Acting: The Need for Resilience
The Actor Brain
My fascination with the brain science of acting began when I learned that the subconscious brain and body don't recognize the difference between imagination and reality. In other words, when actors are in character on stage or on set, their brains and bodies are responding chemically and physiologically as though those character's circumstances are happening to the actor in real time.
Pretty wild, right?!
Our job as actors is to fully embrace the qualities, the world, and the circumstances of our characters in order to tell stories truthfully. We are professional feelers, professional experiencers.
This is what makes acting great, what makes people so drawn to the emotional lives of the characters we follow on TV and in theatre. And for a lot of us, it's what makes actors drawn to the craft.
But this ability to live in our character's experiences comes with risk.
When an actor plays a role with significant stress, heightened emotions, and traumatic moments, their brain registers these ‘negative’ experiences as its own, which can eventually lead to lasting mental & physical health challenges.
You may be thinking - "isn't this just method acting?! I learned a different way!" And while method acting certainly blurs the lines between character and self more intensely, if you reach a point in your acting in which you genuinely feel the character's emotion in your body, if you feel your heart racing and your breathing becoming more shallow in a scene, your brain and body are processing that experience. As soon as the character's experience becomes embodied - physically, psychologically, emotionally - it becomes your experience. No matter how we get there, if we can embrace the character's emotional life in a way that feels even remotely real to us, it's certainly going to be real to the brain and body.
Outside of the character work itself, the nature of the job also requires that actors open themselves up to complete emotional vulnerability in class/ auditions/ rehearsals/ performances, while remaining strong enough to handle daily judgment, scrutiny, and rejection. All of this demands a strong sense of self that most non-actors are not exposed to, and that many actors are not trained to address (or at least, not trained enough).
Physically, actors can be expected to be awake, before the sunrise, ready to audition as their most energized self. At same time, they must have the ability to stay up until midnight pushing their bodies and their minds to extremes in rehearsal and performance.
It is an emotional Olympics from the moment we wake up to the moment we close our eyes to sleep. And it's doing some damage.
According to a recent study on the wellbeing of actors in Australia, actors are twice as likely to develop depression compared to the general population. We as a population exhibit a stronger tendency to have unresolved trauma, and we have also shown that we turn to substance abuse to cope with these ongoing challenges related to an acting lifestyle.
Acting's hard... so what?
By now, you may be thinking... "Yeah, it sucks. But what's the big deal? I signed up for this. That's just the way it is." But here's the thing - and I want you to really take in this next statement - IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.
There are tools that can help us prevent the damage, build resilience, and change our brain & body's response to stress - on and off the stage.
That's where brain training comes in.
The Power of the Brain
In brain science, there is a concept called neuroplasticity, known as the brain's natural ability to grow, change, and adapt throughout life. Our brains are constantly learning, making connections, and evolving with our environments.
The good news about this? It's possible to self-direct this neuroplasticity, and use mental practices to encourage the changes that you want in your life, your brain, and your body.
Brain training is a series of tools that help you do just that.
Work With A Resilience Specialist
As a formally trained actor, and brain training and resilience specialist, and hypnosis practitioner for actors, I work with actors in a wide variety of ways:
Transforming the brain & body's response to stress
Building resilience to prevent taking on the stressors and traumas of the roles that they play
Changing the brain's associations with the audition lifestyle so that the process is manageable (and even enjoyable!)
Building inner resources and strengths to be able to face the life challenges that come along with being an actor
Priming the brain to be aligned with goals, seek out opportunities leading to goals, and grow confidence & positive core beliefs
I also work with casts as a consultant, offering resilience tools for casts to safely move in and out of character, use mental practices to support their mental and physical wellbeing in challenging scenes, and have tools to use as a team to continue to cultivate resilience throughout the production process.
Click here to take the first step and check out how you can work on building your actor-resilience today!
Taylor , L. (2019, June 3). Out of character: How acting puts a mental strain on performers. Out of character: how acting puts a mental strain on performers. https://theconversation.com/out-of-character-how-acting-puts-a-mental-strain-on-performers-86212#:~:text=Performers%20are%20twice%20as%20likely,low%20income%20and%20job%20insecurity.
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