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Tour Management Manual: Mental Health and Planning Your Tour – Part 2

Planning Your Tour
By Arts Wellbeing Collective

If you’re reading this tool kit, it’s likely you have extensive knowledge of touring, the performing arts, and other contexts and experiences that contribute to effective touring. Let’s start with your knowledge of planning your tour, as this is what the tool kit builds on – it certainly doesn’t replace it!

Considering these questions early can help to frame your decision making around what’s important for your next tour, and what initiatives you might prioritise.

Depending on your time frames and the way in which you design tours, you could even raise these questions with your Company Manager, Executive Producer, and other stakeholders for discussion and consideration.

If you had infinite time, money, and resources dedicated to implementing initiatives that promote positive mental health and wellbeing for the whole company, what would you love to do?

This might seem ridiculously blue sky, but it’s a great way of challenging yourself to get creative!

You never know, many of the things might be entirely possible!

If you’ve designed tours before, or been on tour yourself, what were some of the things that went well? Why did they go well? What would you like to improve? Are there any specific challenges with this upcoming tour that you’re concerned or nervous about? Who might have experienced these challenges before? Could you seek advice from them?

Fast forward to the end of tour, and imagine you’re telling a peer/colleague/friend about the tour. What would you like to be able to say? What would you like your company to say about the tour experience if they’re talking to their peers/colleagues/friends? What would you like your funding body/investors/sponsors to say about the tour?

What if…

We have limited budget.

Remember, the costs of poor mental health and wellbeing are often hidden. It might show up as absenteeism, presenteeism, or company or creative conflict. It’s always difficult to measure the savings associated with prevention, but it is clear to see the benefit.

Be mindful that promoting positive mental health and wellbeing on tour is most likely saving you significant amounts of money.

If I offer one thing, the company will feel entitled and ask for more.

Be honest with your company. Explain your constraints, and the offer that is made within those constraints. Aim to under promise and over deliver. Even offering a few simple supports can be very powerful for company trust and morale.

Design Well: Pre-Tour


We are fortunate to often work with long lead times on tours, which means you might be able to start positive mental health messaging some 24 months in advance of the actual tour! This allows for the promotion of positive mental health at every phase of the tour, and can influence the budget, itinerary, training, grants and contracts.

A useful approach can be to review each production element through a mental health lens – the same way that you do with accessibility, diversity, physical safety, and many more – and simply ask:

What will be the impact of this on the company’s mental health? Can I design it in a way that promotes positive mental health?

Prevent


Demonstrate organisational commitment to positive mental health by allowing time for the organisation’s CEO/Artistic Director/General Manager to speak to the company about the value of mental health, physical safety and wellbeing, and the company’s commitment to promoting positive mental health on tour.

Create a statement that outlines your organisation’s commitment to positive mental health and include it in venue contracts, employment contracts, tour briefs, sponsor deals, and grant applications.

Create and share ‘Plan Bs’ – contingency in the budget, or response plans in case of illness/injury/bereavement. This might involve allocating budget for an additional tech/performer/swing, or cancelling a particular show or season. Communicate your Plan Bs to the company, and should you have to bring one into play, ensure the person affected is not made to feel guilty if they are the reason a Plan B is utilised. Communicating your Plan B can also help address ‘Show Must Go On’ mentality, where the company may feel that they have to perform, even if they are unwell – having a contingency plan helps reduce pressure on the company, helping to keep them well, and less likely to need the Plan B!

Ensure the appropriate team members are trained in how to handle concerns and complaints, and what might be an appropriate course of action; and can easily articulate how and when to escalate concerns.

