How to Be in Theater and Also Have a Life: 5 Survival Tips

If you’ve done any theater, you’ve definitely uttered those fateful words: “I can’t; I have rehearsal.”

The first time you say it, it’s no big deal. You got the role! You’re in a play! The fiftieth time, however, things start to change. Your significant other starts to get irritated. Your family complains that they never see you. Your non-theater friends stop inviting you to hang out.

Theater is one of those hobbies/lifestyles that requires an intense, all-consuming commitment. It’s not like gardening or snowboarding — you don’t get to pick and choose when you do it. Instead, your life is ruled by the almighty rehearsal schedule. You’re at practice every night, often until the wee hours. Weekends are taken up by set-painting sessions or line memorization.

The thing is, all of this is fun. So much fun, in fact, that you might be tempted to let everything else in your life slide. We’re here to advise against that. (We speak from experience.) It’s healthy to have a personal life outside of the theater. Your Muggle friends, family, and activities help keep you balanced; they’re crucial to helping you keep one foot in the real world. (Plus, they deserve your love and attention just as much as your theater friends.)

Not convinced? Remember that a personal life is crucial for your craft — your everyday life experiences help inform your acting, making it richer and more nuanced.

But how do you maintain your relationships and non-theater activities when rehearsals take over your life? It’s not easy, but totally doable. Here are some survival tips that work for our Theater Love team.

1. Accept that Theater-Life Balance is Cyclical

Normal people cannot “do it all” all at once

So you’ve heard of work-life balance. The thing is, that doesn’t really exist on a daily basis — and neither does theater-life balance. These things are cyclical. For three months, theater takes precedence. Then, your personal life can move to the forefront.

The trick? Accepting it! Instead of trying to fit in time for everything, every day, plan for the cycles. If you know that you’ll be in rehearsals from June through August, don’t try to ramp up your other hobbies at the same time. Both will suffer, and you’ll end up frustrated.

Instead, plan ahead. Clear out your schedule for rehearsals from June through August. Then, in September (or whenever your play ends), plan some projects, races, or big volunteer events. It’ll give you something to look forward to and head off post-show depression — plus, you’ll be happier because you won’t feel guilty about giving each hobby your full attention.

2. Prioritize Friends and Family During Non-Rehearsal Times

Absence (from your cast) makes the heart grow fonder

During a show, your castmates become like family. The emotional bonds are intense! This instant connection can be like a drug, making you long for more time together.

However. When you have a day off of rehearsal, resist the urge to spend it with your theater friends. Instead, plan to hang out with your non-theater people. Your loved ones will appreciate having dedicated time with you, and the time apart from your cast will only make the next practice that much sweeter.

3. Talk About Something Other Than Theater

Your friends and family will thank you

Have you ever been friends with someone who’s training for a marathon or an Ironman? Imagine this: your friend is suddenly obsessed with training and never has time for you. They can’t have a glass of wine on a Friday night because they have a long run in the morning. They can’t hang out because they’re too tired from a 100-mile ride. To make things worse, when you finally get time together, all they talk about is training. And sore muscles. And mile splits. If you don’t know anything about running, it can be incredibly boring.

That’s what it’s like for your friends and family when you’re rehearsing a play or a musical.

After your first show, your loved ones know that you’ll be busy all. The.Time. However, that doesn’t mean that they’ll want to hear about your current production nonstop. (You’ll know to stop when their eyes start to glaze over!)

How can you help? Make your limited time together about something other than the theater. Sure, you can give them an update, but then move on. Ask them about their lives. Discuss the other things that are happening in your life. Talk about the news — anything to remind them that you’re not all theater, all the time. As a bonus, it’ll be a nice break for you, too!

4. Prioritize Your Life

Identify Must-Dos and Let the Rest Go

Unless you’re a professional actor — and even if you are — you probably have other work, fitness, health, and financial commitments to deal with. When you’re exhausted from rehearsals and trying to keep your boss happy, it’s impossible to do everything.

That’s fine! You’re only human, after all.

The thing is, when you have so much to do, it’s all too easy to waste time on small, unimportant tasks just because they feel doable.

That’s where prioritization comes in. Make a list of all your commitments, to-do items, and other lingering tasks. Then, rank them. Mark the things that are non-negotiable: going to work, paying your bills, and getting a decent amount of sleep should all be top priorities. Everything else? You’ll get to it when you can, or let it wait until the show ends.

A prioritized list can work like magic — it helps you get clear on the things that matter, and allows you to back-burner everything else until you have time. Farewell, guilt and overwhelm!

Now. There’s no question that your personal life is going to suffer a bit when you do a show. That’s normal. By planning for this process, prioritizing, and making time for your non-theater loved ones, you can emerge on the other side with your life intact.

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