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Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 3

ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a podcast from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals about what it's like to work in the performing arts, featuring bold, untold stories from arts workers.
 APAP Podcast Arts. Work. Life. Season 1: Episode 3


From Burnout to Balance: Defying Death and Embracing Life




Claire: Hey listeners – Claire here. Just a heads up that Act Three of our show today briefly mentions suicide and depression. There are specific time stamps of those sections in the show notes – just in case you want to skip over it. And we’ve also put some mental health resources in the show notes as well. [NOTE:  If you're thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.]

Ok. On to the show.

One, two, three, four, five,

>>Fade down counting

Claire: Tony Lopresti got sick with COVID pretty early on in the pandemic

Tony: when I called the doctor in the wee hours of the morning, I almost couldn't speak.

>> Fade up counting

six, seven, eight, nine, ten,

>>Fade down counting

Claire: He lives in New York and at the time, doctors didn’t know a lot about this virus that was ripping through the city.

Tony: There were no vaccines. There were no treatments.

You saw the morgue trucks outside of the hospitals. There was a temporary hospital going up in Central Park and that was like very frightening. It was really scary,

>> Fade up counting

11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, [00:52:25]

>>Fade down counting

Claire: To try and avoid going to the hospital, Tony’s doctor said he could monitor his lung function at home by taking a deep breath and counting.

>> Fade up counting

Tony: 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29

>>Fade down counting

If I could get to 30, it was good. If I could only get to ten, it was really not so good.

>> Fade up counting

30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36.
*deep breath*

Claire: Tony was sick for about three weeks. And he feels lucky that it wasn’t worse. But he didn’t fully recover for a really long time.

Tony: I was struck with a profound fatigue for several months after that.

I exercise all the time. I exercise intensely. It's part of my job. As part of my work. I have to do that like a musician goes there, scales every day. A dancer does their pliés every day. I have my exercises that I have to do every day to maintain balance, equilibrium, to maintain core, to maintain form. And nobody knew how to get me back into that.

Claire: With the help of his doctor and a health coach, Tony slowly started building up his strength.
But he was still off-balance, not just physically, but emotionally, creatively

Tony: It was a kind of writer's block. I felt like I had recovered on the outside, that I was physically capable. But inside I felt kind of dried up. I felt like ashes.

>> music


Claire: You’re listening to ARTS. WORK. LIFE., a podcast from The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

I’m Claire Caulfield.

And for all the talk about work/life balance, arts workers often walk a tightrope between healthy boundaries and just complete burnout.

So today’s episode: From Burnout to Balance: Defying Death and Embracing Life

With stories about balancing risk,

Making your entire organization more balanced and equitable,

And finding a balance between who you think you should be… and who you really are.

>> music


Claire: Act One. Body and Soul

For our first story today, we return to Tony Lopresti, who you met at the beginning of the episode.
Tony’s story is about finding equilibrium between the noise of life, and the solitude of silence.
It’s about how he made a huge decision – and managed the risk with potential payoff.

Here’s Tony.

Tony: I'm a silent actor, otherwise known as a mime.

A lot of people don't understand think it's kind of silly or frivolous.

Somebody gets stuck behind a box or, you know, but that’s not mime itself. 

Mime is a theatrical art form that can encompass anything that any spoken art form can do. It can do anything.

It does it a little bit more compactly, kind of like a poem as opposed to an essay,

We harness silence to express those impressions that we can't necessarily put voice to put words to.

>> music

The highlight of the year for me is working with the Festival Musica sull'Acqua in Italy on the shores of Lake Como. I'm the mine director of the festival.

And that was just always wonderful.

And in 2020, of course, we couldn't do that. Nobody could do anything.

But, in an immense act of hope, the festival started planning for the summer of 2021, not knowing whether the health officials would allow it to then change their minds and not allow it depend. Nobody knew.

I have two friends who were doctors in Milan and they said the situation now actually has changed dramatically, and it's not unlike being in New York. So if I could handle some degree of risk in New York, I should be able to handle some degree of risk in the Lake Como area of Italy.

I had such a strong desire not to go. Every year my strong desire was to go.

I was stunned, It's like, I don't want to go.

>> music

I mean, silent acting's been my passion for my entire life. And suddenly I felt like it wasn't there anymore.

I had this fear that COVID had spared my body, but maybe not my soul.

It was really hard for me to make the decision to actually go to the festival.