Brainstorm psychosocial factors as well as physical OHS factors when completing your risk assessment to help identify areas of the company and/or tour that may need additional support. Consider:

  • Specific requirements of individuals on tour. This may include awareness of particular needs arising from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse company, LGBTQIA+ company members, gender identity, company members living with mental health conditions, disability, or access requirements, and individual work style preferences. Note that some team members may feel more vulnerable in towns or cities that are less diverse.
  • Experience of touring personnel and company
  • Length of tour
  • Pace of itinerary and placement of breaks
  • Profile of locations visited (including perception of safety, diversity of community, available services)
  • Subject matter of performance
  • Technical requirements of production
  • Time to bump in/bump out
  • Venue experience with touring companies and support available
  • Venue locations and types
  • Undertake Mental Health First Aid training. Mental Health First Aid is the help provided to a person who is developing a mental health problem, or who is in a mental health crisis. Like physical first aid, mental health first aid is given until the person receives professional help or until the crisis resolves. Mental Health First Aid is appropriate for all adults, and particularly recommended for leadership teams, and touring Company Managers and Stage Managers.

Promote


Spend time unpacking the purpose and goals of the tour, and include a goal around maintaining and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. By developing the purpose and goals collaboratively with the company, you will all share a clear vision of what is trying to be achieved. Maybe the show is a great box office success, and the critical reviews are all positive, but if the whole team is completely burnt out and never want to tour again, would it really be deemed a success? Connecting back to purpose – the ‘why’ – is a great way of promoting positive mental health, and particularly useful during challenging times.

Consider your organisational values – the core principles that inspire the work of the organisation – and note how they could manifest on tour. What do they mean in practice? Work through a ‘values in action’ exercise, and discuss what behaviours would show that these values are being lived on tour.

Ask each company member to share a quick note about their favourite thing about touring, or what they’re looking forward to most. Collate the responses and share them during the tour briefing.

Select accommodation with wellbeing in mind. Preference those that have good reviews, and:

  • Functional kitchen and/or access to food (restaurants, cafes, supermarkets)
  • Access to computers, printers and basic office supplies; and reliable WiFi (or purchase a dongle for the company to utilise)
  • Conference facilities or meeting rooms that could be used so that company management can work in those spaces, rather than their hotel room in order to better delineate work and personal time
  • Gymnasium and/or pool
  • Laundry facilities (if laundry facilities are not available in all rooms, ensure they are in at least a few rooms, and ask those allocated to those rooms if they would mind sharing facilities)
  • Late checkout
  • Hold a pre-tour briefing – a great building block for creating a positive touring culture prior to the company hitting the road. This may include:

Providing an open, non-judgemental space for people to share specific needs and preferences, for example:

  • Does your energy come from people or alone time?
  • Are you a morning person or evening person?
  • What’s your preferred method of communication?
  • Clear explanation of who to speak with if mental health problems emerge while on tour.
  • Discussion of how conflicts might be resolved on tour, and sharing methods for effective communication.
  • Highlighting the importance of open communication and addressing small issues before they become large problems, and encourage proactive problem solving.
  • Understanding stress, and encouraging everyone to self-evaluate how they personally manage stress. How do they recognise they’re becoming stressed? How does it impact their work practice? What helps in the short term to mitigate the stress response, and what can they do to address the stressor and ideally lessen the impact in the future.
  • Encouragement of company members to take responsibility for their behaviours and signal what they need from the rest of the company.
  • Reinforce that even though the production and the tour is very important, ultimately it is just a job, and work needs to be kept in context with other aspects of life.
  • Schedule mindfully, with an awareness of the needs of cast and crew.

Consider:

  • Long travel days and managing overtime
  • Scheduling and budgeting for a one-week break for approximately every three months of tour
  • Scheduling at least two days off in a row per month
  • Driver fatigue – is the driving all falling to one person? Mix up who drives so that patterns don’t emerge, or ownership creeps in around radio stations, music choices, air conditioning etc.
  • Plan a team building day for cast and crew during the rehearsal process so that the team can get to know each other and enjoy some social time

Schedule a Family and Friends Day before heading off on tour, where company members can bring their family and friends to watch some of the rehearsal, learn about the production, be briefed about the tour, discuss communication and support strategies, and to meet each other. Take the opportunity to communicate with family and friends who they can contact if they have a concern during the tour. Make sure there is a broad definition of ‘family and friends’ to be as inclusive as possible!

