What does it mean to have Safe and Brave Space in the rehearsal room?
For someone who has spent a lot of time working in schools --being trained in things like restorative practices, peace circles, and working in organizations who practice strong ways to have effective equity, diversity, and inclusion within their organizations-- all while trying to do this acting thing, I found that a lot of the ideas, frameworks, and policies that were being used in my workspaces could actually transfer to the rehearsal space. People just have to be open to it. I needed to preface this before diving into the article. This is so that me and the reader have a mutual understanding and foundation as to where I am coming from.
Is there even a need for “Safe and Brave” rehearsal spaces?
It is a concern, especially in our current American environment and with an emphasis on and need for self-care. In addition to the fact that we bring various walks of life together, from the creative team to the actors, into the same room to create, we are bringing together different personalities, races, genders, sexualities, and people who “deal” with everyday life ups-and-downs differently. Having safe and brave and spaces for intimate and vulnerable scene work, but also to the overall energy we bring to the rehearsal space, is important. Theatres strive to be the most open in their processes; however, the human aspect of things can get lost due to stress levels, personal life happenings, and much more. I know companies try to make sure they are following Not in Our House policies and procedure. Some succeed, some fail. So how do we truly make the rehearsal process and room safe and brave?
First, let’s define Safe and Brave Space. Safe and Brave Spaces is a framework of dialogue for diversity and social justice. The idea of a Brave Space is said to be developed by scholars Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens (according to our trusty friend google). You can check out ‘From Safe Space to Brave Space: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice”. It is extremely informative and something I can touch on in another post! For the sake of this post, I want to provide you with definitions that you can digest a bit quicker. When doing my research to find the perfect definition (because you know #internet), I noticed various languages to define them, all with the same foundational message. One that I found useful for this particular post, was from an article called “Do We need Safe and Brave Spaces” from alternativebreaks.org. They say:
A safe space is ideally one that doesn’t incite judgment based on identity or experience - where the expression of both can exist and be affirmed without fear of repercussion and without the pressure to educate. While learning may occur in these spaces, the ultimate goal is to provide support.
A brave space encourages dialogue. Recognizing difference and holding each person accountable to do the work of sharing experiences and coming to new understandings - a feat that’s often hard, and typically uncomfortable.
You are probably thinking, so what does this have to do with Theatre, specifically rehearsal spaces, because that is what we are talking about, right? Well, EVERYTHING!
In any workplace you want to feel validated, feel hope, and feel supported. As an employee, you have bad days at work and you have good days at work. Depending on your relationship with your supervisors and colleagues, you have a desire to have a sense of community: a place where you can be yourself, share your thoughts freely, maybe even lean on those people for support. As the responsibility of the employee, there is also a level of self-care that ideally should be there, so that you feel you can have a productive and accomplished day. Rehearsals are not any different, because as actors and creative team members, rehearsals are part of our work environment; it may not be the traditional scenario, but that is our place of employment and we want to feel all of those things and thrive. The difference is that as performers, we are thrown into our emotions and vulnerability to perform and in that, we need time to step away from our characters and just be present as ourselves. Then add on the pressures of daily struggles we encounter, especially on the financial front (how do we do it?!), on TOP of whatever news that breaks on a given day that may affect us deeply. We are coming into these spaces with a lot on our emotional plates. How are we able to use the rehearsal space as a place to
decompress, cope, feel we can be our total true selves, and get the work we need to get done so that we get the outcome we desire? Hell, is it even possible? Allowed? IS IT TOO MANY FEELINGS!?
Frankly, I think it is needed. As artists, our mental health is as important as the next person’s and should not be compromised. We should feel emotionally safe in our line of work. Keyword: should. How do we become more open to shifting the structure of rehearsal to at least providing the space, offering the space for those coming in challenged by whatever may have hit them before walking through those doors, to breathe and decompress before diving into a piece of literature or musical score? Or better yet, how can we provide the space to reflect on some of the major concerns and issues that are going on around us? Am I asking for too much? Some of us can’t just check it at the door. Sometimes that time on the Red Line just isn’t enough. So how can theatres be a support in that, to prevent a toxic experience?
I ask you this, do you feel comfortable going to your Director before rehearsal to say Hey, today has been difficult for me. If my energy seems off, that is why. I will be focused, but I may be distant during my breaks? Do you? Not being able to advocate for your own well-being does not promote a safe or brave space.
