The stigma of being an actor with mental health issues
Acting Mad is a new theatre production that aims to raise awareness of the stigma that actors with mental health issues face. (Photo: The Necessary Stage)

The stigma of being an actor with mental health issues

When your job requires you to be expressive and dramatic, coming out as a person with mental health issues can draw scepticism and dismissals of your confession as a “drama king (or queen)” outburst.

The stigma of mental illness might be well known, but few are willing to speak out against it, for fear of judgement. And even fewer are aware of the extent of such negative attitudes towards actors with the condition.

To break the silence on the stigma that actors with mental health issues face, homegrown theatre company The Necessary Stage is putting on a new production, Acting Mad, written by Haresh Sharma, Harris Albar and Maryam Noorhimli.

The show explores what it means for an actor to have mental health conditions. It is based on interviews with 20 actors who have personally struggled, or are struggling, with mental health conditions.

Through the interviews, playwrights Harris and Maryam discovered that actors with mental health issues often struggled with judgment from those around them. People compared their condition to debilitating physical ailments and trivialised their suffering.

Actor Karen Tan, who is part of the Acting Mad cast, says: “During the first table read, I was shocked at what I was reading. It is incredible that people in a small industry could live with such difficulty, and that nobody knew.”

By raising awareness of the stigma through the sharing of real stories, the production hopes to provide solace and support for those suffering.

Beyond the play, there are other ways the theatre community – and perhaps the wider public – can create a safe space for those mental health conditions to share about their struggles and to receive support.

Harris’s suggestion: If you feel that someone is going through a rough patch, ask them if they want to talk, and check back regularly to let the person know you are available to lend an ear and a shoulder.

Maryam recommends that directors provide small breaks during rehearsals so that cast members have time to process their emotions and recover from any emotional extremes they have to deal with during the rehearsal.

Details about Acting Mad here.

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