According to psychologists there are three types of burnout:
- Overload burnout
- Under-challenge burnout
- Neglect burnout
Now, as an acting student I certainly was no stranger to the first and the third. The lack of sleep and even nutrition (at one point I was basically skipping lunch in order to train for an extra stage combat certification) contributed largely to what I’d call something akin to overload burnout. Neglect burnout was probably more prevalent, as I often experienced feeling overlooked, underappreciated. Granted, that was built in to the structure of the 1st year of my drama school, with a boot-camp mentality, where they tried to break you down in order to build you back up.
That neglect carries into the professional world too of course, in a very big way. Agents can be distant and withholding of their attention or even advice. Casting directors aren’t likely to give you feedback, especially starting out. A co-star or even guest-star role on TV is meant to do their job as efficiently as possible, sometimes with little to no attention from the director. It’s part of the gig.
Now, overload burnout is a tricky thing to talk about. Actors who experience it are sometimes hesitant to confide in other actors who may likely view their situation as one of rare priviledge. “Oh, they’re making you do another round of press and flying you to NYC and THEN you have to start shooting as soon as you come back to town? — — my sympathies.” Actors who experience burnout from working too much, or from too much pressure and demand from a variety of sources might have a hard time recognizing the real stress that is coming from what so many perceive as a charmed situation. Worse, they may never seek to get the rest/help they need since the belief/reality is that if they take their foot off the gas they may have missed their one shot. You’ll see this belief carried by actors well into their extremely succesful even super-stardom-like careers.
But then, what is the most common? That would be under challenge burnout.
“I haven’t booked something in a year.”
“I’ve had one audition in the last 3 months.”
“I had a great scene with the lead but they cut it down to just a few lines and reactions.”
“I’m booking commercials, which is great, but they’re really boring to do.”
(I’m sure you can include your own examples.)
Under Challenge Burnout can go unrecognized purely because the definition for burnout is so tied up with activity rather than inactivity.
Worse, it can get more aggravated as you get further along in your career. The excitement and even challenge of being in a commercial when you’re 22 is no longer there when you’re 32, or 42, or 52. The thrill of auditioning becomes hum-drum. You’re a working actor trained in Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare but the scripts you work on are written by a committee of shills.
What to do?
Well, I do think you have to recognize the burnout is real. Addressing it may be a little more difficult. How do you make your work more interesting when it’s completely out of your control?
I don’t have a good answer for this I’m afraid, only some rather obvious ones, but here we go:
- If you’re not working regularly, or even if you are and the work isn’t that interesting, the importance of being in an acting class that stimulates you and challenges you is paramount. If not a class, a group activity of sorts.
- Making your own stuff. Even if the creative projects you engage in on your own don’t lead to a development deal, at least they are something that can fully engage you.
- If you’re more of an on-camera actor, making whatever sacrifices you can to do some theatre, even if its something like the Hollywood Fringe Festival which only takes a month or so of your time.
and the most obvious answer to burnout
Yes, taking a break from something that doesn’t keep you all that busy feels silly, but if you’re anything like me — — even if you’re not that busy, you’re extremely occupied with being stressed about it. Even if its on an unconscious level.
Recognize that Under-challenge burnout is real and try to have compassion for yourself, something many people in your life, outside of some actors, may not give you.
What are your thoughts? Have you had under-challenge burnout? If so, how quickly and how soon did you recognize it in your career/education?