Last week I posted a rant about the need for actors to learn to take care of their health, both physical and emotional. After that post I received a message from someone who had read my blog post and they said:
“Saw blog. In my experience, actors not trained in emotional health. Huge in 'getting into', very little/none in exiting character. Very few teach acting students how to exit a character and return to healthy self. Sets a pattern for personal life. Root of the problem. Best of all things with your show.”
I agree with his comment but why is this? Everyday we asked actors to be open and vulnerable to the truth. We ask them to laugh, to cry, to scream with anger and sometimes to show parts of themselves to the public things we would never show to another living human being. This is the job of the actor. So, if we are asking our actors to go these scary emotional places then why are we then not providing them with the skills to cope?
Moreover actors, and artists in general, become actors and artists often due to the events that happened to them in early life and as they grew up. These events, whatever they may be, lead them to seek a community where they would be accepted. Where they would be revered on stage. There is a reason theatre people seek the applause of an audience. We don’t need a psychologist to help us with that one.
So, not only do most actors and artists have a complicated past but then on top of that they are asked to show us their gaping wounds and vulnerabilities on stage every night and then we don’t teach them how to deal with it?
In my other life, outside of the theatre, to make extra cash (because we all know how well theatre pays) I also work as a Personal Trainer and on the weekend I went to the annual BCFit Conference at UBC where I took a lot of workshops that focus on mind, body & spirit. Being “healthy” isn’t just about getting out and getting your 20 minutes of exercise everyday. It is a 360 degree approach:
1) Exercise: daily physical activity
2) Nutrition: eating properly and regularly.
3) Sleep: getting enough sleep every night and setting a regular sleeping pattern.
4) Stress Management: the ability to cope. “The process of living is the process of having stress imposed on you and reacting to it” --Stanley Sarnoff, physician and stress researcher.
5) Counsel: “advice given especially as a result of consultation”. This can come in many shapes and forms from talking and laughing with friends to seeking the help/advice of a professional.
Most people I know do not do one thru three very well and most theatre people I know, who also work as hosts, servers, bartenders, definitely do not do one thru three very well. Then we get to four. Life is stressful all by itself. Acting, by that very definition above, is highly stressful. And finally we land on five. How do we deal with stress? We talk and share with friends but sometimes our friends lead equally, or more, stressful lives than we do. So this is where the professionals come in and I don’t just mean doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists. I mean teachers, leaders & coaches as well.
Maybe we need to start thinking about teaching theatre people and coaching actors on how to deal with the stress instead of throwing them out into the ether at the end of a rehearsal or performance where they head off to the bar or pub to deal with the stress by having a few drinks. Isn’t there a healthier way?
I don’t know and I haven’t tried it before, or even thought about it up until this point, but maybe we take the last five minutes of rehearsal and do some breathing/relaxation exercises. Research has shown that just breathing and slowing down the breath can lead to a reduction in stress. Why do you think things like yoga are so popular? It relaxes and focuses the mind & body. Or maybe we spend the last 10 minutes of rehearsal doing yoga? I don’t know. I don’t necessarily have the answer but I do know there is a problem and maybe we should start thinking about a solution instead of passing it off as “not our job”.
It is our job. As directors, leaders, teachers, coaches, etc it is our job to help give the people we work with the skills necessary to navigate through life or their job successfully. That is what it means to be in a leadership position.