As an actress I devoted myself to years of intensive training that taught me how to embody any type of character I wanted to portray. The training was based around the concept of tapping in to a thought or belief within my personal life experience that I could then manipulate and repurpose to say and do things that would be convincingly portrayed via a character to the audience. This style of training is successful, yet I also find it capable of causing psychological concussions. Concussions caused by stitching your own personal experiences into the material of a character so seamlessly that you struggle to remember where you end, and your character begins. In my intensive training I was never taught how to tear apart the seams, to separate, to let go, to get out of the character and back in to myself and only myself. I find the omission of this additional training to “fall out of character” fascinating since the ability to let go of a character is part of being able to get another job. So, why wasn’t I taught that? I have my theories!
These physiological concussions are creating repercussions on actors and the society they help mold. The ability to go in and out of a belief system or physical world of one character and into the belief system of another is powerful, playful and at times dangerous. It can be noted in Jim Carey’s documentary, Health Ledger’s experience playing the Joker and Denzel Washington’s journey in Fences to name a few. We should suspect there are countless others if we all dared to look, or they dared to tell. With such a negative social stigma on mental illness it is not safe in the world of acting to admit such a thing, a mental weakness of losing the ability to identify self from character. Perhaps we would train our actors to be better equipped for the life of an actor if we can accept the risks of the business and the management of rewards from success. Leaving yourself open and vulnerable to people in the business, as well as the embodied characters, is dangerous and steps should be made to be more honest with this truth. Perhaps at the very least offer early counsel to parents and talented young souls of where a career in acting can lead.
Much like football we all watch the entertainment with little or no concern for the players. If we cared too much the game lose its luster. As a culture we would have look for another option of entertainment which may not be hard to do however, it would still require a shift in culture. We are starting to hear the desperate concerns from players and their families regarding the long-term ailments from early and repeated concussions. It was only recently that the football world mentioned this and yet it was a known issue, but they would just put the players back on the field until it was publicly addressed.
I love acting and have decided to teach it even though I feel my career as an actor was demonstrative and toxic to my life. I was greatly affected by the psychological concussions caused by acting and they were a heavy burden. They not only impacted many aspects of my life but those of my husband and children as well. The burden was so much to bare and the continual negative outcomes from the concussions created an environment so toxic that I couldn’t maintain a healthy and fulfilling work-life balance. I decided to leave the profession and focus all my love and compassion to raising my children. As my children have grown and their independence has matured I found myself with an opportunity to return to acting which lead to teaching acting.
To part surprise and part dismay I returned only to be haunted by the ghost of the characters I had embodied. Sometimes they are helpful by giving me skills I had yet to learn and other times, because I was a method actor, they put my whole family and everything we had built on the chopping block. How could this be happening even after taking a ten-year long hiatus from the profession? I have pondered this for quite some time and believe it is because of the way I was trained to set up a story for the character and how to format the character. The format demands the character be present in my own life. It parallels a bad habit, an addiction, that now becomes something you must contend with in your own life.
I found myself captivated with the practice of acting and the aspect of movement. I began to create my own concept of training that keeps the acting skills at the forefront of character development but also provides guidance on returning the actor back to neutral- home again, to fully self-identify and unstitch the seam they created to embody their character of choice. My concept is successful and yet my concept creates a dilemma. It is contradictory to the training that many other teachers in my department implement. They rely on the same techniques I was subjected to in my formative years to get the actors to tap in to a very personal place to format a character, yet they do not intend or advise them on the absolute necessity to peel that character away when they are through with the act.
Another challenge I am currently facing is where, do we as teachers, draw the line of acceptable behavior from an actor who has failed to disembody a character? A male student acted out a scene where he portrayed an abusive lover. This actor himself is believed to have attacked a fellow actress at the school. The actress had to leave because of the trauma from the alleged attack. The faculty is aware of the attack and has opted to allow such behavior to happen in the name of artistic expression. Failing to distinguish a realistic attack versus one that was allegedly performed under guise of acting. They can’t seem to distinguish the actor from the character because their belief in the formation of a character doesn’t require such separation.
Parents should question the use of their money being spent on such practices? Are we as teachers at any point obligated to nurture character formation yet also teach the limit of the actions of a character? I have brought my concerns to the school faculty, but the consensus is that no action is required on behalf of the school. I hypothesize that the concepts they rely on to train actors use pain as talent and they refuse to try and find another way to format characters. The issue is that the actors must KNOW THYSELF-know home, self-identify and even more so be taught to know themselves as to create a more defined boundary between them and the character.
Many actors enjoy acting for the opposite reason, it keeps them away from self. If they wear a mask, then there is somewhere to hide physically and emotionally all the while never creating the environment to mature in to their own personal selves. My concept of training teaches the actors to be whole people who have healed their own anger by learning how to get out of character. Know who they are and recognize the natural paths of their own personal maturity. Understand that they are powerful and must respect their abilities or they will become part of the problem. An open and willing actor can find themselves being used and manipulated emotionally without any concern for what they are enduring. Thus, subjecting themselves and those around them to the emotional and psychological concussions from acting. They return to other players in the profession such as agents and managers who don’t delve in to the intentions or practices of the director nor care to, if the actor is getting roles and providing a profit regardless of what those roles represent and the concussions that they are likely to cause.