Seven tips for staying sane in the Covid-19 crisis

By Audition Oracle – Tue 24 Mar 2020 @ 15:49

Dear Artists,

Today we have a guest post from one of Britain's leading young director's - Nina Brazier.

Nina Brazier - Director (headshot)

Seven tips for staying sane in the Covid-19 crisis

Chances are, you have just had a whole load of work for the foreseeable future washed away. Those idyllic festivals that stretched ahead over the summer months, the concerts, the church gigs, teaching work that is now impossible… those opening nights that you were so looking forward to, or even those other gigs that you might have been dreading, all gone. And, for the most part, with almost nothing to show for it (aside from some incredible companies that are managing to honour all - or as much as they possibly can - of their contracts, even for freelancers).  The answer is, what on earth comes next? And when? Questions, that for now, no one can answer for us. So we need to find some coping mechanisms over the next weeks…months… let’s not think any further than that for now.

I’m guessing we’ve all had quieter periods in our lives where something’s been cancelled, or we simply had a gap (or terrifying hole) in the diary, and we got through it one way or another. If you haven’t, well that’s fantastic, I guess there’s no time like the present to learn!  Now’s the time to tap back into the coping mechanisms that kept us from going insane at that time, and extend them for as long as this crisis lasts.

I loved reading the Audition Oracle post on Controlling the Controllable about controlling your environment and giving yourself boundaries to your working day, and there’s nothing more important than this in such a strange time, otherwise your life and work blend into one, big messy blob with no clear beginning, middle or end, leaving us feeling unsatisfied and as if we have achieved a big, fat nothing for the day (week, extend as necessary…).

I’m going to share a few things that have helped me during recent weeks and previous work ‘troughs’ as I sometimes call them.  Some of these overlap with Controlling the Controllable, only because they deserve to be repeated.

1) Set up your new work environment 

Make sure it’s as distraction-free as possible, even if that just means clearing your dining room table to make space for your laptop. Your workspace can dictate how you feel about the day, and can contribute to your productivity. Check that there’s not stuff in your eyeline to distract you, such as kitchen tasks in the background that you suddenly have to jump up and deal with.

2) Find a completely new work pattern

Even though the look and feel of your work may be very different for a while, you need to give yourself a structure or timetable and treat these new tasks as your current ‘work’. Even if that’s calling your landlord/mortgage broker to negotiate your rent or mortgage holiday, talking to HMRC about your new status, chasing overdue invoices – it’s not work as we know it, but it’s work nevertheless. Sometimes I used to imagine that I was doing these tasks for someone else, and being endlessly on hold became less frustrating. Remember that being on hold or not being responded to is something you really can’t control, so let go of your expectations about what ‘should’ happen and try to think of it as a task that needs to be worked through.  Remember to take proper breaks and regular exercise to stop you going stir crazy.  Also, basic as it sounds, a good old To-do list does help you feel like you are achieving something.

3) Look at the ways you may be able save money around your home.

I remember a long period of being literally down to the last pennies of my overdraft, and I just had to come up with something. I ended up selling off a load of books and CDs to which was a complete lifesaver (and really easy to use). Then I dug into all the items in my cupboards and freezer to find ways of cooking up what I already had without spending any additional cash. In a strange way it was satisfying to find solutions from items I already had, and see how long I could survive without going to the market or supermarket.  It’s certainly not something I would want to continue forever, but it definitely helped me get a handle on my situation. For budget recipes, check out Madeleine Oliver on YouTube and Jack Monroe or just get creative with the ingredients you have.  Check out this great Vlog from The Vicar’s Wife’s Frugal Life for more practical money tips in the Covid-.19 climate, on cancelling subscriptions and preventing unnecessary spending wherever possible.

