Student Blog: How the Other Half Lives: Balancing Your Character's Life with Your Own!

How to keep a healthy mental balance between the world of your character and the world we live in.

By: Feb. 27, 2024
Student Blog: How the Other Half Lives: Balancing Your Character's Life with Your Own!
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These past few months, I’ve been working harder than I have before on improving my mindset and personal self-care regimen. And honestly, it’s been great! I’m feeling happier and healthier than I have before… with only one downside. I’m currently cast in a play at my school, and while I’m very grateful and excited to be, it is very weighted. The show requires a lot of emotional digging into depressed lives, and approaching this process I was worried that getting in touch with my lonely and distressed character would mean losing touch with the vibrant joy I’ve been discovering in my own life. But after a month or so of rehearsals, I’m developing a good sense of how to leave my part in the rehearsal room, and keep MJ in the drivers seat. Here are some of the things I would recommend to do the same! 

Something that has been fundamental with me in working with heavy material is to make sure you have an established relationship with your cast members, especially those you work up most personally with. As fun as it is to get into the psyche of your part, you have to remind yourself that you are not your character, and your scene partners are not theirs either. In the play I’m currently in, one of my best friends is playing my husband, who has an awful marriage with the part I’m playing. We do countless scenes of triggering and berating each other, and after we do them in the rehearsal room, we always make sure to hug it out or share a joke after to reconnect as the friends we are rather than the parts we play. These kinds of things can help to separate your mind from getting lost in pinning negative traits or emotions on your real life situation, so make sure to connect with your castmates as people in the process. It’ll keep you safe– plus! I’m sure they’re all very nice people and you’ll get a friend out of it.

Another thing I highly recommend, while sometimes bringing your real relationships with castmates can be helpful with chemistry, keep your real life and your real traumas out of it. There’s always debate over which acting methods are the most and least helpful, but using memory recall to get into the energy of particularly heavy scenes is notably dangerous for your mental health and you should never force yourself to relive your traumas just for a performance. Your health and safety is always more important. You can use whatever method works best for you, but if you’re looking for something to drop into the emotion of the moment, it’s best to imagine an imaginary circumstance that hasn’t actually happened rather than a real thing that has already hurt you. Because like I said earlier about in-scene tension with your scene partners– you can let it go after. Because it’s only real in the scene, not your life. Thus, it gives you the time and space to detach from the emotion of the scene, and drop back into it when needed– not something personal that hangs over you in and out of the room. 

For all I’ve been saying about finding ways to detach from your fictional life as your character, it feels important to say that it is also completely fine to resonate with them and find similarities between you two. Really take the time to get to know your character– unpack them! What are their likes and dislikes? What are their hobbies? Relationships? Have fun digging into them until they really feel like a fleshed-out person you love. The important thing about this is to find both similarities and differences between you too. In the play I’m currently in, my character is very nostalgic and cares a lot about other people. That sounds like me! She also is in a dysfunctional marriage. …Less like me. It’s all about having such a fundamental understanding of your character, but also yourself. Learn what comes easiest to you and what to do a bit of (safe) digging on to connect to. As long as you have a balance of both, you’re golden.

Lastly, with all the care and discovery you’re giving to your character, make sure to continue giving the same to yourself! In all the times I’m not in rehearsal or learning lines, I’m keeping up my routines of working out, making time to read, spending time with my friends, and really indulging in things that light me up as a person rather than a performer. The best advice I can give in this entire post is to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself in ways that help you grow in joy and as a human– because if you’re not functioning as yourself, no one should ever expect you to function as anything else before you get that taken care of. As much time as you make for your art, you should make for yourself. Maybe even more. I promise, it will help your performance in ways you don’t even realize.

Heavy material and intense personalities are no stranger to any actor, but that doesn’t mean we should go about them recklessly! Keeping a steady balance between nurturing your onstage persona and your offstage person can be tricky, but these have been my tips and tricks to offer on how to do so! These really are things I’m practicing every day in the rehearsal room to better my performance and my well-being, so give them a try if you’re getting a little lost in your character (or your own) head. That being said– wish me luck with that husband of mine! …or, friend of mine. Eh, same guy. 


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