by Melissa Griegel
Alisa Hurwitz, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist with her own practice in Massachusetts. In addition, she is a psychologist for the Broadway theater community. As “Dr. Drama,” Alisa applies her professional knowledge to consult on shows, conduct post-show talkbacks, and interview Broadway and off-Broadway actors. Since the shut-down of Broadway due to COVID-19, Alisa has been bringing Broadway to us by interviewing actors and actresses on her Instagram Live mental health series.
You can go to her Instagram page to see interviews with stars from all the big shows, including Jagged Little Pill, Hadestown, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, SIX, and many more. Guests such as Eva Noblezada, Elizabeth Stanley, Ali Stroker, Ethan Slater, Lauren Patten, and Hailey Kilgore, talk with Alisa about how they deal with stress, anxiety, depression, being out-of-work due to the quarantine, and how they keep their creative juices flowing.
This week, the tables were turned as Alisa herself was a guest on a different mental health series broadcast, and got to talk about what she has learned from these stars. The KrazyGirl Project is a movement founded by Marci Wolff Ober, LMFT, and her daughter Courtney. The project is a non-profit foundation whose mission is to bust mental health stigma with humor and connection, and to provide practical tools for wellness that are accessible to everyone.
Marci asked Dr. Drama what she saw as the most common connection all of these Broadway stars share. “Actors tend to be people-pleasers,” Alisa replied. “They are sponges to the world’s emotions and well-being.” While this ability to feel very deeply is useful in playing roles on the stage, it takes a toll on the actors’ own emotional well-being. This has been especially true during the current pandemic, quarantine, and Black Lives Matter protests, and has affected people all across the nation.
Alisa and Marci discussed what all of us can do to help reduce anxiety in times like this. Setting clear boundaries is important, according to Alisa. You need to realize what you can do, and what is beyond your control. A lot of the actors Alisa interviewed felt an immediate pressure to be creative during this hiatus from work. They had to learn to give themselves permission to not be creative for awhile: to step back and figure out whom they are beyond what they do for a living. Resting and rejuvenating is a vital part of wellness. “I think of it like this,” Alisa says, “You can’t drive 600 miles without filling the tank with gas. You need to stop and refill before you can move on.”
Marci agrees, “Self-care is absolutely essential. You need to take some time to do things for your own well-being.” They both agree that mindfulness is a very useful technique. There are mindful meditation classes, self-help books, and plenty of online apps and resources. Part of being mindful is slowing down and being aware of your body and taking in deep breaths. “Luckily, actors who sing understand breath,” Alisa added. Deep breathing is useful for all people with anxiety. Singers can use what they have learned about breath to incorporate it into a relaxation and meditation routine.
I popped on the broadcast towards the end to ask Alisa about some of the current shows on Broadway that deal with previously taboo or stigmatized topics. She reminded me that although shows such as Dear Evan Hansen and The Prom received a lot of media attention for talking about suicide and LGBTQ issues, they are not the first shows to do that. Past shows such as Promises, Promises, and Next to Normal also broached these topics. The difference now is how the material is presented and the broader discussions people are now having about these topics. Jagged Little Pill, for example, goes beyond just having serious issues in the script, it made the whole theater experience more conscious of the current environment by having gender-neutral bathrooms and listing people’s preferred pronouns in the Playbill.
If you would like to see the whole conversation, it can be viewed on one of these links: Google drive https://drive.google.com/file/d/1JihR9S0iQ6R1wJlxKOAVqcqix9LDYMAU/view?usp=sharing
and YouTube https://youtu.be/t8sqGsVSDKo
For more information on the KrazyGirl Project visit https://krazygirlproject.com or join the Krazy Girls Survival Group on FB. Dr. Drama can be found on FB and Instagram, and her website www.drdrama.com. Look out for upcoming podcasts by these two incredible women.