Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mental Health & Theatre: Artistic Temperaments

by Robin Parker (@rparker18us)

Congress designated May as Mental Health Month in 1949 to illustrate the importance of mental health issues to the overall health and well being of American citizens.   One of the goals is to decrease the stigma about mental health issues, and discuss strategies for making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness. (YourMindYourBody blog)

I hear a small chuckle ripple through the crowd as I mention mental health in the same blog as theatre and artists.  However, I posit that maybe the eccentric actor perception may be the very part of our creative personalities that keeps us sane, and gives us the outlet to express and purge our emotions, much like we would in a therapists office – we just do it with an audience!

I am currently completing graduate school, and I’ve written my masters’ thesis on conflict management and artistic temperaments.  What I’ve found in the study of the creative individual may speak to our mental flexibility and our abilities to access the full range of the human experience.  I believe this explains part of why the arts have been such an amazing outlet for me and for others of my personalities persuasion.

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Ph.D., known for his research in the field of creativity, comments on the extreme complexity of the creative personality.  He summarizes the creative personality as showing …tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated.  They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an ‘individual’ each of them is a ‘multitude’.  Like the color white that includes all the hues of the spectrum, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves (Csikszentmihaly 57). 

This complex personality enables the creative individual to relay a full range of characteristics that are present in all individuals, but some non-artists cannot access the full range because they have effectively cut off one or the other extremes as being undesirable.    The artistic personality knows and experiences the extremes “with equal intensity and without inner conflict” (Csikszentmihaly 57).
The childlike or wilder side of the personality allows for the creation of original and unique ideas, whereas without the adult like or mature side, the ideas "...will not be developed to the point of acceptance" (Csikszentmihaly 76).
An innovative thought, idea or creation is many times the work of an individual who can function at both ends of the spectrum.

Having an outlet to express and share our creative side has become a strategy for many of us in  “making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness.”  I would encourage anyone who has the need for a creative outlet to join us at The Little Theatre of Alexandria (LTA). It has become a place where my insanity translates to my sanity

I found The Little Theatre of Alexandria in 2009 at about the same time I applied to graduate school to pursue my masters in arts administration.  It is hard to believe that not only am I finishing my thesis and getting ready to graduate, but that I have just directed my first show for LTA and am currently rehearsing to make my LTA stage debut in All The Kings Women, opening June 9th.   I simply cannot thank LTA enough for what they have brought to my life; amazing people, amazing opportunities and one of the best possible case studies on how to run a successful and sustainable community theatre.  Throughout my three years of studying arts organizations, my pride at being a part of LTA has grown as I see so many things that are being done so well in this amazing organization.

Robin Parker directed the 2011 LTA production of A Christmas Carol, is starring in the upcoming production All the King's Women and is chair of the LTA marketing committee.


  1. This is a wonderful article, thank you for sharing your thoughts and wisdom.


  2. This blog goes far in helping to understand why art... specfically drama, music for not only relaxing for me but helps me think. Make connections. Be more creative. I believe many of us, when we watch actors act and enjoy their display at LTA or similar venues, allow ourselves to be more childlike, be free to enjoy and experience and dream. Often I find innovation and idea's to solve real problems for my technical (engineering) community come from this artistic outlet. I can open my mind to see, know and so dream bigger due to this exposure to artistic creation.

    Thank you for your research and sharing your findings. Not only did I find an explanation for artistic personalities, healthy minds but also got to think of how and why this area can allow myself and other non-artistic inclined to widen our spectrum and then maybe operate at both ends. Great article!

    1. I can relate that "the artistic personality knows and experiences the extremes." This may be one of the reasons we feel so comfortable to show great emotion and be around other artistic people. They seem more accepting of our idiosyncrasies.

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