Post-show depression: 5 stages of grieving for actors

(Blythe Coons (Mercutio) plays her last scene in Romeo and Juliet. All photos by Sandra Barton)

I hear the applause.  And stand to take that final bow.  The bow that closes the show.  It’s always a bitter sweet moment.  The moment that says goodbye to a good time.  The moment that welcomes new projects and new possibilities …or what seems like a gaping artistically-collapsing void… The end of a show can feel like a good break up.  Is there such a thing?  A break up that allows a person to continue forward but look back fondly on what was?  I don’t think there is – not without proper time, space, and distance.

Kate Graham (Nurse) and me

This is post-show depression.  The actor’s breakup.  This is how I grieve:

Denial.  I wake up the next day in a complete panic, certain that I’m late to do the show – Romeo and Juliet.  I pause, remembering the hard truth, and fall back asleep.  I wake up later in the morning and try to distract myself.  I get online and look at upcoming auditions.  I submit myself.  For everything.  Even parts I can’t play till I’m 40.  I’m desperate.  I crave the casting director’s attention.  Anything – anyone – just make me feel like an artist again.  Make me feel alive.  …Er, yeah, that sounds weird.  Sorry.  I start looking on facebook, reading old posts and emails, remembering the “good times” when the play was young.  When we were still rehearsing.  We were so great together.  And look how much we all cared about the work we were doing.  We promise to stay in touch now that it’s done.

Jamie Jager (Romeo)

Anger.  A week in and I’m confused.  I don’t know why I haven’t been called in to audition.  I don’t know why I’m not in rehearsals again.  I don’t know why I can’t be doing that fantastic show anymore.  Why did it have to close?  And why haven’t I heard from any of the other actors?  Have they moved on?  Have they found someone else?  Some other playwright to take from script to stage?  Someone else’s world to rock?  This can’t be happening.  We said we cared about each other… I have a face off with the fridge.  I walk away with a chocolate chip walnut cookie in my hand.  I repeat this ten times before the episode of How I Met Your Mother is over.  I deserve this.  I’m upset and everyone else has moved on.

Bargaining.  This is when I try to keep in touch.  To rekindle the flame.  Remind everyone of what we had and why it’s so good.  This is when I start to propose webisode, script, and screenplay ideas.  Anything – just to keep us all working together.  Because it was “so great.”  Please, please, please don’t forget me.  …I’m starting to embarrass myself.  I know it’s ridiculous.  I know time has passed.  I know it’s time to let it go.  Get over it.  If we could just do one more show.  Just one more.  Pleeeeeeease.

Jose Guzman (Friar)

Depression.  This is when the tears start flowing.  At random times.  Like when I’m finally on set again for a casino industrial.  An actor comes up to me and introduces himself and it’s just not the same.  My eyes start to sting, but I’m supposed to be having a good time.  I’m playing craps in a cocktail dress that I picked out of wardrobe myself.  It’s silver and makes my hips look slim.  This project is really good to me.  I should be happy… I blurry eye cry all the way home.  And no, it’s not my period, guy.  Why do guys think they know everything?

Acceptance.  I honestly don’t think I know that I’ve accepted the end of a show until I’m knee deep in the next one – completely distracted, elated, and inspired so that I’ve almost forgotten the other show ever existed.  Of course, that show must end, too, and when it does, I just start the cycle all over again: panic, cookies, begging, crying, and all.  My life is the actor’s break up.  On repeat.

5 thoughts on “Post-show depression: 5 stages of grieving for actors

  • December 4, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    Walking around the house, looking out different windows, trying to figure out what we’re forgetting, as if we really did forget something because something used to fill this void … (sigh) …

  • November 29, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    Perfectly stated. Much love to Jana for writing this.

    • Jana Stambaugh
      November 30, 2012 at 12:55 AM

      You’re the best, Jose. 🙂

  • November 29, 2012 at 5:22 PM

    i feel ya, but i’d also point out that some people stay friends long after they’ve broken up.

    • Jana Stambaugh
      November 30, 2012 at 12:49 AM

      Are you saying we can stay friends, Jonas? 😉

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