The life of an actor affords us many exciting opportunities. We audition for and get cast in projects shooting in various locations all around the world, and occasionally the job can feel like a holiday. One unfortunate thing that is missing from this set up however, is structure. With structure being something which we must find and generate in other areas of our life, taking a holiday can be very difficult for us to do. Here are a few thoughts about how to take a holiday as an actor, the consequences, and how to work around them so you can find some work-life balance—a phrase rarely used in our industry.
So, it’s hard to take a holiday as an actor. Why is this the case? Well, let’s dissect this by looking at the typical career progression of someone of relative success in a more structured industry. Say this person works 9-5, 5 days a week. The company they work for is required by law to provide certain allowances for their staff, such as paid leave and additional pay for any overtime done. This allows the employee to plan their year ahead, taking time off in the traditional holiday slots allocated by the business. The employee now has a level of predictability about the different spheres of their future: what their day, week, month and even year will entail.
Actors, like many professions with an artistic base, do not have this level of predictability about their work. And hey, don’t get me wrong, I think this lack of structure, this freedom is why a lot of us pursue this career. When I’m working relatively consistently as an actor, the time between jobs is an incredible time for me to prepare, work towards projects in other areas of my life, and find work life balance over extended periods of time, rather than on a week to week basis. The unorthodox structure of this profession can be truly wonderful.
It’s the down times, however, the times like a lot of us have experienced over the last 12 months, where factors well out of our control have drastically impacted our ability to book work, that pose the challenges.
For me, when I come across extended periods of time without acting work, many things will arise. Financial pressure leads to the need to find work in other areas, introducing new and unfamiliar part-time commitments into my life. A lack of work can impact my self-esteem, leading to feelings of anxiety about when the next job will arise. All of these factors ultimately lead to one thing—they make me want to take a break! .
I think that’s the tricky thing about it: a lack of acting work will cause stress, and stress in any other field would be managed by taking time away from work to decompress. But we’re already ‘away from work’ so taking a break doesn’t feel like an option for us. What a conundrum.
There are many factors which contribute to our inability to take time to switch off completely. The unpredictability of when the next audition will arise, the atypical work hours most projects are scheduled around, and extended periods of between acting jobs are but a few. One prominent factor, however, which I’m sure is an experience of many actors at various times, is the feeling of needing to be available ‘just in case’. It’s that feeling that the big job is just around the corner, and if we’re switched off and relaxing, Murphy’s Law will make it that we miss out. It makes us (well, it makes me feel this way, please don’t allow me to comment on your experience if this isn’t you, but I know it’s true for many actors) feel like our agents might drop us because we’re not working hard enough! This feeling, of course, is a myth, but it’s a myth which can be terribly hard to shake.
It’s fundamental to an actor’s health and longevity that this myth is managed. Sure, we do need to be present in the industry and be contactable the majority of the time, but never taking a moment to disconnect completely from the pursuit can be really damaging. Learning The Art of Relaxing is incredibly important and something that most actors neglect in their lives. But hey—let’s not focus on the negatives. Let’s focus on the positives! Let’s chat about the benefits of taking a conscious break.
Wait so, what’s the big deal? Why is this so important? And are the benefits really that significant? Yes, they are. And the results of a well earned break are two fold: they positively impact your inner life, (your health and productivity) and your outer life, which includes your career and social capacity.
The internal benefits of taking a break include:
- Stress reduction: The impact that stress has on your mental and physical health is huge and devastating over extended periods of time.
- An increase to your creativity: taking pressure off your mind allows it to become curious again, and this coupled with seeing new places and things will trigger your imagination and bring you waves of creative energy.
- Increase in immune function and physical health
- Can positively impact emotional stability and confidence levels.
- Increase your intelligence: This was very interesting for me to discover, but it makes a lot of sense. Have a read of this small excerpt about the benefits of stress reduction:
“The human body requires downtime; when people ignore its natural cycle of alertness and fatigue (which come in 90 minute periods), they’re dismissing the body’s need to reboot. Small breaks are good, but longer getaways allow you to fully recharge, which improves mental alertness.”
