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As we enter the third year of a global pandemic – yes, the third year – many people are facing mental health challenges they couldn’t have anticipated. Students are not immune to this, and may be particularly susceptible to a variety of issues as they juggle school, performing and other activities around the clock. As a director, you can help your students to avoid triggers and stay upbeat through a variety of avenues. We discuss a few mental health challenges students face and how you can help.
Many are feeling caged in by the limitations presented by the pandemic. For lots of directors, actors and crew, the switch to virtual/hybrid/video on demand performances has taken some of the magic out of performing. For students, an outlet that once brought them joy may be a little less fun. Add on top of that virtual instruction, a lack of socialization and a dose of isolation, and it’s easy to see why students may be feeling burnt out.
How to Help: Let students get involved in the planning of your next production. Have your cast and crew vote on which show they’d like to perform. Include non-acting crew members in the audition process. Implement a student director to assist with major production choices down the road. Bottom line: Your students are feeling tired of the status quo. By giving them some control over the production, they’ll find that spark again.
Perhaps the most common mental health challenge for students? Anxiety. Some may call it stage fright, but those susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks due to an impending performance need a little extra push to ensure they’re feeling confident before showtime.
How to Help: A common tactic dubbed immersion therapy helps people with phobias by slowly introducing them to what they fear. Why not utilize this for students with stage fright and anxiety? Host small performance previews prior to opening night with family, friends and other small groups with the goal of helping students ease into a major live performance. If you notice a student struggling with anxiety, don’t be afraid to give them a little extra one-on-one attention after rehearsal ends to see if they have any ideas on how to alleviate the problem.
Similar to burn-out, depression can wreak havoc on a student’s mental health as they shuffle a variety of responsibilities. Perhaps situational or maybe chronic, depression is a tough beast to slay, but directors can help to ease the burden.
How to Help: Bring a bit of extra sunshine to rehearsals with team-building activities to energize your actors. Don’t be afraid to get goofy with fun warm-ups, improv and other activities to get loose. You can also curate a sense of community with your cast and crew by spending time together outside the theatre: having movie nights, going to dinner or taking a hike. Remember – nothing is a cure all for struggling students, but you make an effort to make their days a little brighter.
Whether a student is feeling overwhelmed with the production, the pandemic or with school, it’s a common issue and one that directors can likely sense in their students.
How to Help: Make use of the community you’ve created by matching up students in your production to be “study buddies.” Maybe your lead is struggling with algebra, but your light director is a math whiz. Why not make that connection? Encourage your cast to host study groups together and hold themselves accountable for keeping grades up. It’s also a good idea to accommodate students who may be struggling academically – whether that means excusing them from a couple of rehearsals to study or helping them find a tutor.
It’s no secret that mental health issues are prevalent among young adults. But as a director, you can help support your students and that can make a real difference.