And I pushed the decision up to the very last day. I took a deep breath and plunged in, sent them an email said I was coming.

>> music

Everything was different. Nothing was the same.

And this is Italy. You know, you see a friend and you're going to have a big hug and kiss people on both cheeks. And it was like, you know, everybody kind of kept a little bit of a distance, and it was like, oh, that's right. That's what is making this so different.

I was worried that I would catch COVID again, and I didn't know what that would mean. Would would it kill me this time?

The trepidation of, Can I still do this? What do I have to do to keep going? How can I remain an artist in the face of all of this, in the face of all the suffering that so many here endured.

That was the question that was always in the back of my mind. Everything that I did.

It was really hard and really scary. I felt like I was going to throw up every day.

>> music

One of the two pieces of music that I had to choreograph turned out to be really, really difficult for me. I was having profound difficultly envisioning anything for it.

It's like, Oh, God. what am I going to do? About a week before the concert date, I woke up one morning and just started typing. And I typed for an hour. I wasn't really aware of what was coming out.

When I got to the end, it was the full choreography. I was kind of stunned.

So I took it to the rehearsal that day.

The cast picked it up immediately, almost like they'd been working on it for weeks, and it was like surreal. The whole experience that day was surreal.

And the audience was truly appreciative. Very, very warm reception from the audience.

>> music

And. I'm left with something different than what I would have thought or thought that maybe, you know, this choreography comes out of the blue, rescues me, rescues the cast, rescues the concert. That to some degree. That would be triumphant.

And on one level, I was waiting to feel triumphant. But I didn't. The surrounding atmosphere of potential death is, it really tempers anything that you would call triumph.

>> music

I don't think we understand what this is really all about. As a globe, I don't think we really get it. Oh, yeah. You know, we can open hotels, and everybody can fly, and everybody can do this. And everybody that, people stop wearing masks and all that kind of stuff. But it's not over.

It’s not over by any means. Not only just on a physical level, we have no idea how the infection has impacted our souls.

That is a call for more silence.

Silence can free you from the noise of life. But it also enters into the profound suffering of life.

Silence, I think, is the best way to present suffering.

And I think if you can touch people's hearts with a physical, silent rendering of what people are experiencing and perhaps provide in some way a small sign of hope. I think that's healing.

Claire: Tony Lopresti is a silent actor in New York City.
>> music


Claire: Act two, team player

Our second story today is from Rachel Fine who is the CEO and executive director of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which is in Pasadena, California.

In her story, Rachel shares an important message for other people in the C-suite, about what it really means to be a team player.

But she starts her story almost two decades ago, before she held any kind of leadership position.

At the time she was working at an arts organization, getting great feedback from her boss. and felt supported by her entire team, so she was excited to announce she was pregnant

But that excitement… wasn’t reciprocated.

Rachel: One thing I will never forget is my immediate boss saying very directly, I thought we were a team. And that still resonates to this day.

Especially because she had been so encouraging and supportive leading up to that moment.

So that was indication to me at that point that things were going to go downhill. And they did.
I ended up getting, for the first time in my life, a very negative review.

I do remember the review questioning whether or not I was going to be able to be a good leader. That that's what really stands out.

It took a long time, I have to say, to come to that realization and that moment of saying, I'm not going to let this define me.

>> music

So here I was, truly at the lowest point imaginable. And I think at this point I was probably in the last few months of my first pregnancy, which is hard.

Our development chair at the time got wind of what in retrospect was very likely, you know, discrimination at a time when I was pregnant.

And this savior, this angel, who was our development chair, he slipped my name to this other executive director, Rob Berman.

And the phone rang, and it was Rob Berman, the executive director, and he said, you know, the development chair really thinks we we should meet. And I said, Well, I'm nine months pregnant. And I mean, he he it didn't faze him. It didn’t. He just, he said, let’s meet, let’s just have coffee.

And we did hit it off I think immediately developed mutual admiration for one another and mutual respect. And he said, okay, well, you know, go have your baby, and I'll be in touch. And so that's that's what I did.

So I resigned from the post I was in, and I joined him a few months later.

He gave me the time that I needed to be on maternity leave, and then he allowed me to work part-time.
And I will never forget that. I will forever be indebted to him. He was my role model in terms of how to treat my employees,

>> music

Now that I've been an executive director several times I completely understand that losing a key staff member, it can be harrowing. It can be really, really daunting.

