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Coming Home to “Real” Life

10855041_10155293338945043_7223358695315736448_oBen Abbott is Performing Arts Abroad’s Outreach Coordinator. He is also a professional actor with credits around the country including this upcoming summer at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

I recently got to play Black Stache in a local production of Peter and the Starcatcher.


My daughter came to work with her mom in the costume shop one day. “I hate, I hate, I HATE CHILDREN!”

When the show closed I found myself once again in that familiar post-show funk. If you’re an actor or performer, you know what I mean. The show closes and if you don’t have another project lined up right away you can go through a bit of a depressive period. I was talking about this with PAA’s Executive Director, Reynolds Whalen, and we realized that there are a lot of parallels between the post-show funk and coming home from a program abroad. It might be helpful to point them out, especially if you already have experience with one or the other.

#1 Starting is a ramp, ending is a cliff.

Whether you’re preparing for a program abroad or a performance at home, it doesn’t happen overnight. In the case of this play, auditions took place back in January. Then rehearsals began in March and they ramped and ramped until we got to tech week, dress rehearsals, previews, and then finally opening in April. Each step along the way was a natural progression from the one before it until finally culminating in opening night and the plateau of a regular performance schedule.

Post show funk blog

Spoiler Alert *

There’s a long ramp into going abroad as well (say for one of our volunteer programs.) You look at the programs and decide which you want to do, you apply, you go through pre-departure orientation, you pack, and then finally you go! The program itself is the final culmination of months of preparation and anticipation.

But in the end, it just ends. Closing night arrives. You fly home. You had weeks or months gearing up for the start, but there’s no winding down period at the end. In both cases it’s full throttle until the finish line and then you just…go home.

#2 Goodbye Structure

For the month or so that Peter and the Starcatcher ran, my whole day revolved around that 6:30 call time. But it wasn’t just a time commitment. That show kicked my butt, and I had to be ready to give it 100% every single time, which meant budgeting my physical, mental, and emotional resources around those performances. Then one day, it’s gone. Every time a show closes I think, hey this will be great, I’ve got that many more hours in the day freed up to be productive. But along with the freedom can come a strange sense of emptiness. As it turns out the show wasn’t just a drain on my physical and emotional resources but was also the rudder that gave them direction and structure. With it gone, I have to reorient myself and find a new North Star or I’ll just flounder.

When you come home from abroad it’s an even bigger shift.  Not only are you not doing the same things, you’re not even in the same time zone anymore.  If you get to have a break after working hard at an internship or volunteer placement that’s great, but going from a packed schedule everyday to nothing can actually make you a little crazy.

#3 Everyone’s a stranger all of a sudden.

Whether you’re in a cast or a group of students abroad, you’re part of something together. Those two-show days are exhausting for everyone and the burden is that much lighter because you’re all lifting it together. On a program abroad, everyone around you is experiencing the same rhythms and sounds of life in Spain or Italy or Costa Rica or Ireland.

Pictured: Team Work

Pictured: Team Work *

When it suddenly ends, it’s hard not to feel isolated. You’re no longer part of an ensemble. Your life stops being a shared experience, and you didn’t realize how much you’d grown accustomed to the camaraderie until you all fly to your separate homes and it’s not there anymore.

#4 Where’s the rush?

I know this might be a shock, but real life isn’t as dramatic as the stage. I mentioned earlier about the physical and mental drain of the show, but holy cow was it also an adrenaline rush. The thrill of the play itself and the massive positivity from the audience all made for a daily dopamine jolt, and just like any drug, stopping cold turkey can lead to a crash.


Hard to find this kind of attention and excitement around the house. *

When you’re abroad, there’s a constant heightened sense of adventure, and it can work the same way. Coming home means coming back to real life, which is always going to seem duller in comparison.

So what’s the best way to fight the post-show funk and the coming home blues?  For me, the best tonic is throwing myself emotionally into the next project. Whether it be a writing project, work, another play, another trip, or heck, doing some serious spring cleaning, if I can throw myself headfirst into something, I can avoid some of that let down. If I try to come off of something so exciting and thrilling and just step back into everyday life, I’m for sure going to experience a crash.

So the answer to all this shouldn’t be dread, depression or self-pity. Those are just self-fulfilling feedback loops. The answer is to charge headfirst into what’s next! Get excited about school! Get excited about that next audition or that next trip! It’s ok to relax and take a break, but you’ve got to be excited about what’s next.

Anyway that’s what’s worked for me. Good Luck!

*Photo Credit: Jace Barraclough‎

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