5 Obvious Ideas for Avoiding Burnout in Non-profit Theatre


Burnout is the ugly side of being devoted to your work. In the world of non-profit administration, it’s a real problem. We love what we do, but even the best, most rewarding job can become a grind. Especially in our theatrical world, where hard work and creativity mingle like watercolors in the hands of a 5 year-old, the stress of the job can sneak up on you and overwhelm. The best way to deal with burnout is to avoid it in the first place. Here are some ways to do that. Sure, they’re obvious, but as my mother used to say, “It was right in front of your face!”  (Thanks, Mom!)

1. Vacations

Time away from the theatre – all theatre, not just your theatre – is one of the most over-looked things you can do to avoid burnout. For a lot of us, vacation is a chance to indulge in what used to be called a “Busman’s holiday.”   We go somewhere like NYC and see as many big-time shows as we can get tickets for. This is exactly the wrong kind of vacation for avoiding burnout! That’s not to say you can’t visit Broadway on your vacation, but you need to spend the majority of your vacation time doing things you don’t do the rest of the year. Travel to places you’ve never been. Sleep late. Go hiking. Take a glider ride. Reconnect with people from other parts of your life. What you do isn’t nearly as important as what you don’t do. Don’t spend your whole vacation on a theatrical death-march!

2. Unplug

Some of us never really leave work. Our bodies leave the theatre every day, but we stay in touch because we care. We’re on-call in case there are problems. We check in with the producer of the last show to make sure they’ve delivered the financial records to accounting. We touch base with the director of the next show to see how pre-production is going. We take the interns to see shows at other theatres.

In order to avoid burnout, we need to leave our work at work. There will be emergencies that only you can handle. Fine. The rest of the time you need to focus on your life outside of the theatre. If you must use your evenings for theatre-related events, set a limit of one night per week. The rest of the time, turn off the cell-phone. Stay away from your email. Don’t check the social media for the group. (Your personal stuff is ok.) The downtime you take will make you more productive during the workday, and you can call that tardy producer in the morning!

3. Find Another Hobby

I’m willing to bet that you did something you enjoyed before you became embroiled in theatre. What was it? Pick it up again and see if it still appeals. If not, try something new. Finding a new hobby will give you a reason for spending time away from the theatre. In avoiding burnout,  that’s a good thing.

4. Exercise

Do I really need to explain this? If you’re in administration, you probably don’t spend a lot of time moving around. You may not get outside during the day much. Exercise increases blood flow to every part of your body. It elevates the oxygen in our bloodstream making us feel more alert. It decreases stress. So what are you waiting for? Get up and move!

5. Maintain Outside Relationships

I remember when I realized that almost everybody I spent time with was involved in theatre. The only exceptions to this were my siblings and, if I’m honest, I didn’t really spend much time with them. This is bad. Don’t let this happen to you.

Most people maintain about three social groups at any time. There are work people, friends and family, and there’s at least one other social group – maybe church members. For those of us who work in the theatre, at least two of these groups can get bundled together. It’s important that we maintain relationships outside of the theatre. Other relationships help us maintain balance and they can help us avoid illness and live longer lives!

Allowing yourself to burnout is an act of personal, as well as organizational destruction. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your theatre.

What do you do to avoid burnout? Leave me a comment.

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One comment

  1. Gary Helmers · · Reply

    Julie, I’ve found many things in your post to be useful not just in Theater Administration, but in business in general. This latest post hits on several things I try (not always successfully) to do in my work life.

    It’s very easy these days to never be out of touch with our work. I have found it very refreshing to simply turn that part of my life off at times. It will always be there, but I find myself better able to handle it with regular breaks.

    Keep up the great advice and thank you for all you’ve offered so far.

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Katie Strickland

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