RADFORD – Actor Robyn Berg has trod many a board in her long career, performing in everything from Romeo and Juliet to Alice in Wonderland.
As a director, she’s staged plays like Death of a Salesman and Once Upon a Mattress and received the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival Excellence in Directing Award for Shrek. And she’s taught theater classes at Radford since 2015.
In short, Berg knows her craft – and exactly how taxing it can be.
“We could go down a lot of rabbit holes,” Berg said when explaining the various demands of stage and screen acting.
“Physically, we ask a lot of our bodies,” she clarified. “For example, we might have to do stage combat in a scene, we might have to wear a 30-pound costume and act on a raked stage so you are diagonal the whole time.”
A working actor might do a matinee show in one theater and an evening performance in another, each in a completely different character, with five to eight performances for each in a week.
Then there are the mental and emotional demands of performances, adjusting to changing working conditions, trying to balance a family and personal life, and managing finances.
Seeing the value in discussing these issues, Berg has joined with Bonny O’Neill, a friend and licensed professional counselor, to produce “Staying Me While Being You – a wellness journey for actors.” It is currently available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
“Staying Me While Being You” takes a practical approach to issues like the ones listed above. Berg and O’Neill aim to bring awareness to the way things like meditation, yoga, and therapy can keep actors healthy and confident before stepping into the shoes of a character.
“I tell my students all the time, their friends in most other majors are going do a few interviews, get one job, work a fairly regular schedule, get regular pay, and maybe move a few times in their lives,” Berg said.
“That is not an actor’s life. You are going to audition all the time. You’ll move around. You may have three shows in a month or no shows in three months.”
Because that reality is so different, Berg says actors must find a way to ground themselves because their lifestyle is not going to provide it.
This is a point that her partner, Bonny O’Neill, understands as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Service Provider. Her practice, River Rocks Counseling, is in Nashville, Tennessee.
O’Neill has a background in theater too and she found herself working with actors regularly as a result. When Berg and O’Neill compared notes, so to speak, they found the problems actors face are fairly common.
“At first, most of the actors came to me seeking help with addiction issues, depression, anxiety, or finding balance with work and family or being a parent,” O’Neill explained.
“When we dug deeper into their individual situations, I found there were specific issues relating to acting that made their therapy goals harder.”
For example, she’s had actors recovering from addiction who had to work with active drug or alcohol users.
And what happens when you are trying to work through your own trauma and find yourself playing a character in a similar situation? How do you embody the experience of trauma without opening old wounds or becoming triggered yourself?
As you might expect, actors frequently don’t always have the tools and resources to manage these situations, which can lead to anxiety, depression, loss of work, and health issues.
O’Neill says the podcast is geared toward actors but might appeal to anyone with a similar lifestyle or issues. For example, they plan to have a financial advisor on to discuss how to plan and function when your income is somewhat unpredictable.
Their first episode went live on Oct. 9 and featured Emily P. Faith, an actor, director and drama therapist.
Denis McCourt will join them at the mic next. He is chair of Idyllwild Arts Academy and works with international high school students who intend to pursue drama professionally.
In the long run, Berg says they want to build a regular listenership and consistently help people.
“I want people to build their toolbox,” she said. “I want them to fill it with so many different tools that no matter what challenge is ahead of them, they can say, ‘I can figure out how to solve this.’”
Sean Kotz for Radford University