In part 4 of our article series covering aspects of returning to performance environments, and building up work schedules and routines in the light of the COVID 19 pandemic and lockdowns, Dr Naomi Brecker, Consultant Occupational Physician, considers the vital role of managers in the performing arts in setting up and championing safe working practices as live performance returns.

Read more in this series here:
When the curtain goes up again: Building our fitness to perform | BAPAM
Returning to work in the performing arts after having COVID-19 | BAPAM
When the curtain goes up again: Injury prevention for dancers | BAPAM
Returning to live performance: Why programme choice matters | BAPAM

Context

The Covid-19 pandemic brought an unprecedented cessation to the majority of performing arts activities needing in-person interactions. As a result of public health containment and vaccination activities there is a roadmap to re-opening in the UK. For the majority of performing artists there have been many months without usual occupation encompassing the spectrum from individual preparation through scheduling, attending rehearsals and performing before live audiences in addition to studio production. Deconditioning, both physical and psychological, can happen even with the best individual practice intentions. A return to increasing work demands and regaining peak performance requires sympathetic and supportive management to minimise risk of injury.

Managers of performing artists, the venues they perform in and the organisations they contract with or are employed by need to play their part in setting up and championing safe working practices as live performance returns. This can be achieved through operating within a framework for health and wellbeing in the performing arts work environment, ensuring a focus on recognition and prevention of work-related illness.

Responsibilities

Although many performing artists are freelance, managers will have responsibilities for ensuring safe working practices and will also have an interest in ensuring the viability of performance, achieved through measures that safeguard the health and wellbeing of performers. There are generic toolkits and advice, for example from the occupational health community, to help understand the extent of a manager’s remit for enabling healthy working practices.

Returning to the workplace COVID-19 toolkit.pdf (som.org.uk)
Sustaining work-relevant mental health post-COVID-19 toolkit.pdf (som.org.uk)

Understanding

The health impacts of Covid-19 and all the restrictions have been challenging for everyone. However, an individual’s own issues and concerns will have been directly influenced by their personal experiences, their knowledge and their own assessment of any implications for health, wellbeing and financial security for themselves and their families.

Managers need to remain alert and sensitive in their dealings with individuals, recognising and acting on warning signs when a performer may be struggling to reintegrate or allowing adjustments where there may be triggers for physical pain/overuse injury or psychological distress.

Assessing risk

BAPAM guidance on risk assessment provides a framework to enable individual performers to obtain the reassurances they need that recognisable risks from the tasks they undertake and the environment they work in are mitigated as far as reasonably practicable taking their individual susceptibilities into account.

Managers need to ensure that:

  • any venue used has appropriate covid-secure guidance in place that is followed
  • the implications and impact of performance task expectations for an individual performer are understood
  • individual susceptibilities (actual and perceived) are acknowledged and accommodated into planning for performing

Individual Staff Risk Assessment for COVID-19 – v2.0 – 11th May, 2020 (bapam.org.uk)

Individual awareness

Managers should take time to foster opportunities for understanding the individual needs of the performing artists they are working with. There should be opportunities for mutual understanding of the following that may help identify individual vulnerabilities and need for support. Individual perceptions of personal susceptibility and the risks encountered will vary; it is important to acknowledge health beliefs while ensuring the accuracy of any information especially regarding the mitigations protecting health and wellbeing. Managers should be aware of:

  • Impact of Covid-19 on the individual
    • Experiences of illness and support for the performer and family (don’t underestimate the personal demands from illness and bereavement, social isolation, home-schooling, financial pressures)
  • Individual priorities for recovery
    • Regaining status as a performer that has been in abeyance
    • Recovering peak performing skills that may be rusty
    • Overcoming cumulative financial pressures that may have resulted from loss of income
    • Personal and family pressures may remain
  • Consequences, mitigations and opportunity costs of different performance choices
    • Identifying and balancing competing priorities as they present at different times not necessarily well coordinated may be stressful
    • As restrictions lift the opening up of work and social opportunities could cumulatively become overwhelming as contrasted with the limitations of restrictions.
    • Accepting all work opportunities may be tempting but could risk overload if not managed and paced.
  • Limits to work capacity
    • Individual priorities for trade-offs will help achieve proportionality in the balance of commitments, making the most of available opportunities but minimising the risk of overload and injury.
    • Factors of different importance to different individuals include,
      • Travel distance, demands, logistics
      • Time away from home
      • Daily scheduling
      • Impact on self and others of Covid-19 exposure risks, needs for testing and quarantining

Returning to work in the performing arts after having COVID-19 | BAPAM
Performance Anxiety – BAPAM Factsheet

Regaining stamina and resilience for performance

Managers should recognise that, through limited opportunities for use, performing artists may experience physical and psychological deconditioning and will need time to pace their activities. By making pragmatic choices of repertoire and considerate scheduling, a managed escalation of performance demands will help a performer build up physical and psychological stamina to regain pre-Covid capacity for optimal performance. Managers can anticipate and defuse psychological blocks or anxieties about performance demands (repertoire choice, performance length, scheduling) by enabling:

  • Starting back at smaller scale
  • Pacing performance commitments
  • Managing build-up of intensity
  • Remaining sensitive to the cumulative effects of performance demands

When the curtain goes up again: Building our fitness to perform | BAPAM
When the curtain goes up again: Injury prevention for dancers | BAPAM
BAPAM Healthy Practice Diary.docx (downloads Word document)
Returning to live performance: Why programme choice matters | BAPAM

Starting the conversation

The manager of a performing artist, a performance and/or a venue may be the initial point of contact for a performing artist returning to performance. Concern for individual health and wellbeing will help break down barriers and identify anxieties over rehearsing and performing in public. Remember:

  • Early contact needs to be positive and caring.
  • Establishing rapport can pave the way to sharing and mitigating problems.
  • Identifying specific obstacles to the return to performance (personal, health, task, environment) will help smooth the path and avoid leaving problems unforeseen and/or unacknowledged.
  • Agree a return to performance plan to overcome specific obstacles – who needs to do what, when?
  • If mitigations are not possible and/or obstacles are too complex, seek external sources of help

BAPAM Factsheet – Mental Health Support in a Crisis
The Musicians’ Union | Organisation for Musicians in the UK | The MU (musiciansunion.org.uk)
Equity
One Dance UK
NHS Health at Work Network

The following conversation starters for managers in the performing arts world have been adapted from the Society of Occupational Medicine’s resources for supporting a return to work in the aftermath of Covid-19:

  • How has life been?
  • Are you OK about coming back?
  • Do you feel safe coming back?
  • Is there anything that will make the return to performing better?
  • Do you know who to talk with if any problems crop up?
  • Do you anticipate any issues with the proposed rehearsal schedule / performance / venue?
  • Is there anything that would be helpful to change to overcome any concerns you may have?

Remember

Any assessment of risks, individual experiences and individual needs is accurate at the point in time it is undertaken – everything can change and therefore conversations need to be repeated with regular opportunities for review.

While Covid-19 has focused minds and actions to maintain health and prevent spread, responsibilities for ensuring health and wellbeing best practice will remain relevant for managers in all performance settings. As the performing arts open up and performing opportunities increase managers have the opportunity to ensure polices for protecting the health and wellbeing of performers remain fit for purpose.

Health and wellbeing | Acas
Wellbeing at work | Factsheets | CIPD