In the height of summer’s heat, the ASC Theatre Camp is in full swing. Thirty-some teenage thespians have three weeks to mount four distinct one-hour productions (three full early modern shows along with a suite of scenes from throughout Shakespeare’s canon) and by week three, everyone is tired, sweaty, and emotional. The days are long and downtime is limited. How do we survive the final stretch with our wits (and our health) intact? The same way we survive everything in theatre: together. When the going gets tough, the tough take care of each other.
“I take time with a buddy from the cast to just sit with after rehearsals and talk about joys and frustrations with the process before focusing on conversation that reminds us of our lives that exist outside of the theatre for the remainder of the conversation.”
Caretaking starts first and foremost with self-care. It may sound counterintuitive, and it often feels that way, too — but we are no good to anybody if we are no good to ourselves. That statement is the foundational summary of Dorothea Orem’s Self-Care Deficit Theory, which she developed over the course of her decades-long career as a nurse in the late 20th century. She noticed that nurses took better care of their patients (and secured better patient outcomes) when they took better care of themselves. Replace “nurses” with “people” and “patients” with “each other” and the theory holds across all human activity.
“I am an extrovert sometimes to a fault, so a lot of my self-care methods involve just spending time with other people in a calm manner. In college, I make sure to schedule time to just have a movie night with my friends and every Friday (or sometimes Saturday morning) my best friends and I leave campus to eat real food and talk at the end of the week.”
“I find an empty hallway to play guitar in or I listen to a song from the Vikings underscore and pretend that I am actually a Valkyrie.”
We do our best work when we are well-rested, hydrated, nourished, and prepared — both mentally and physically. When time is short and resources are limited, these basic necessities often go out the window. We live in a culture that values results at all costs, which often manifests in praising the wrong kind of effort. We encourage working long hours and forsaking breaks in service of continuing the grind, equating pain and suffering with transformational success — like a butterfly from a chrysalis or Rocky from a training montage, as if triumph can only come from trials and tribulations. And while triumph may indeed come from those places, more often and more reliably it comes from sustainable effort over long periods of time. There’s a reason why montages only last a few minutes, after all. Sustainable effort must be grounded in the healthy habits of a responsible self-care routine.
“I try to always have snacks. I try to keep going to the gym. I try to stay on top of my daily reading goals. I try to clean my kitchen every day. And I try to leave my work at work and be present with my husband when I’m at home.”
“I meditate and do restorative yoga. I also make bread dough from scratch. Kneading bread dough is fantastic.”
“I like to head to rehearsal or production meetings early to be able to set up and breathe on my own before getting started.”
Self-care does not mean self-indulgence. Rather, it’s about setting yourself up for success. As many of the think-pieces cluttering up our Facebook feeds can attest, successful self-care is not always about cupcakes and pedicures — indeed, it’s more often about doing your laundry than luxuriating in a bubble bath. And you can’t always carve special self-care time out of a busy schedule, which means you have to take those moments when you can find them.
“Showering is also always a time that is already blocked into my day, but it is a time when I just center myself and warm up my brain before it needs to turn on.”
The habits we cultivate at the ASC Theatre Camp that help us put up four shows in three weeks are the same ones we use in the real world to help us meet stressful deadlines at work. We model these habits for campers the same way we model proper rehearsal etiquette and safe stage choreography, because they are every bit as integral to the theatrical process. I asked members of the camp staff and the ASC community at large to tell me about their self-care habits, so I could give you a sense of how we keep ourselves (and therefore each other) happy and healthy in the final days of camp. The responses, sprinkled throughout this article, are as varied as the responders themselves.
“Sometimes I just need to go on a drive to clear my head and so I will drive to grab coffee and woosh down backroads while blasting music that just makes me laugh and smile.”
“I lock myself in the bathroom and have a private dance party. It lets me show up to rehearsal or the day ready for anything.”
“I will run off to Walmart to grab prop supplies, but that is really a chance to leave this world behind if even just for a moment. I am also fond of both the nap and meditation. I trained myself using Headspace to a very good and basic meditation for me.”
That we are no good to others if we are no good to ourselves is a simple, powerful, relevant truth — and yet it often gets swept aside at the first side of stress. Putting up a show can be stressful, and stressful activities provide wonderful examples of why this overarching principle is so important. At camp we emphasize that healthy self-care habits are not optional, and that taking care of yourself can sometimes be the best way to take care of others. By taking this care, we are better able to serve the production, each other, and ourselves.