Will Centurion – Mental Health Practitioner for the Performing Arts
Posted by Team APATA | Jun 2, 2021
Top 3 universal life goals! To be happy. To be healthy. To be safe.
Mental health in the performing arts is under the spotlight now more than ever before. With a number of high profile performers giving voice to their own mental health issues, Will Centurion is on a mission to return the focus of our students, educators and artists back to those universal goals. To celebrate this creative and vibrant industry of ours by supporting its beautiful minds in a healthy and safe way. Will is a Counsellor and Life Coach with 20 years experience as a professional performer and knows personally the highs and lows that can cripple even the most seasoned artist.
Firstly Will, where did you grow up and how did you get started in dance?
I was born in Australia, of Uruguayan heritage. My family came here in the 70s. I’m the youngest of 3 and I was definitely a surprise as there are 10 and 12 years between myself and my brothers. Music, art and dance are part of our culture, although I didn’t engage with the arts, and wasn’t allowed to until I was 18. There was a lot of focus on academic development growing up which was contrary to my urges, because all I wanted to do was perform. There were a lot of disagreements about what path I was going to take but I did my duty as a son, finished my schooling and then I began my performing arts journey. By fortune, I auditioned for NIDA [National institute of Dramatic Arts] and was offered a scholarship. I studied at NIDA for a year and then I deviated into the dance industry. I got into Brent Street Performing Arts School and after 3 years of dance training I went on to have a 20 year career as a musical theatre performer.
Your portfolio of work lists European tours of Saturday Night Fever, We Will Rock You, Aida, A Tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber, Evita and 2 tours of Miami Nights. Also, national tours of A Chorus Line, West Side Story, The King and I, The Lion King, Aladdin, King Kong and In the Heights. With more credits to add along the way for choreography, teaching and years of touring.
What changed along your journey that brought you to psychology and counselling and your focus on mental health in the performing arts?
What changed my journey in terms of where my focus would be was…when I broke. The pressure involved in this industry and the demands it places on you as a person. I found myself struggling with depression, anxiety, imposter syndrome and insomnia, so I took myself to a psychologist who was also an opera singer. Knowing that she was an opera singer I was immediately at ease. I knew that she understood my journey as a creative person and how much that part of my life was tied to my identity.
We ended up doing a lot of therapeutic work together and part of that work was for me to discover what other kinds of hats I had. I’d live so long with one kind of hat! As artists we fuse what we do to who we are. I found myself exploring social work and psychology. I finished a Diploma of Counselling, then a Bachelor of Counselling/Coaching. I actually managed to finish a 20 year career and graduate from university at the same time. And so, began my next chapter, creating the kinds of services I wish had been available to me as a student, teacher and as a choreographer.
I want to encourage everybody to follow their dreams, I’m so glad I did! I had an amazing 20 years. It was as rewarding as it was challenging. Creativity is fun, its innovative, its magical. It makes you feel like a child who has endless potential. Getting a full scholarship to NIDA was a high, getting accepted into Brent Street Performing Arts with no dance training at all was a high, getting cast in a company that took me to Europe was a high. I just believe that if someone is going pursue their passion then I want them to have the tools to do that safely. Rejection, constant competition and sacrificing time with family and friends can be quite detrimental to a performer and student’s mental health.
One of the initiatives I offer is student coaching. An accessible service for students to work through limiting beliefs like self-doubt or fear of failure and rejection in real time. Dealing with those issues so they don’t compound throughout their education, taking them to a place of breaking point. It’s a service I offer on campus at some of the schools here in Melbourne, online and from my clinic.
Growth mindset is another important skill to have in our industry. Too often, I think we get blinkered by what one idea of success looks like. Then when our life doesn’t look like that, when it doesn’t come to fruition exactly the way that we want it to we lose our sense of hope and purpose. That’s when mental health issues like anxiety and depression, body preoccupation and suicide creep in.
You offer support to teachers also with the launch of a new program.
