De-Roling and Wellbeing
As an actor taking care of your mental health is vital for a long and healthy career in an industry that is emotionally draining, financially unstable, judgemental and superficial and generally precarious. One day you're being rejected at an audition, then you're celebrating critical acclaim in the press and then suddenly images of you have been shared on social media that cast you in a negative light and the world has decided to comment!
So many aspects of the work are out of your control, however, healthy strategies around the actual art of acting can be applied and may be useful.
The act of being able to step away from your character and return to self.
Recent studies have shown, when an actor/a person, becomes a character/someone else, a different part of their brain is engaged. Part of the actor's brain is becoming a different person. Their actual self is still in there steering the ship, but part of the brain is becoming the character. This part of the brain gives the actor the ability to answer questions from the character's perspective rather than their own. The more the actor steps into a particular character the more the thoughts and feelings of that character then have the potential to start being more present in the thinking and feeling of the person rather than just the character.
Anyone who's ever worked on a long running theatre production or a long running television production may very well have experienced this. Often this experience is referred to as 'Bleed', where the character starts to bleed into the psyche of the actor, effectively it's the actor's version of taking their work home.
Adding healthy de-roling strategies to your working practice can keep you in a mindful space as a performer. You can acknowledge the arrival of the character; the costume, shoes, makeup or a sound track might be the way you step in for example... But. before stepping in, you should establish clear boundaries with your scene partners, especially if you're working with intimacy, extreme physicality or emotional vulnerability.
You can then acknowledge being inside and with the character, thinking and feeling from their perspective, seeing the world through their eyes; feeling their fears, their anger, their love or their lust,
Your conscious self needs to keep you and your scene partners safe, they're your anchor to reality, but your character, if you've established clear boundaries and have given/received consent to specific actions, then you can run around the ship and see where it takes you.
Let your character run around the ship, while you're at the helm, steering safely
Boundaries and Consent?
Hold on, I thought boundaries and consent were just for intimate content!
Boundaries and consent are vital for all exchanges that exist in a space where someone has fully immersed themselves in character. This is particularly true if the content they're working with has moments of extreme physicality, intimacy or is emotionally challenging.
By agreeing what the boundaries exist in the space, where everyone is happy to play, means that when the actor plays, they can play hard into the corners, and know that both they and their scene partners remain safe, and that they're still telling the story that needs to be told.
How to de-role
Here are some broad brush strokes for quick reference. We've also attached a crib sheet below that, that may give you some additional ideas and a little more context. The list isn't exhaustive so please feel free to add strategies you've tried to the comments below.
Mindfully step into character, so you can reverse the process to step out - here are some ideas
- Give your character a sound track which you play as you head to work, and give yourself a personal one to play on the way home
- Wear comfortable clothes that make you feel safe and cosy. Fold them neatly and place on the shelf when you put on your character's clothes. At the end of the day, mindfully place your costume back on the hanger, while you take back your clothes and step back in to you. You can do the same with your hair or your makeup - you -> character -> you.
- Hi-Five your scene partners at the beginning and the end of the day (tap in/tap out)
- Get physical - shake out your character from your body - give yourself a smack all over - brush/rub your character off your body. You can do this one by yourself, or with your scene partners!
- Play some silly games together, race to get to different coloured objects, or play one touch only with the ball, or counting to 20 - you decide, something that's fun, but also forces you to focus.
- Create a personal ritual that allows you to arrive and receive your character for the day, and then allows you to step away and leave your character at work, (think of a ventriloquist and their dummy).
Please do remember, this is advice for actors and these are non-therapeutic methodologies. They do not replace any medical or psychological intervention that may be required if you are in crisis.