Think about it, when we train a certain muscle group at the gym or physically exert ourselves, we always prioritise rest for recovery. Including this rest in our work life will allow ourselves to intellectually and emotionally recover.
The external benefits of taking a break include:
- An overall positive impact on our careers, improving our resilience and our ability to roll with whatever comes our way as actors.
- Rejuvenation and inspiration, giving us momentum to renew our pursuit of our goals.
- Sustainability: assuming we are in this game for the long run, taking semi-regular breaks will increase the likelihood we’re able to stick it out through the tougher times.
- An all round increased sense of positivity and calm, flowing through us into the world around us and influencing every interaction we have, both with friends and professional relationships.
The list goes on and on. One final benefit which is perhaps less tangible and more difficult to measure is the effect that seeing and experiencing the world has on our craft. Acting is all about performing humanity, and therefore experiencing the world in all its variety and mystery is actually essential for us to become better actors.
Time and time again I’ll see friends of mine struggling to make a break, finally reaching a point where they take time away from their pursuit to look after themselves, only to book work shortly after returning to the chase. There’s great power in prioritising our own wellbeing over the ‘momentum’ of our careers. In a backwards kind of way, taking time away from acting can actually be the thing which propels our careers forward.
Conscious vs Unconscious Break
So, what do I mean when I say ‘break’ or ‘holiday’? Well, the definition comes down to whether or not the time taken is conscious or incidental. Often, the anti-structure of my career will mean I have periods of time free from work obligations. Great, right? Well, not necessarily. This is often the time I will spend focusing on when the next job will appear, whether other people are working now and why I’m not, and other potentially harmful and unhealthy thoughts. This time simply cannot be considered a holiday, no matter how long it lasts.
No, what we all need occasionally is a deliberate and conscious break away from all of it. Away from our stresses, our lines of communication, even our hopes and dreams. Ultimately, we need to take time to be present, focusing on what is here and now. We need to take time to remember who we are and what it is we love, which in turn will remind us of why we want to act in the first place.
Taking a conscious break requires conscious effort. It requires a process. Allow me to offer some thoughts about the practical elements of taking a holiday which you might like to consider ahead of your upcoming break – which I assume, because you’re still reading this article, you’re going to take, right? You deserve it! Go kick your shoes off and relax. Immerse yourself in nature or do something or go somewhere you love. Decompress. The industry, the dreams, the auditions and the projects will all still be here when you get back.
Right, how do we actually do this? We’re acknowledged that taking a break can actually be quite challenging and even fear-inducing for actors. I’ll occasionally even experience guilt or shame when taking a break, saying to myself that, “I’m not working hard enough”. Ouch. That’s a mindset which will make sustaining myself and my career so dang difficult.
Let me offer some notes on the process for taking a break within the frame of my most recent trip at the start of 2021.
My trip was an 8-day break spent in a hired camper van, travelling from Sydney to Murwillumbah (Northern NSW) and back, stopping at various locations along the way. I experienced some pretty significant fear about taking this trip. It was January, which in theory was ‘Pilot Season’ and a time where many last minute time pressured auditions may arise. The first step I needed to take was as follows:
#1 Identify What You Want to Do, and for How Long.
All of a sudden, I now had structure in the chaos I felt disrupting my career pursuit. Right – 8 days, camper van, NSW round trip. Great. Next, I needed to clear the time needed for the trip.
#2 Commit to a Time Frame
I looked through my calendar at the most appropriate week to take off, with the least significant engagements booked. I cleared it, communicating with the necessary people to reschedule any plans I had previously made. Next, I needed to take some precautionary measures.
#3 Inform the Team
I needed to let my agent and employers know that I was taking that time away, and I would only be contactable for significant or emergency situations. My agent, of course, completely understood and encouraged me to take the time. Whoops. Where was that myth that I’d get the sack for being lazy? Now my agent knew I’d only be available if it was absolutely necessary, if Speilberg was on the line saying, “Get me Jack Crumlin, we need him now!” (One day Steven… one day…) then I’d entertain the idea of coming out of my time away to work.