Yes, the Teacher’s Mental Health Tool Kit. I’ve had a lot of teachers approach me at dance festivals because they now have dual roles: performing arts educator and therapist. The only problem is they’re qualified in one area and not the other. I just want to offer a platform of support so that teachers of all performing arts fields don’t feel like they’re taking so much on board without any resources or skills. The Tool Kit is delivered in two ways, a 4 hour intensive session on campus at a school, or 4 x 1 hour sessions online. I’ve designed the kit to help teachers understand mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and their contributing factors. Learning how to respond to situations, when to ask for reinforcements and, how to self-care after a challenging experience. I have a lot of time and empathy for teachers because as the issues in youth increase so too does the demand on them as educators. They’re in a position of authority and there is this expectation that they know how to handle everything that comes their way. I believe it’s important to see teachers as humans who also need reinforcement.
What other pieces of advice do you have and who have been your mentors ?
I’ll be perfectly honest with you, being inside the industry I didn’t realise how fortunate I was to be in an environment of like-minded people. At how much there was to gain if I had been courageous enough to put myself out there and ask questions. I think the reason I didn’t tune into that is because as performers we’re conditioned to have this overarching belief in competitiveness and scarcity. Don’t share, don’t divulge your plans and don’t collaborate freely because someone’s going to steal that job or opportunity away from you. It’s the case of – I wish I’d known then what I know now.
Now that I’m outside of that environment and in the mental health sector I’m meeting people and sharing ideas daily. Only today I had two sessions where I sat with complete strangers and we just talked about our ideas for the future. What sort of projects we want to create and how we want to go about it and how we could possibly collaborate to make that happen! Everyone I come across now is a mentor because they have something I can learn from. A strength that I can make my strength. As a performer there was always the fear that someone else’s strength would take away from yours.
It’s been so amazing meeting writers and mental health advocates and entrepreneurs who are just doing their own thing. They’re in their own lane and they’re claiming their space. They’re not afraid of competition or of not looking like anyone else! And that is amazing, to not feel like you need to be anybody else but yourself. It’s a gift and its contagious!
There are so many thought leaders who are constantly inspiring me every single day like Brené Brown, Aubrey Marcus and Jordan B. Peterson. To sum up what has carried me through is this belief…“Anything that is not meant for me will truly pass me by.” I don’t need to beat myself up if I miss out on an opportunity, or a project. It wasn’t mine.
What is your big dream Will?
I would love to be connected to an industry that sees mental health support and wellness as a duty of care and not an option. That is my biggest thing. If you’re going to teach people performing arts, if you’re going to teach actors to dig deep, if you’re going to teach singers to take risks, if you’re going to teach dancers to push their limits, then you have to offer them tools and resources that are going to allow them to cope with the emotions that come with that.
My big dream is for every school and every institution that offers anything within the realm of performing arts to replace one or two classes with resources and skills training that will empower people to be able to navigate our challenging industry. The issue isn’t about how much better you want them to dance, act or sing? It’s about giving them the skills to manage their thoughts, feelings and emotions because that is what they’re going to carry with them for their entire journey. Help them arm themselves to cope with all the change and uncertainty that this industry is going to throw at them. Arm performers while they chase their dreams…You don’t do that by having a perfect plié or 6 pirouettes in a row.
I think it’s every teacher’s responsibility to give creative youth the kind of artistic development that is fun, explorative, passionate and motivating. Not the kind of creative development that they need to spend the rest of their adult life recovering from. I spent a long time working through those kinds of scars.
If there is anything that I can do for you, I’m honestly at your service!
Will is delivering his Teacher’s Mental Health Tool Kit with two virtual sessions for APATA in June 2021.
You must register to join in the workshops – APATA members are FREE / Non-members $33
When: This Saturday 5 June, 10:30AM [AEST]
When: Next Saturday 12 June, 10:30AM [AEST]
Listen to Will’s APATA Podcast episode : You’ve Got This!
For more information about Will’s counselling and coaching services mrwillcenturion.com