Working better

Working better

28 March 2018

Lucy Ellinson offers some practical actions we can take to look after ourselves and the audience

We talked. NSDF 2018 is all about the talking. We talked about what practical actions we can take so that U OK HUN? isn’t a one-off question, but the way we work.

Things you can do 

Ask questions

  • What is the cost of this work to me? (emotional, physical, financial).
  • If writing a show that deals with difficult subject matter: is this my story to tell?
  • If I’m feeling stressed, what are my immediate practical needs? (food /sleep /money living situation safety).
  • If you’re feeling weird about something you’re being asked to do (risk in performance, personal details in stories, intimacy/nudity in performance), ask yourself how future me would feel about it. Rehearsals can get intense, you get into a bubble, the world disappears. So imagine yourself forward – and ask yourself if future me would be happy about this decision two weeks after the show has ended: two months/six months/two years. Still OK hun? If you feel weird, you’re empowered to say no. 
  • Who can I go to for help? Get knowledge of the support available (uni staff, Equity’s website, your NUS, the Samaritans).

In the rehearsal room

  • Develop a Group Agreement on your first rehearsal together, to get on the same page. Build it together, write it on the wall. It's there when you need to call on it. Think about how do we want to work together? What are our needs? Do any of us as individuals have specific needs or face particular barriers that we as a group can support? How would we like to speak to one another and be listened to? If devising: how do we make decisions/deal with disagreement? If difficult material/subject matter: how do we look after ourselves during the process? Keep checking in on this. Remember a debrief after the process is over.
  • Check in.
  • Ask R U OK HUN? on a weekly basis. Sit in circle, ask the person next to you: “How are you today?” and so on. It's a good way to name things you’re going through, clear your mind and get back to being in the room.
  • Participation is not compulsory. 
  • You don’t have to divulge any details but could say something like a placeholder: "Today’s a tough day and I might need some support” – just to flag it up to your colleagues.  
  • You might just feel fine! Share that!  
  • It works best when it is an authentic exercise, and when you find the balance of sharing but not oversharing.  

Set up some support systems

  • Get someone to be a mentor on the project.
  • Ask a friend to be an accountability partner (check in with them every week, this is also a good way to help keep on track with deadlines and all things procrastination-worthy).
  • Build a circle of support – if someone’s having a particularly tough time, a few friends who are dedicated to being there if you need helps.
  • Dedicate a quiet space in/near the work area. 
  • Work with your venue to build support systems and spaces, your company AND the venue can share this task of provision.

Things to look out for….

  • Suffering for your art – the pressure to “give it everything” when it's not safe or sustainable to do so.
  • Overwork/ burnout.
  • Sabotaging your own work when you’re overloaded.
  • Lack of support systems.
  • Feeling obligation.
  • Badly managed talking about problems – don’t pile on people when they’re not on best form. If someone is experiencing stress – and struggling – involve them in the solution, and be careful to not shine the spotlight on them and their behaviour. Consider the question “How can we work this out together?” rather than “What do we do about X?” (the question U OK HUN? is for everybody, not just the person in the centre of the storm.
  • Privilege and power in the rehearsal room.
  • Micro-aggressions (mis-gendering, othering). Remember that if someone is having to deal with this stuff, don’t expect them to have to find the solution themselves. Do something.
  • Interrupting people (women) when they speak.
  • Be an ally. 
  • Not letting ideas sessions get too “pitchy” (sometimes thinking quietly/allowing time for reflection is the best way for group to think and work through ideas/issues).


  • What is the impact on the audience with the work you make (consider trigger/content warnings, after-show care/post-show discussions and debriefs, having a dedicated person to response to issues if they arise, good clear signage) Example of good practice: BRAVE FACE.
  • What if audience members want to leave? How do we manage that successfully?
  • Can we unlearn what “good” audience behaviour is?
  • How do we make our work more accessible?
  • Can we incorporate relaxed performances into our run?
  • What training or awareness do Front of House teams need?

This festival

  • If you see someone on their own, reach out.
  • If you’re here on your own, say hello! (and join a table on Quiz Night).
  • Offer constructive feedback, the kind you’d like to receive.
  • Sleep! 
  • Drink Water! 
  • Dance!
  • If you’re feeling under pressure, talk it out with your peers. If you need support or would like to talk to a member of NSDF staff, get in touch.

Remember, it’s everything and also only theatre.

@noffmag // [email protected]

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato