If you’re in the performing arts sector, it’s likely you’ve been on tour or know colleagues who have.

WORDS BY JESSIE WANG AND MATT HEYWARD | Published in Spotlight: The Arts Wellbeing Collective Magazine, Edition 1

If you’re in the performing arts sector, it’s likely you’ve been on tour or know colleagues who have. Whether you are performing, producing, or behind-the-scenes, touring is an exciting and unforgettable process. You can experience new places, perform for new audiences, and live an adventure where every day is different.

But at the same time… it’s exhausting. You’re constantly on the move. You’re away from your family and friends. You’re working long hours in unfamiliar environments.

Sometimes you may feel like you are barely getting by – something that can quickly lead to mental ill health and wellbeing issues.

As an artist myself, I’d like to think that a work-life balance exists, even on tour, so it’s great to hear that the Arts Wellbeing Collective has developed Tour Well, a toolkit consisting of evidence-based tips addressing common mental health and wellbeing challenges that you might encounter before, during, and even after the tour.

We spoke to Arts Wellbeing Collective consultant, Matt Heyward about the creation of Tour Well.

How did you get involved with Tour Well?

I am a professional Musical Theatre Performer who has been working and touring around Australia for the last 20 years in shows like Mamma Mia!, Les Miserables and My Fair Lady.

In 2015 and 2016, I was an associate producer of Out From Under, alongside Matthew Henderson, Liam Mcilwain and Luke Hunter.

We knew the statistics around mental health in the arts were bad, and thought it was time someone shed some light on the reasons why. We produced an evening of entertainment and education aimed at ‘starting the conversation’.

We worked closely with two psychologists and had discussion panels about anxiety, depression and identity, interspersed around some incredible performances.

When the Arts Wellbeing Collective commenced in 2017, it was the perfect opportunity for me to get involved with a prevention program that focussed specifically on the promotion of positive mental health in the performing arts.

Why do you think a toolkit like Tour Well is so important?

When I started touring 20 years ago, you were handed a plane ticket, a taxi voucher, and the address of your accommodation. Other than that you were pretty much on your own.

A lot of performers can be straight out of drama school, straight out of home, and all of a sudden you are in a strange city, earning a full wage, working all the time, but with no extra support – you’re away from your family, friends, familiarity – it can be exciting, but also very daunting!

Tour Well was developed to help you thrive while you are on tour – not just survive. The resource covers beginning the tour, things you may experience while you are away, right through to post-tour and the challenges that can come with leaving the ‘tour bubble.’

A lot of effort has been put into this toolkit. But the best part is that it’s also filled with graphics, tips and tricks, and written in a colloquial voice. How was Tour Well developed? Was each writer in charge of a different section?

We reached out to some of the top professionals in their fields and asked them questions designed for arts workers and touring.

For example, a lot of us know of the difficulties around sleep when it comes to performing at night and constantly sleeping in different rooms and environments.

We interviewed Dr Melissa Ree, one of the top sleep psychologists in the country, and asked her questions that none of us in the industry seemed to know the answer to, like, “What time should I be going to bed when I finish work at 11pm?”, “How do I unwind properly after a show?”, “How much sleep is enough sleep if I have a matinee tomorrow?”

Each section was put together this way; identifying specific issues around touring and then reaching out to mental health professionals to shed some light and offer tools and structures to help deal with them.

We collected all of the information from the experts then put it all together in one voice that is hopefully easy to read.

The topics in Tour Well were informed by consultation with more than 100 touring professionals, and driven by what these touring professionals wish they had known. Why do you think mental health and wellbeing on tour is not commonly discussed?

I have found that even though we are in an industry that is all about communication, often we aren’t very good at it ourselves.

There is still a lot of stigma about mental health issues, and often we feel that ‘show must go on’ mentality that we need to keep being ok – at any cost.

Whether that be issues with sleep, anxiety, or simply missing home – it is a good thing to know that if you are experiencing any of these feelings, you are most certainly not alone and maybe if you are brave enough to voice it, you might inspire someone else to do
the same.

I am so excited to be working with the Arts Wellbeing Collective team who are really doing incredible things in the mental health and wellbeing sector in the arts – Claire Spencer, Arts Centre Melbourne’s CEO, and her team are really making big steps to shift the way mental health is viewed and spoken about in our community, and that includes conversations about health and wellbeing on tour.

What are you hoping people get out of this toolkit?

If one person finds something in it that helps them in any way while they are on tour, whether that be to do with sleep, diet, exercise or post-tour comedown, then I am happy. I wish something like this had existed when I started touring. Even to just be made aware that you might feel a certain way when you are away from family and friends and feel like the only thing you have in your life is work.

To know that is completely normal, and then read suggestions about how to help yourself deal with it all, then at the very least you are armed with information.

If there was one thing you could tell people going on tour, what would it be?

You are going away to work, have fun and enjoy yourself, but look after yourself at the same time. Make sure you have balance outside of work. Find classes, parks, cafes, libraries in each city, that make you feel like you, not just ‘work’ you.


Article first appeared in CutCommon. Founded in 2014, CutCommon is an independently run classical and new music magazine with a passion for exposing talent. CutCommon is a proud member of the Arts Wellbeing Collective. Visit cutcommonmag.com

Article republished with permission.