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Adjusting to work again, not burning out and supporting each other

I am a theatre prop maker and supervisor and have been for the past 20 years I am used to working long hours and having little time off. I have recently completed a small job propping a television drama documentary. Here are some thoughts…

After 3 months of no work, engaging my brain in to work mode was hard. I struggled to sit down to work for a couple of hours a day and had to read the script in small sections over a few days as opposed to sitting down and absorbing it in one hit. It took me far longer than normal to complete the props list and to cost the production. I love my job, I had missed work, but I struggled to engage. I used to easily work for 10-13 hours a day without even thinking about it, but here I was, post lock down, struggling to concentrate for 3 hours in a single day. It was as though my brain was surrounded by treacle and cotton wool. Speaking to others in the production team, we were all having similar experiences.

I hadn’t spent 3 months in bed, I had been doing yoga every day, swimming (once it was allowed), my physical self was in fair shape. I was working with people who ran frequently, people who’d cycled their way through lock down, our fitness levels were not the problem… Dealing with home schooling; not being able to see family; being in different cities to loved ones and not being able to support them through tough times; the hideous financial strain and simply having to cope with not going to work: that’s what we were all dealing with. It takes it’s toll, and although I and the rest of the team did quite happily get back in to the swing of things, because we had been so busy dealing with priorities that weren’t work related, it took time.

For each of us, when we head back to work, it’s likely we'll go from mooching around making soda bread at our leisure, to full steam ahead in the space of minutes.

Theatre is known to be relentless, and our theatre muscles are out of practice, so it’s going to take us time to get up to speed. If there isn't an awareness of this, and we all try to start where we left off, I fear that we are going to burn out quickly. As we will be going through it at the same time, there won’t be people with reserves or extra energy to lift us up and keep us going.

I can’t help but think of stage management teams working through their breaks during rehearsals and techs every single day, grabbing a sandwich on the go (if they’re lucky) purely because that's the way it is. That’s before the added pressures that are bound to be created by additional Covid related health and safety procedures. If we continue in this vein I fear it is going to result in a lot of broken people before we even get started again.

Time is money, of course it is, our industry has lost millions of pounds and the powers that be will naturally want to re-coup as quickly as possible. However, if you’re handling the scheduling, be that long term planning or daily/weekly schedules, if at all possible, please consider easing in to things slowly.

To every producer/director/manager/head of department, please consider every one in your rehearsal room, in your workshop/workroom/studio/office be they performer or technical/creative staff, see that they have the time they need to readjust to the working day.

Give us, your colleagues, the opportunity to produce our best work without burning out.

Celia Strainge

Freelance Prop Maker, Prop Supervisor.

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