Give the company the opportunity to submit an ‘accommodation wish list’. Manage expectations to ensure it’s a preference/‘nice to have’, not a guaranteed or requirement, but it might help you identify some simple key themes. For example, perhaps dancers would appreciate rooms with baths, or those working predominantly indoors during the day might like a balcony to enjoy a connection to nature/sunlight on days off.

Create opportunities for travelling with additional freight (e.g. a larger tour truck), enabling the company to bring larger items that help promote positive mental health and wellbeing, for example bikes, musical instruments, yoga mats.

Allocate budget for visit(s) from the producer, director or a creative to visit the team while on tour. This is a great opportunity to connect with the tour ‘on the ground’, assist with bumping in/out, help address any issues, and just offer a fresh face for the company.

Schedule time for mental health and wellbeing on the daily schedule. For example, five minutes mindfulness or meditation during warm up, or a ten minute walk outside between shows. You could even put mental health and wellbeing tips on the daily schedule to keep it ‘front of mind’.

Manage


Take steps to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and help-seeking. This might include:

  • Openly discussing mental health and wellbeing alongside physical health and safety.
  • Sharing resources from the Arts Wellbeing Collective, or mental health promotion organisations such as Beyond Blue.
  • Be clear about available support services, confidentiality and access.
  • Determine the level and type of professional support that may be required for the tour. Strategies may include:

Engaging a psychologist to be on call for the duration of the tour. As a guide, two hours per company member per three months of tour is a good starting point.

Include a list of support services in company toolkits – there is a handy list of support services on page 15 of the hard copy / PDF.
If your organisation has an Employee Assistance Program, share their details as well as ways of contacting them when ‘on the road’.

Write up a simple plan of what happens if someone experiences mental health problems while on tour. This could include reporting (how and to whom), reasonable adjustments, impact on the show, and returning to tour. It can be useful to run through this process for a few different challenges – physical and mental – for example, what will you do if:

  • The lead performer has an accident and breaks their leg
  • The Stage Manager comes down with gastro
  • The Company Manager burns out

Having your ‘head out of the sand’ when thinking about problems can help you prepare for – and mitigate – challenges before they happen.

Depending on the size of the touring party, you may be able to instigate one-on-one conversations pre-tour. This can give you an opportunity to ask your company members how you can best support them on tour. If this is difficult logistically, you could consider a short, optional, confidential questionnaire that covers:

  • Touring experience, and any previous issues/triggers with touring
  • Things that help with managing the challenges of touring
  • Any issues with the content of the production that might be challenging
  • Any family/cultural/financial/health issues that may cause you stress that the company could help with
  • Any fears, phobias or difficulties (e.g. fear of flying, travel sickness) that might impact considerations for tour logistics

If a company member reports that they have experienced mental health problems in the past

  • Thank them for disclosing and reassure them of their privacy and confidentiality
  • Don’t pry – they are within their rights to limit disclosure
  • Ask if they have a relapse prevention plan or mental health care plan in place with their GP or psychologist
  • Ask if they are aware of triggers or areas of concern that might be present on tour
  • Ask if they would like to log any medication with the Company Manager or similar, in case of emergency
  • Ask if there is a partner, family member or friend they would consent the company making contact with if there was concern (this may be different to their next of kin)
  • Confirm that they understand the supports available to them that may be on offer through the company
  • If possible, ensure they are connected with an identified company member with Mental Health First Aid training
  • Encourage them to engage in self-care as a preventative measure
  • Ask if there is anything that the company can do to help them work well
  • Offer a follow up meeting

End of Part 2: Click here to Read Part 3 

Also by The Arts Wellbeing Collective:

Tour Management Manual: Mental Health & Wellbeing Part 1

Mental Health during COVID-19: Simple Steps

The Arts Wellbeing Collective
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