BWW Blog: The Importance of Separating Life From Art
One of the beauties of theatre is that it can be used as a platform to express a spectrum of stories and emotions. It is designed to take the audience on an emotional journey and leave them changed. One thing that is important to recognize, though, is the toll it can take on the performers. Telling an emotional story 8 times a week will not only leave a lasting impact on the audience, but on the actors, too. So, how do we, as actors, find balance between ourselves and our work? Especially as a student, we have to additionally balance our school workload and our friendships. This is something I have been struggling with more recently, working on a production of Brecht's "Fear and Misery in the Third Reich" as part of a class. This is the only class I am taking over J-Term, so a large part of my energy for the month has been spent pouring over details of the Holocaust, making sure my castmates and I can respectfully and impactfully portray the trauma that German citizens experienced in the 1930s and 40s.
I have found myself returning to my dorm room after class feeling exhausted and emotionally defeated. Our class discussions about how to approach the show have been great, and I've found myself caring a lot about the way these stories are told. Almost too much, I realized. While I was in class, I was pouring 100% of my energy into thinking about these stories, and not doing anything to separate myself from what I was working on. It quickly became too much, and I realized I had to change the way I approached the class. I decided to share some methods of separating yourself from you work that have helped me:
For visual people, it can help to visualize the material leaving your body. After running lines or working a scene, close your eyes and let out a deep breath, imagining that the air leaving your body is the energy of the scene and all the emotional turmoil that accompanies it. Or, create a ball of energy with your hands, visualizing the energy as the scene, and squash it between your palms.
For less visual people, like me, it helps to find something that grounds you and makes you happy, and focus your energy on that. When I'm at home, I like to come home and play with my dog for a while because he always puts me in a good mood. When I can't do that, it helps to listen to happy music or watch a funny TV show to switch up my headspace.
For shows with extended runs, actors have been known to go to therapy specifically to deal with the emotional hardships involved in playing their role. Everyone is different and every body has different needs. The most important thing is to know yourself and listen to the needs of your mind and body. This is the only one you get! Take care of it.