So then, what do we do? What (clap) can (clap) we (clap) do (clap)? Well, let me give you some helpful tips and suggestions:
Choose your Directors and Creative Teams intentionally (Theatre Org + Directors): Listen, I know we want a bomb ass team that will give us all the Jeff’s. Jeff won’t mean nothin’ to nobody if your team dynamic is toxic. Jeff won’t mean nothin’ if you choose a Director that is known to be problematic but you still hire them because “they do great work.” Choose Directors and Creative Teams that reflect the actors you want to cast and show. If you have a predominantly POC/LGBTQ/black/female show/cast and your Directors and creative team are predominantly white and/or white male (insert eyeroll emoji)... I mean I hate to say it, but truth is truth: in this current climate, these things could affect the comfort level and how much one chooses to be vulnerable with themselves in their character development. Just sayin’ (insert black girl shoulder shrug emoji). Also, Shout out to those who are working to make their spaces inclusive and diverse!
Work from a human perspective (Creative Teams + Actors): A past employer I once worked at had foundational phrases that guided educators to remember the WHY behind the work we were doing. One of my favorites phrases I took away from that job was “We must never lose the human aspect of what we are doing.” We are all humans before we are our titles. We are complex creatures. We should practice patience, understanding, and seek clarity.
Create rehearsal norms (Creative teams + Actors): Block out time to make this a priority. The first day/week of rehearsal would be ideal. This will allow everyone in the room to have the same language and an understanding and foundation on how to operate within the space.
Create language if/when someone feels uncomfortable or offended (Creative teams + Actors): One that I have actually used during rehearsal is called “Ouch” and “Oops.” If someone said something that offended a person in any way, that person would say “ouch.” The person who made the comment would then reply with “oops,” followed by an immediate apology and dialogue of the offended party’s choosing to seek closure. Be creative and thoughtful with this!
Stick to your break times and end times (SMs + Directors): Oh, this is a big one that can often get overlooked in the non-equity world. If it is time for a break, take the break! For yourself as the creative team and as the actor. Stick to it!
Intentional Check ins (Directors): I once worked with a Director who would start rehearsal asking how we were doing. We either would give one-word answers or sometimes we had a little time to chat as a group. For me it really helped to see where everyone’s headspace and energy was for that day. I also worked with a director that would use the five minutes before rehearsal to engage with the actors on a human level and see how they were doing. It sounds small, but these little things don’t go unnoticed.
Directors be honest -- emotionally honest: Listen, you all are people too and being vulnerable can be challenging. If you are feeling challenged by the day, let us know! It is up to you how much you want to divulge. It could be as simple as “Hey all, I got some things going on. I do apologize if I seem off. Have patience with me during today’s rehearsal.” Something that simple gives the actors and your team a glimpse of your head space.
Provide a space to reflect on social issues (Directors, SMs, Actors): This may not be everyone and not everyone wants to talk about what is going in America. I get it, but some do. You can use those breaks for that time or meet 10-15 minutes before rehearsal. Or depending on the issue at hand, reflect as a cast, if the spirit moves you. I suggest that if you do allow this space, your stage manager can send a heads-up to the cast ahead of time. “Hello staff, during our 10 min. break we are going to provide time for those who want to discuss x- matter. It is not mandatory, but the space is there for you all!” You have options.
Mini affinity groups (Creative teams + Actors): This could be a stretch, but important, and could also be helpful with larger casts. You can follow the same guidelines as in number 8.
Use your Deputy wisely and effectively: In the Non-Eq world, choose your NED (Non-Equity Deputy) wisely. That in itself is a whole other conversation. Choose someone that you trust, that can be unbiased, and feels comfortable receiving challenging information and then articulating that information through the appropriate channels.
Don’t be a clarity checker (All): As actors, and creative teams, we seek clarity to make sure everyone is on the same page for many things. Be it character development, set design, lights, etc. We all want the production to look brilliant! However, once we stop listening and use our titles as a power move to negate clarity and understanding, we lose the essence of effective communication. Someone who passively listens to your questions, who diminishes your thought or understanding, responds in a negative tone, etc. It can make the person who is seeking clarity voice feel hushed, not heard, and not valued in the space. That person could potentially shut down or become combative. People react differently when they don’t feel valued. Instead, go back to basics and practice Yes, And, repeat what the person is saying so that you the listener can retain and react effectively. For example, “What I am hearing is….” or some variation of that sounds like you. If you know other tactics that practice healthy collaboration and communication, use that!
I know some of you are thinking This seems like a lot! Well, I won’t sugarcoat anything: it is. Making change is a lot. Not only is it a lot, but you also have to be extremely self-aware of how you act and react in working on a team. Keep an open mind, give some of these a try and do what works best for your rehearsal space! Lean into the discomfort that challenges you about these tips and tricks. If you’re feeling really progressive, be proactive during your pre-production meetings in making these the norm in your planning.
Go forth, my fellow thespians-- you may be surprised by the outcome! Let us know in the comments below how rehearsals can become brave and safe spaces. The list curated above has no limits, and these are only suggestions!
ALSO, here are some links to learn more about emotional safety and safe/brave spaces.
Do we need safe or brave spaces?
Emotional safety in the rehearsal room
Safe spaces and brave spaces
From safe spaces to brave spaces