Actor’s Body, Actor’s Mind

Apr 28, 2019

Imagine taking on a vengeful persona, or embodying a lost depressed soul or a deeply disturbed psychopath for two hours a day. And then ask the question: what emotional, chemical, or physical changes and reactions would happen in your body during this time? If you are an actor, depending upon the acting technique that you use, the resonance of the character gets channeled through the body and the mind. The autonomic nervous system (the part that we have no direct control over) can actually be convinced of the veracity of the character being played and wreak havoc on the actor playing the role. I once took care of two different brilliant actors who each successively played the same part in a show. The character was weak and down on their luck and both of these performers had the same respiratory ailments consistent with their character.

The mind, body, and immune system are inextricably linked. There is an entire field devoted to this subject called psychoneuroimmunology. The wisdom of this science can be brought to support the struggling performer. I always ask actors two questions when I first start seeing them: 1) Where does the character live in your body and 2) Do you leave your character in the dressing room before you go home?

The kinesthetic sense of a character finds its place in an actor’s form. Particularly for a stage actor who is doing eight shows a week, this can result in biomechanical imbalances in the body causing muscle tension and pain. Part of an actor’s self-care program must include some structural bodywork, chiropractic adjustments, massage, or physical therapy to keep them from developing chronic pain.

Most critical to the mental health of a performer is reclaiming their own identity at the end of a performance or shoot. One of the purposes of the curtain call is to allow the performer to begin this process. However, I suggest to all of my actor patients that they develop a personal ritual to do after each performance to call themselves back and reconnect with the person that they know themselves to be. Such a ritual could be as simple as saying something to their costume, such as saying goodbye to “the character” and that they will see them when they return to the dressing room. I have one performer who uses pictures of her children to re-establish her own identity.

In my experience, the importance of doing these two practices cannot be over emphasized. The more skilled the performer, the more essential the practices. Loss of personal identity is one of the great hazards of the acting profession and taking care to ground the mind and the body in these ways can protect a performer in both tangible and intangible ways.