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Don’t Stack the Scenes: The Secret to Staying Stress Free and Avoiding Burnout




by Bill Carr

Comedy is fun to watch but it is even more fun to do. The only time it isn’t fun and goes from being joyful and stress free to instant burnout is when I “stack the scenes”. In rehearsals for any show, you typically read through the play together as cast and director and then you start methodically working through the scenes in the order they appear in the script. In my enthusiasm and with the encouragement of my director, I find things that will augment the scene we are working on. A bit of business such as banging my head on a door at a certain point, or falling down a set of steps on my entry, basically any schtick which will hopefully startle and delight the audience.

That’s all good.  The problem for me always arose when I would put the scenes together in a row and discover what I had set myself up for. I had a mountain of difficult “schtick” that was challenging enough on its own, but when placed one after the other in quick succession changed a romp of a play into a grueling marathon. I learned this first hand when I performed in George Faydeau’s 1907 classic play “A Flea in Her Ear”.  I played two characters Raymonde Chandebise, the faithful but gullible husband, and Poche, the drunken hotel porter.  This meant that, on top of all the movements I had devised, I had a wicked pile of costume changes. At one point I had set myself the task of two costume changes, a fall down a flight of stairs and a leap through a window and that was in the first half of one scene! This was a two-hour long, two act piece of classical theatre and I was jumping into it like a 20 minute Buster Keaton romp.

By the time the run was finished I had lost thirty-five pounds, my pants had been taken in so many times the back pockets were touching and I dropped two jacket sizes. Was it fun for the audience? Absolutely! Meanwhile, I was burned out and exhausted every night and it took all the next day to recover only to do it all again. All this because I hadn’t looked ahead and had stacked the scenes. I’ve since learned that I have to see how things will work when they are all run together, and plan for the whole show, not just the magic moments.

I also noticed my life needed exactly the same attention to this stacking issue. Too many commitments, no matter how well intended or useful, can result in burnout and disaster. They may all be good on their own but in a row, can be too much. I needed to plan time to rest and cruise a little and recover and recharge and maybe just stare out the window. My days of stacking the scenes are over. I’m now always planning for the long run.