31 January 2018

Mental Health and the Performing Arts

It's difficult as a performing artist to know what to say. How much can I talk about this? I feel relatively little stigma from my general friends and acquaintances (although I think a lot of that is because at least a few of the people I hang out with struggle with similar things), but in the professional performing arts world, how much can be said? Any health struggle, mental or physical, can preclude you from getting roles -- getting work. No director wants to hire someone who may be unreliable -- even if it's something out of the actor's control, like their health. How do you reconcile 'the show must go on' with 'I have a chronic condition'? In the performing arts world, you are supposed to be able to do absolutely anything at absolutely any time. 'I'm tired/I'm not feeling well' is not a valid excuse -- ever. We've all heard stories of dancers who have performed on severe sprains or actors who have done shows hours after huge personal tragedies.

I get that -- I do. Our literal job as performers is to become someone else, to create another world. The audience comes so they can forget about their own problems, not be saddled with mine. So then how do you know when to just escape into your character or into your practice routine and how do you know when to say, 'I can't do this today or I will relapse'? Maybe this isn't as much of an issue for some as it is for me... for me, my life is literally staked on being able to do this performing arts thing. My counsellor and I were talking about this at my last appointment. He asked me, "Pretend for a moment that you decided to the do the easy thing and get a 9-to-5 job. What does it look like? What would happen?"

I said, "I have two reactions to that... On one hand, I can't even picture not being in the arts. It just sort of feels inevitable. It always has, for as long as I can remember. But on the other hand, if I had to live that life, to do the same thing over and over, meetings and phone calls and reports... I would actually kill myself. It would be SO boring and pointless." And I actually found myself tearing up as I spoke. I couldn't really picture myself living that life -- but for the fleeting seconds that I did grasp a vague image of it, my heart plunged into a despair that terrified me and I got the words out and banished the image before I could descend any further. It felt like I had been standing on the very edge of a black hole and tripped. I've attempted suicide twice in my life and I have still never felt anything as black and breathless as that vague fleeting image of myself not in the arts.

I've said things to that effect on this blog for years and years -- how I could never do a 9-to-5. But now it's really beginning to sink in that my life literally depends on whether or not I can stay in the performing arts. Because I know that if I can't, I will literally die. And that puts a lot of stress on me when I try to practice (never mind perform) because I feel this immense pressure to improve even more, to become the best the fastest, just so I don't fade out and become disposable -- so I don't get replaced by the next starlet who doesn't have depression (and also can do a developpé up to her ear and sing without sounding like a strangulation victim).

On one hand, you are asked to probe the depths of your pain and bare it on the stage, and on the other hand you are asked to shove it aside and pretend it doesn't exist. Is it any wonder so many artists break?

25 January 2018

Update - National Choreography Month

21 January 2018, 2.26pm.

So National Choreography Month 2018 has not quite gone as planned.

I was sick for the entire first week. As in, I literally do not remember the entire first week of 2018. I was so wiped out my mother had to hold up my head so I could eat. I didn't have the strength to do it myself. Then, right after that, I moved back to Saskatchewan for more school. I'm taking a full course load for the first time in over a calendar year and I had to remember what it's like to actually have to go to multiple classes in the same day and then also do homework for said classes. Plus I'm still trying to work as much as I can (so I can even afford school in the first place).

While I've managed to shoehorn in a dance/choreography session almost every day, I'm not getting as much film-worthy stuff as I had hoped. I had planned on posting film excerpts on social media every week or so. I haven't even filmed anything, much less posted anything. (I almost filmed what I worked on tonight, but I had a bit of a short fuse and I knew trying to film would just aggravate me.) My shortlist that I was SO excited about? I don't think I've finished even one piece on it. I've started/am working on a bunch of them, but I feel like I'm going nowhere on it because I haven't been able to actually finish any of them.

I had also hoped to enter the Nachmo Film Dance branch of the contest, but the thing is it has to be choreographed during the event (and so far I haven't choreographed anything), and it's due on 18 February.

08 January 2018

Remember... Remember... (2017)

This post is mostly for myself, so feel free to skip... I just thought I'd take a few minutes and note the changes that happened in 2017, the good things, the things that only a few short years ago I only thought about wistfully and the things that I never could have foreseen.

Overall, 2017 -- mostly just the past few months -- was a year of significant upheaval for me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I'm still in the middle of it and I'm still processing a lot of it (it'll likely take years), but so far these are my observations.

- January: First posted an excerpt of one of my dance practices on social media. (This was actually supposed to be a one-off thing, but it set in motion almost literally every ounce of dance growth that would happen over the rest of the year.)

- January: Began a consistent dance practice schedule that would continue until the college Christmas break.

- March: My first comedic role (Person in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone).

- March: Choreographed for a stage production for the first time (The Drowsy Chaperone).

- April: Finally admitted to another person just how much I was struggling mentally/emotionally.

- April: Began counselling. (This in turn set off the long, long process of beginning to deal with my friend's death, my cousin's death, my extended family's issues, the emotional abuse throughout my childhood and teen years, the neglect and mistreatment from my former church, and the perfectionism -- both forced and self-imposed -- that almost literally killed me.)

- April: Performed literally the hardest, most complex tap dance I could ever have dreamed of in my worst nightmares... and performed it really quite well.

- April: Began my internship (as director's assistant).

- May: Told a few close friends about my depression.

- May (ish): Found my head voice. This opened up a whole other world for my voice.

- June: Performed a high G for the first time.

- June: After years of crap, finally left the church I'd attended for ten years and began attending a different one on the recommendation of a school acquaintance. So far I enjoy the new church. (At the very least it got me out of the old one.)

- July: Finished my 2016 NaNoWriMo novel draft.

- August: A few college friends got together and put together a book of encouragement for me.

- August: Moved into a legitimate house -- not dorm -- on my own (well, with roommates) for the first time.

- September: Submitted a statement to my former church about my reasons for leaving their church, including detailed stories of the way the leadership at this church mistreated me.

- September: Landed a job for during the school year.

- September (ish): Began making it a point to dress up a bit more. (Up till this time in my life I was dressing almost exclusively in jeans and t-shirts.)

- October: Learned/performed my first opera solo (Stizzoso, mio stizzoso from La Serva Padrona).

- November: Did a 30-Day Choreography Challenge, involving choreographing a minimum of 32 counts every day and posting the day's output on social media every day.

- November: For the first time in my life it occurred to me that I might actually be able to separate the depressed voice and my voice in my head... that they might actually be separate.

- December: Filmed, edited, and released my first dance video.

I won't say too much more because today was a rough day and if I throw a pity party here after this list that I made to look back on good things it would pretty much negate the purpose of making the list in the first place. But there it is. Things did happen... they're just not going as quickly and improvement is not as dramatic as I had been hoping.