4) Clearing your space (and make money while you are doing it)

I had a stretch of time last year where I was on the edge of a burnout and reaching breaking point, and one thing I had to do to clear my head was completely strip my workspace of extraneous items. Literally everything had to come off my noticeboard, and almost everything was swept off my desk. The ‘noise’ of stuff around me had to be reduced to a minimum. Only after Marie-Kondo-ing my space (minus the thanking and tender farewells for all the joy things had sparked) could I focus properly on the work in hand. Since then I have noticed that the fewer visual distractions there are around me, the better I can concentrate. My more recent Covid-19 de-cluttering projects include:

  1. Collecting together a box of items ready to go to charity (as soon as the shops are open again).  For clothes that are no longer good enough for charity, check out any clothes banks near you where textiles can get recycled. 
  2. Going through and reducing all my old photos, sending any doubles to friends and family members and putting the rest into albums
  3. Going through old cards and letters and creating scrapbooks instead of having them wasting away in boxes
  4. All the things that for months (years?) I was always going to ‘put up on Ebay’ I finally put up on Ebay and actually made some money. This can also of course work on Facebook Marketplace and Shpock or wherever you find is best to sell your stuff. It just takes a bit of patience, and the outcome is so satisfying!
  5. Going through my scores and photocopies, recycling and giving away any doubles I no longer want, tidying up my notes

5) Update your calendar (if you haven’t already)

Organise your website with the latest news as far ahead as you can – remember there’s absolutely no shame in being honest about the situation, so many of us are in the same boat. Add those photos that you’ve been meaning to, any outstanding news and reviews, and upload any recordings you haven’t yet had the chance to.  If you haven’t yet got a website, now’s the time - is a great, easy-to-use starting place.

6) Tackle future tasks and develop new projects 

The most obvious (and dreaded) being the next Tax Return – imagine your relief at when it’s completed, and how smug you will be when the deadline comes around. Or on a more enjoyable note – what about those roles you always wanted to prepare for, but never had the time?  Or some new audition repertoire? Team up with colleagues and develop a pitch to a venue or festival for a future concert.  Those industry people you always intended to write to? They may now even have the time to respond. If you are not panicking about money, what about starting to learn a language you really want to tackle? On a necessary note, think about the ways you might be able to monetise what you do – online teaching? Teaching English online? Be creative and don’t be afraid to brainstorm with friends, they might also have good ideas for your skillset that would never occur to you.  

7) Stay connected and reach out to others during this strange time

Whether for you that’s just with your immediate friends and family, or if you are able to help those in need in the wider community (without risking your health or theirs that is). Make and send cards and presents, bake (if you can get any flour at the moment and if you enjoy it), post books you’ve read to friends and family who might enjoy them, pick up the ‘phone and share your highs and woes with others going through the same thing. 

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have lived through long periods of uncertainty where I have questioned whether I will ever work again (or make any money), and somehow or another there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. In this instance, there should be a ghost light burning in every theatre, a gentle reminder that each and every single one of us will be back on the stage, however long it takes.

Nina Brazier - Director

Nina has joined the staff at Oper Frankfurtfor seasons 2018-21 where she has revived Brigitte Fassbaender’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Harry Kupfer’s La Damnation de Faust and Florentine Klepper’s Julietta to critical acclaim.

Nina trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, Exeter University, The Royal Court/Channel 4 Directors Scheme, The Operating Table course at the Royal Opera House, and has taken part in the Opera Europa Opera Management Course

Her productions include Alex Mills’ new opera Dear Marie Stopes at Kings Place, London, the revival of Krenek’s Drei Kurzopern at Oper Frankfurt, Philippe Sands’ East West Street at MuTh in Vienna and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, Le Nozze di Figaro for the Berlin Opera Academy, Die Sache Makropulos at Theater Bonn as Associate Director to Christopher Alden, Così fan Tutte for Ryedale Festival Opera and the Chiltern Arts Festival, the world premiere of Swan's Inlet at the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York, If This is a Man at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre and an ongoing world tour of Philippe Sands' East West Street which recently toured to the Berlin Konzerthaus, 92nd St Y, New York and Théâtre National de la Colline in Paris. Her Ryedale Festival production of The Magic Flute, and her double-bill of Spilt Milk & Trouble in Tahiti at the Arcola Theatre in London were both Time Out Critic's Choice. 

Nina has previously worked as a visiting Staff Director for opera houses in Europe including the Royal Opera House, London, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, Staatstheater Darmstadt, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera and Opera North, and she has acted as a visiting director at the Royal College of Music, the Italian Opera Summer School, Guildhall School of Music & Drama and Birkbeck University

Outside of her operatic work, Nina is joint head of the English Language Committee for Eurodram, the European network for drama in translation.