My very first executive director job. I had an employee whose father was dying, and the father lived with her. And she really was just completely incapacitated by this, understandably. So not just the grief, but she was caring for him and trying to make sure that he was comfortable in his last weeks of life. And what it meant is that I had to do her job and mine. And that's what I did. And I'm not saying it was easy. I remember many nights staying up till midnight.

But I will never forget the thank you note that she wrote me after she came up for air. I still have that thank you note and…

That's what you do. That is what you.

You know If this pandemic has taught us anything is how to be flexible, how to come up with all different kinds of solutions.

If you are a good or a great leader or you're aspiring to be a great leader, you have to rely on your creativity and your resourcefulness as well as your optimism to find a solution.

>> music

I have to say that when I was executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in four and a half years, I might have missed two performances, and I was out late at night a lot.

You know, I love being at performances, but I had a second child at that point, and I was just killing myself to get to everything.

It really took a toll. It took a major, major toll. So, um, you know, I just think we have to look at what our expectations have been in the past, and we need to delegate more.

So, you know, last night actually was a perfect example. I was just traveling for work, and I was really exhausted coming back. I was supposed to present at a city council meeting our new season.

But I thought, well what a way to empower my staff members. They did the presentation. They did a great job.

And for me and my balance and mental health. It was the thing I needed to do, and no one died.


You know? I wouldn't have done that. I have to say I wouldn't have done that seven or eight years ago.

>> music

And I think that’s so important because I have worked at arts organizations where everyone had to be there every minute at every performance. And I think that it's not a realistic standard.

By virtue of being the performing arts field, there are always going to be performances at night.
So how do you make this possible?

We have to divide and conquer and be reasonable and allow people. And I don't think our employees are going to let us not. I think they're going to demand that they have a greater work/life balance. I see that happening right and left, and especially the employees who are a generation younger than I am.

That's going to make a huge difference in terms of not just attracting, but keeping working mothers in our workplace.

And it's not just women. I mean, it's anyone who wants to be able to do both.

And I just don't ever want someone who wants children but also wants to be in this field to feel that they have to compromise.

Claire: Rachel Fine is the CEO of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Pasadena, California.

>> music


Claire: Act three, Harmony

Paige Alyssa is a singer-songwriter from Missouri and in our third act, they share two original songs.

One from before the pandemic, and a recent composition.

These two songs illustrate Paige’s journey to harmonize who they are as a person with who they are as a musician.

And Paige’s story illustrates structural imbalances in the arts field.

Paige: I always, always knew. First off, I was queer from the very beginning. I just didn't have, like, the language around that. I grew up in a very strict Baptist household.

So those things had always been a struggle on top of like things happening in my family home and like the instability, utilities and things being cut off and moving from house to house because getting evicted, like all these things were happening through, like my most formative years.

That played a huge role all the way through college and honestly, up until very recently because I was like, I have to make it and I'm going to use my music to make it because if I don't, I'm going to end up right back here again and I don't want that.

>> music

In like 2017, 2018, like I really started to see things like move and shaking in my city.

And so I was like, I'm going to move to L.A. and I'm going to make sure I completely remove myself from like this person that I was this was this underdog story that I had in my head, you know?

>> ‘Girl Crazy’ song

So ‘Girl Crazy’ is actually like my most popular song to date.

>> ‘Girl Crazy’ song

The place I wrote it for from, I can't say if it's really authentic.

It really represents this idea, this this idea of who I thought I was at the time. And like, I'm glad that that song brings so much joy to people.

I can't say that I feel the same way I felt when I wrote it back in 2018.

>> ‘Girl Crazy’ song

It was an extremely intense process from start to finish,

I am in complete creative control. I asked no one for help. Okay?

And you know, we're going to keep cranking these this content out.

And that was just kind of the mindset like this starving artist or like this level of setting myself on fire from my art and sacrificing for my art was just something that I've always thought I had to do.

And then I moved L.A. and the expectations that I had mapped out for myself weren't rooted in anything that I actually wanted. It wasn't rooted in my level of happiness. It was rooted in what I thought I should want in order to make it to what we deem as success. And because I had never really taken the time to deal with the trauma that I dealt with in my childhood or in my adolescence, that like led to this really, really bad situation.

>> music

My music, at that point I wasn't writing anything. I wasn't really performing a whole lot. I wasn't producing. I just was so uninspired because I was so sad.