I was clear with my agent about when I was going and when I’d be back, so we didn’t encounter a situation where they expected me to be in Sydney and available to shoot a TVC casting at 9:00am the next day. This conversation allowed me to relax even further into my holiday mode.
#4 Plan for the ‘Just in Case’
Maybe this is me cheating and not fully disconnecting from my career, but I felt this was an important step. I brought a small tripod with an iPhone attachment. That is all. I planned for the worst case scenario, where my agent called me and told me they really need me to put down a tape at short notice. It didn’t actually happen, but taking a moment to plan for what might ‘go wrong’ allowed me to feel prepared and calm about taking the time away.
#5 Get Clear on What is Important
Without turning the holiday into yet another goal-orientated exercise, it was important to me to have a think about how I’d maximise the positive effects of taking a holiday. For me these factors included:
- Minimising phone use. Separating myself from lines of communication increased my feeling of living in the present moment and unwinding.
- Reading. It’s one of those habits which comes and goes for me in my everyday life, but I find when I’m on holiday reading, either fiction or non, will impact me at a much deeper level than it normally would. My imagination is more free to be curious and creative, and reading is a fantastic way to stimulate this.
- Getting into nature. I needed time to refresh. I needed time to get out of the hustle and bustle of city living and remind myself of nature and it’s positive effects
- Slowing down. This is another thing which requires conscious effort. I identified that the pace I was operating at pre-holiday was a cause and effect of the stress I was experiencing. I needed to consciously make an effort to take my time whilst I was on holiday.
- Being present, with both the moment and my partner. In the time away I wanted to prioritise the quality of my time, doing whatever I could to be in the here and now. I reinvigorated positive habits, like meditation and mindset techniques, so I could connect with my partner and the world around me. It made the time feel like it slowed down and turned a short 8-day trip into a lengthy getaway..
#6 Be Open
The decision was made, the time allocated, the precautionary measures taken and the focus was clear. Now it was time to get on the road and enjoy myself, and be open to whatever situations arose within it. Myself and my partner had four wheels and a wide open road, we could go wherever we wanted. Allowing freedom in the plan rather than making a rigid structure increased my relaxation, and it was the type of holiday I needed. Being in nature, seeing new places, meeting new people all contributed to my feeling upon returning home: one of positivity, optimism and a desire to get back into it. And I tell you what, sleeping in a caravan for over a week certainly made me appreciate my own bed more. Another added benefit.
Hey, so maybe this hasn’t been an experience in your career. Maybe you’ve been able to manage work-life balance in an effective and sustainable way. Good on you. But I know that taking time away for a break and a holiday can be a really challenging thing for an actor to do. At its worst, taking time away can make us feel like we are failing at achieving our dreams. If you’re reading this and feel that to be true for you, I hope this article has allowed you to feel that that is NOT the case. Taking time to have a break is not a step away from achieving your dreams. It is the exact opposite: It’s a step towards prioritising your life and wellbeing over the results of your career, which will actually have remarkable effects for your career. Taking a break as an actor is an essential part of our careers. In any other career pursuit it is prioritised and even built into the structure of the career, because employers know it is essential to the productivity of their workers. We don’t always have an employer or structure to govern our on and off times, so we need to be proactive about making that time for ourselves.
For Mental Health Concerns
If you are experiencing real feelings of stress which a holiday will be insufficient in resolving, there are many other avenues of getting help. If you are Australian based, Beyond Blue is a really great place to start the process of getting help. You are not alone. We have other resources available on this subject for you right here at StageMilk, too. A good place to start is this article on Actors’ Well-being.
On a final note, COVID-19 has really impacted our ability to take a break—I know this. We just need to operate within the parameters we face. For me, I took my holiday within my state. I couldn’t travel very far, but I still took the time off. If you’re in real need of a break, feel free to use the process above to figure out a plan for yourself to take some time off. Even if you have a ‘stay-cation’ and don’t leave your neighbourhood, taking the conscious time away from the pursuits of an acting career can be astonishingly beneficial.