Where Theatremakers Can Find Inspiration When They’re Stuck

Featured image by Nikhita Singhal on Unsplash

As anyone will tell you, pursuing a creative career is not easy. I sometimes feel like I’m making a mistake, like I’m not cut out for this, like I’ll never “make it.” It is easy for me to get down on myself – I am far from where I wanted to be at this point in my life. I try to focus on my accomplishments, but it is difficult not to compare myself to people in my circle who have made more strides in acting and writing than I have.

Dealing with anxiety and depression has made my negative filter like a superpower. My brain will turn good news into something to worry about in 60 seconds or less – or your money back guaranteed. One of my most intense recurring thoughts is, “Have I wasted the last six years of my life?” Dramatic, right? I guess I’m meant for the theatre after all.

One of the ways I cope and pull myself out of these thoughts is to create something – anything. A short story, a scene in an acting class, a beautiful cake, or a blog post (ahem). Seeing the work of others serves a source of peace and inspiration to me. Here are a few of the ways other theatremakers and artists can reignite their creative spark.

  1. See live performance.

    There’s nothing like the energy of live theatre (or music, or dance). I consider the theatre to be my church. Being in the same space as talented practitioners reminds me why I deal with rejection and multiple jobs and expensive headshots. It reminds me why I live in one of the most expensive cities in the nation. It reminds me why I don’t just get a “regular job.” The ability to play and collaborate with my fellow actors and bring joy to audiences is what makes it all worth it. New Yorkers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to live performance, but anyone can take in a show at their local community theatre or concert hall to soak in the ephemeral magic.
  2. Listen to Nina Simone.

    As I write this, Miss Simone is playing in the speakers at Starbucks. I find her voice at once soothing and energizing. In fact, her Four Women inspired a play I’ve been working on for longer than I care to admit. Her incredible versatility and depth is something all artists can aspire to. Everyone has a Nina. It could be anyone from Billie Holiday to Billie Eilish. Find your Nina.
  3. Turn on an audio story.

    Humans are storytelling animals. It’s why cave paintings show up even before evidence of language. Most of us loved bedtime stories as children, and adults deserve them too. Ever since discovering my love of podcasts during a particularly long commute, I have devoured every audio story I could get my hands on. A few of my favorite podcasts: Lore (spooky folk lore and real stories), Noble Blood (dark tales of royalty), and Levar Burton Reads (short stories). Some of my favorite audiobooks: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Sleepy Hollow narrated by Tom Mison, and Home by Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison, rest her soul, could have made the phonebook riveting.
  4. View the work of a local artist.

    Visual art is a way for performers and writers to get out of their heads. Anyone who lives by the written word knows how easy it is to get lost in their internal monologue. Although apparently some people don’t have one, I’d guess that most writers do. Last weekend I visited the Philadelphia Magic Gardens and was completely mesmerized with what the artist, Isaiah Zagar, was able to create with seemingly ordinary objects. The gardens are reminiscent of Gaudi’s Parc Guell on a smaller scale and make you feel worlds away from Philly’s red brick metropolis.
  5. Get out of town.

    Travel is one of my biggest sources of inspiration. It’s why I created this blog. Learning about a new culture and history reminds me of the richness of the human experience. While I can’t always make it overseas, there are tons of cities and towns that are a bus or train ride away from me. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my little trip to Philly. The company of someone very lovely and dear to me certainly helped, too. One of the perks of living in New York is that most other places seem friendlier and more tranquil in comparison.
  6. Watch deleted scenes from The Office

    Humor is hard to do and magical when done right. The Office is my favorite way to unwind and it makes me laugh every single time. Laughter can shake up your brain and make you remember the fun part of creating. If you’re not a Dunder Mifflin fan, find something else that makes you giggle. A few of my other favorite frothy, delightful, and slightly absurd comedies: The Good Place, Brooklyn 99, Parks & Rec, Schitt’s Creek, Shrill, Arrested Development.
  7. Pick up a paperback

    Sometimes when everything seems to be spinning in your head, you need to go analog. I love my kindle and e-reader phone apps, but old-fashioned books give me more tactile pleasure with none of the eye strain. My favorite book I’ve read recently is The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. I’m also in the middle of NK Jemisin’s short story collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? I am reading it on an app though — the library e-reading app Cloud Library. It’s very fun and is inspiring me to write some short stories of my own.
  8. Walk to the river

    Or whatever body of water is nearest to you. Walking has become a form of moving meditation for me. Sometimes actual meditation has me fixating even more on my thoughts, while moving my body through walking or yoga allows me to stop thinking so much. I have had so many great ideas walking along Riverside Park or down Broadway. My favorite way to do this is while listening to musical theatre cast albums or a podcast, but sometimes it’s good for me to take in the sounds of the city. As for the water, I’m a textbook Cancer. Being close to bodies of water, even when I can’t dip my toes in, calms my spirit and makes me feel connected to something greater than myself. It makes me feel like I’ll be able to create again

I would love to hear how you clear your mind and create again when you are feeling sad, anxious, depressed, or otherwise stuck. I’ll leave you with one last nugget: there is no way out but through.

Love and theatre,

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