Equity has been concerned for some time about the health of performers. In 2011 our National Performers Committee was alerted to anecdotal reports of high levels of stress, depression, bullying and sexual harassment, as well as alcohol and drug abuse amongst members.
In response, the Equity Foundation, together with the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Sydney, initiated a ground-breaking Actors’ Wellbeing Study (AWS). It is the largest study ever commissioned into actors’ wellbeing. We wanted to know whether performers experience greater instances of negative physical, psychological and emotional health compared with the rest of the population and whether work practices impact on actors’ health and wellbeing.
The first phase of the findings are out. A significant number of performers report high levels of stress arising from low income. Many performers resort to non-performance sources of employment to supplement what can be a meagre income. More than 20% of respondents report that even with additional work their total gross income is well below the poverty line.
Many also report suffering debilitating performance anxiety. The survey results reveal strikingly high levels of anxiety and stress amongst the acting community, and that performers are twice as likely to experience depression as the general population. A significant number of respondents also say they have experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace.
Most performers turn to friends and family to cope with the stress of work which can place strain on these relationships. While performers say they use a wide range of positive techniques to warm-up before a performance, many use alcohol to relax afterwards. Respondents measured high in overall alcohol consumption, used in part to wind down or “let go” or to cope with the acute effect of a demanding role.
In spite of these results, performers are positive when asked about their general life satisfaction.
The study recommends that greater emphasis be placed on teaching acting students coping mechanisms, including “cooling-down” techniques, as well as focusing on financial training and teaching students about psychology and healthy lifestyle choices.
Industry leaders, training institutions and key stakeholders need to develop strategies to deal with these issues. The secret is out. Let’s start the debate.
The next phase of the study will be to analyse the substantial amount of qualitative data. In the meantime, Equity will be consulting with the industry on ways we can deal with these issues together. Read the full report here.