your technical credentials. Any job scheduled opposite a conventional 9-5 invites workers (SMs included!) to blur the line between "this is who I am as a professional" and "this is who I am as a person" because you're spending "normal" social hours with coworkers, and often spending time off with the same folks because of your common schedule. This is a terrible thing. It's isolating and exhausting. Taking a break--especially one where you travel any number of miles, by car, train, plane, or other means--sounds like a brilliant thing to do.

Responding to two of the cities you mention (those I know a little about), consider these things:

Minneapolis is a great theater town. The SM Association folks were friendly and welcoming when I was there. Not sure what the competition is like for newcomers now, but a quick scan of the contracts and theaters in that metro area suggests there aren't a ton of well paid contracts to go around.

DC is also great, and quite a bit denser than Minneapolis. There's a thriving fringe scene which may provide opportunities to connect with more regular, full-time employment. Lotsa folks on this site live and/or work often in DC.

Wherever you land, good luck and safe travels! Keep the SMN posted as you go :)

teachsneech

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #3 on: Jun 12, 2017, 01:15 am »
First of all I absolutely commend you for recognising that you are burnt out and needing a break. I see so many people in the industry in or close to burn out but fooling themselves that they are fine, it does not usually end well.

I am from a small country so I am always in a state of transient freelancing (I think there are about 3 full time permanent positions as SM in New Zealand) and the rest of us are hired show by show. It is kind of freeing, because you take work if and when you want it, and you can be picky about who you work with and for. On the other hand, if you are not working, you are not getting paid, so that is a stress of a different type, but just as real. I am fortunate enough to have a previous degree in teaching that I can 'fall back on' and I am making money between gigs doing some substitute teaching.

When I first started doing this professionally, a mentor suggested I have a non theatre related hobby. It really has helped. (I dabble in computer programming and Project Euler)

Good Luck,
Ruth

 

Cedes

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #4 on: Aug 02, 2017, 08:11 pm »
I needed to see this thread. I am at the exact same point you are and have been seriously considering dropping out of theatre for awhile, if not forever. I won't do that and I don't want to leave permanently, but an opportunity has come up on me recently in a different field (but still related) and would give me more money (giving me the ability to save and possibly relocate), a normal schedule and weekends off. I think that is exactly what I need right now. I'm coming off of 3 years of non-stop, constant work both internationally and regionally (while losing 2 grandparents, a close family friend and a best childhood friend for which I could attend NONE of the funerals) at a place that has recently turned very volatile and has sent my anxiety through the roof. High maintenance actors and design team, processes that don't change, constant sense of having to watch my back and a blatant lack of disrespect. I think I need to hit the reset button.

VSM

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #5 on: Aug 03, 2017, 10:32 am »
Hi Cedes ~
It sounds like you deserve some alone time!
And you are the only one in charge of your personal schedule - invest in yourself.
Take a walk in nature. Breathe. You will be amazed what 20 minutes of no distractions (turn your phone OFF) will do for you.
It sounds like you may have discovered an opportunity to do a little more for yourself as well! Congrats. You deserve it...
Ordo ab chao

Maggie K

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #6 on: Aug 04, 2017, 04:10 am »
A few years ago I was facing a similar feeling of approaching burn out.  There were a number of other factors in my life at the time that led me to the decision to take a big chunk of time off.  I ended up packing everything up, selling or getting rid of a bunch of stuff, and moving across country back to my parents.  I then took a part time retail job to cover my expenses and helped my folks with a number of projects that they had been struggling with.  I visited family and friends that I hadn't seen in a while.  I was also able to take care of some medical things that I had been putting off for some time because I was so busy.  It was an incredibly difficult decision to make and I frequently worried that I was making the wrong choice.  However, the down time helped me rest up and reconnect with family.  It also allowed me to step back and re-evaluate what I wanted to be doing, something that was difficult to do when caught up in the heat of things.  I gave myself a deadline of no more than 6 months off and then I jumped back into stage managing, only now with a new goal and energy.  I made that choice almost 3 years ago and now am incredibly happy with bouncing around the country working show to show.

My advice:  take a step back and breathe
I like the ephemeral thing about theatre, every performance is like a ghost - it's there and then it's gone. -Maggie Smith

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Cedes

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Re: Moving to fight off burnout
« Reply #7 on: Feb 26, 2018, 09:45 pm »
Unfortunately, the job that I was looking at didn't pan out. I'm still at that theatre, and it's tough. It hasn't gotten any better, if anything it's gotten worse. I had a really rough show on the last one personally, and the stress affected my quality of work: something I never EVER thought could happen.

I can't really afford much right now, and my SO is also looking for different work. We're stuck at the moment, but looking. I am in a relatively isolated region, so taking a break would mean having to quit the industry entirely for awhile.

I'm a bit lost at the moment. I hope whatever you decided to do works out well for you!

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