>> music

There were days when I would be like, Man, if I don't wake up tomorrow then like I would be okay with that. And that was the first time that I've ever have felt like this, like truly unwillingness to live.

>> music

The first thing that I had to do, was leave Los Angeles and come back home.

The first few months of me being back home, I just felt like pieces of a person if even if even that.
Nothing felt good.

I still felt so awful and I still felt so embarrassed that I did all that and I'm back in St Louis

And I just felt like I was phoning it in. And then the pandemic hit.

And for the first time in my life, I wasn't like pumping out content and creating content with this idea of, I have to I have to make it and I have to survive, or I don't, I don't want to be homeless.

Like it was the first. time where I was just, y’know what, me continuing to just go and go and go clearly is not I'm not yielding any results from my career and I'm certainly not yielding any results from my health, and I am extremely unhappy.

‘Cause I just never had a point in my life where I could just stop.

>> music

So I had to relearn what it meant to love myself and love my art within this context, not rooted in trauma or rooted in like anything else that wasn't healthy for me.

And so it just was a lot of therapy. It was a lot of ... tears and then it just took me it took me a minute to get to like get the confidence back to do anything original again and like actually like it and feel good about it. I took it really has taken like three years to get to this point.

>> ‘Particular Girl’ song

Particular Girl is actually it's written about like my current girlfriend. We balance each other out a lot.

>> ‘Particular Girl’ song

She's just hella particular, but I think her being particular has helped me just stop and think and slow down with certain things. So I just really appreciate the balance.

>> ‘Particular Girl’ song

So it is it's really close to my heart. And I really like it a lot because like all of my all of my best friends are playing on it.

And like, this was the first time I was not in complete creative control.

And the growth really does feel amazing. Like, I've never felt like this before with about my music and it feels really good.

Like the fact that I’m able to go from being this like being depressed and like suicidal like two years ago to the point where, like, I'm putting together like an eight-piece band. Like, that is, that is like a huge 180, you know what I mean?

>> music

One of the reasons why I made the pivot that I made is because I had to recognize the systems that we're all working under, even in the industry, are rooted in white supremacy and capitalism. So it felt silly for me at a certain point to continue putting like my hope and like basing my success on these really harmful institutions instead of just basing them on my happiness you know?

This is going to sound cheesy, but, like, my advice to other artists would just be like, navigate these things with their happiness first.

>> music

From a societal standpoint, I think that artists and musicians deserve so much more. Like, it should not have to, it should not have to be this hard, like the starving artist trope. Like it shouldn't. Why do we have to be starving, you know?

>> music

Claire: Paige Alyssa is a singer/songwriter based in St Louis, Missouri


>> music

Claire: ARTS. WORK. LIFE. is a production from APAP – the Association of Performing Arts Professionals.

APAP is the national service organization for the performing arts presenting, booking and touring industry. You can join APAP at

I’m Claire Caulfield, your host and producer.

Jenny Thomas is our Executive Producer.

And music today from Paige Alyssa and Blue Dot Sessions.

This podcast wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of The Wallace Foundation. So thank you.

Other thank yous to Sherri Larsen, the APAP staff and board of directors

And, of course, our storytellers today, and the hundreds of thousands of arts workers across the world.

Your stories matter, and arts workers ARE essential.

Speaking of stories If you work in the performing arts and want to submit your own story to this podcast visit

And if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review. It helps others find the show.

Carolyn: Arts, Work, Life. that’s real *laugh*

>> music

Claire: And in our next episode of ARTS. WORK. LIFE….

Andee: In those days, people were still getting thrown into insane asylums for life. So, no, I never told anybody.

Taylor: You know, we just had such a warm community around it, and you could feel how the space itself brought out something very joyous and free in people.

Rick: I did feel that the people that I worked for dropped the ball or threw me under the bus a little bit.

Ariel: There isn't real community happening in those spaces. It's a good buzzword, though.

>> music



 The following resources may be helpful to our listeners.

INTRO/ACT ONE: Off-Balance/Body and Soul

ACT TWO: Team Player

ACT THREE: Harmony 


This podcast made possible with the generous support of The Wallace Foundation and listeners like you. Donate here.
Wallace Foundation logo
Photos: Lynn Neuman at a recycling facility; Thamara Bejarano courtesy of storyteller; Taylor Gordon photo by Jon Tayler; Craig Knudsen returns to the opera stage in 2018.
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