Academic journal article About Performance

The Australian Actors' Wellbeing Study: A Preliminary Report

Academic journal article About Performance

The Australian Actors' Wellbeing Study: A Preliminary Report

Article excerpt


Performing Arts Medicine coalesced as a discipline following the first Symposium on the Medical Problems of Musicians held in 1983 in Aspen, Colorado, and the subsequent foundation of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) in 1988, and of PAMA's journal, Medical Problems ofPerforming Artists (MPPA), in 1986. Initially a medical organisation limited to physicians, PAMA expanded to include all types of health professionals, as well as performers, educators, and administrators in both music and dance genres (PAMA n.d.). The inclusion of actors under the banner of Performing Arts Medicine, however, has been more recent.

Indeed, in a 2013 bibliographic retrospective, William Dawson notes that from 1960 to 1990 the field addressing performers' problems was known as "music medicine". The earliest article identified by Dawson specifically addressing actorrelated wellbeing was on stage fright, in Psychiatry Quarterly in 1949 (Dawson 2013, 53). In a related 10 year (1997 to 2007) retrospective bibliographic review Dawson found that from 2002 to 2006 inclusive only 0.2% of all scholarly articles published on performing arts medicine dealt specifically with actors, while articles on musicians' health accounted for 70.8% and dancers' health accounted for 22.6%. Articles on general performing arts health accounted for the remaining 6.4% (Dawson 2007, 154).

In a 1992 editorial for MPPA, Alice Brandfonbrener called on medical practitioners to pay more attention to the specific health and wellbeing of actors as performing artists. A bare handful of contributions followed. The first was Randolph Evan's "A Survey of Injuries among Broadway Performers: Types of Injuries, Treatments, and Perceptions of Performers" (Evans et al. 1996), which revealed a high level of physical injuries to dancers and actors-and vocal injuries to actors specifically-in Broadway productions and touring companies. In particular, hazardous features of stages and sets were cited as reasons for many of the injuries suffered. However, the survey did not investigate any psychological or lifestyle-related matters of wellbeing.

Such factors were included in Brandfonbrener's subsequent 1999 review of her own Chicago-based Performing Arts Medicine practice. Here, she acknowledged that the services she provided to theatre patients were "somewhat different" to those "typically required by musicians and dancers, albeit some of the theatrical patients are also singers and dancers" (Brandfonbrener 1999, 24). In addition, she observes that while the numbers of patients seen primarily for psychological symptoms was small, these problems demanded a greater amount of clinical time and effort. A significant proportion of these problems were related to substance abuse: in particular, alcohol.

Brandfonbrener also noted that "problems occasionally arise for an actor in the course of portraying a role because assuming the character's emotions may bring to consciousness some of the actor's own unconscious and unresolved conflicts" (Brandfonbrener 1999,24). She concludes that this clinic review amply demonstrates why actors should be included "under the umbrella of patients served as performing artists" (Brandfonbrener 1999, 24). However, since, only five scholarly articles and one interview (with an actor) dealing with actors' health and wellbeing have appeared in MPPA.

Aside from MPPA there have been a handful of articles and unpublished dissertations addressing the psychological impacts of the acting profession in both training and workplace contexts. Richard Owen Geer noted a 1973 study by the psychiatrist Janice Rule, who raised concerns that actors may not always be able to healthily debrief from the roles they play (Geer 1993, 147). Geer takes up Richard Schechner's discussions of post-performance cool-downs in different cultures, while his own survey of various actor trainers' approach to actor's management of the performance cycle reveals that there is no one definitive model (Geer 1993, 151-154). …

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