A Performance Artist Suggestion: Commit To Creative Breaks

Burnout is an easy path to creative ruts, and I would attribute a lot of the creative stagnancy in contemporary performance art to continuous, uninterrupted work on the part of its makers. Art becomes a job, and the pressure to continuously produce forces a lot of insincere, hastily assembled performance art that is more convention than innovation.

If a baseball relief pitcher is called upon to pitch night after night, his abilities begin to wear down and he becomes less effective (never minding the increased risk of injury from such use). If you let him rest for a couple of days between appearances, he is able to make fewer appearances but he is fresher and stronger for those appearances and that typically improves the effectiveness of those appearances.

However, most performance artists essentially call on their own creative-performance relief pitchers night after night without a rest, and then wonder why a) their art isn’t living up to their expectations and b) they feel run down in doing something they love.

Exercise is only one aspect of one’s physical fitness, as is sound diet. Rest and recovery is actually just as important, and it is certainly just as important to one’s creativity.

I think most artists in theatre, dance, music etc (actors, dancers, directors, choreographers, musicians) could do wonders for their creativity by taking regular breaks from their creative work, not just between projects but during projects. Many of my peers and contemporaries have been working show after show, project after project for months, even years without significant interruptions. Many perform on this sort of schedule over their entire artistic careers, and many eventually give it up, feeling they’re tired of making art when in reality they’re tired of an assembly-line-like schedule that has nothing to do with art and everything to do with workaholism. Imagine if they scheduled breaks from their work as dedicated and diligently as they scheduled rehearsals, classes and shows.

It’s easy to take an extended break after a major project concludes. But I posit you should take breaks during the process of developing your project. Schedule a weekend, or even a 2-4 week period if possible, where you take it easy and do not think (let alone worry) about your project at all. Give yourself room to breathe and be a regular human being without the pressure of producing or refining work. If you get any bright ideas about your projects during this time, write them down, put it aside and get back to recharging your batteries.

And no, a break during the holidays or spending the interim after a project scouring for the next project doesn’t count as a break. A break by my definition is a dedicated, *committed* absence of work or other commitments personal or otherwise, i.e. you’ve got nothing planned, are seeking nothing and that is fine for now.

Make breaks from your work part of your process. You may be surprised how much fresher a little less work and a little more rest makes your work.

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