Sonya, a Holocaust partisan fighter, is assigned to keep a rabbi’s wife alive in the forest until it’s safe to move on to the next village. She is fierce and tough enough for the challenge, but secretly deeply terrified. Survivor’s guilt tears at her soul as well; after the Nazis rip her family from their home and put them on a train to Auschwitz, she escapes through a small window, begging them to come with her, but they refuse and travel on to their deaths. In the woods, she is constantly on guard for the enemy. She longs for home and good food and fights about religion with her cohort so vehemently, she knocks the woman out cold. Eventually, she is almost a choked to death by a Nazi and finally mourns her family through copious tears.
I had the humbling experience of originating this role in Jessica Litwak’s play, The Promised Land, in 1999. It took a lot out of me, to say the least. For days afterwards, I felt…off. I thought it was the usual post-show blues; the typical melancholia I felt after the end of a run. But it was more than that. I kept feeling the fragility of life. I cried more than usual. I wasn’t “in character,” but I hadn’t properly let go of Sonya’s life experiences. No one had taught me how.
An artist’s job is to commit fully to the character’s emotional life. When you’ve done your job, those experiences can linger in your body and mind like little bombs ready to go off from the lightest touch.
So you also need to know how to take care of yourself. It’s simply not mentally, emotionally or physically healthy to continue to stew in that character. So how do you let go of them and move on?
You take care of yourself by mindfully reconnecting to your own life in the present. Here are some ways to let go of those deeper experiences whether they are full performances or auditions:
Express the residual emotions.
Right after a performance is when things are most fresh. Go ahead and privately cry, scream, punch a pillow, whatever you need to do to let those feelings come. It’s important to get them out so you can focus on the present. They still might pop up when you least expect it…like when you thought you were done and over it. That’s okay. Just make sure to express them so you can move forward.
Reconnect to your breath.
Once you’ve let those emotions out, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply three times and exhale loudly through your mouth. Pay attention to where you feel the breath in your body.
Reconnect to the present.
Take a real look at your environment. Where are you? What colors, textures, lighting do you see? Of what you see, what do you like? What don’t you like? Who is in your environment? Find something new about where you are that you never noticed before.
Reconnect with your people.
A recent TED Talk presented a study that proves that the key to a happy life is good relationships. Connecting with others helps us thrive and lets us know we are not alone. So make extra effort to get face-to-face with those you love and trust. And…
Get a hug from those people. Numerous studies show that pleasant, loving touch decreases stress levels, lowers blood pressure and just makes you feel better. Touch is incredibly powerful, so be sure to get that hug, cuddle with your pet, hold hands, jump in bed with your partner, get a massage…the list goes on…
Reconnect to the positive.
The road to happiness is also paved with gratitude. So take stock of all you have to be grateful for. Your relationships, home, job, bank account, ability to feed yourself, style, intellect, health, sense of humor.
Yes, speaking of your sense of humor: watch funny shows and movies, hang out with your funniest peeps, be silly.
Reconnect to your body.
It can be tempting to numb those emotions with alcohol, drugs, bad food and sitting on the couch; but that will only enhance your depression and anxiety. Instead, re-energize by eating well and exercising. You might even try some bad dancing.
Reconnect to your life.
Working on a project can take you out of your normal routine. We crave structure because it helps us feel safe and in control. So what items are on your to do list? Do them.
Stroke your ego.
You deserve great praise for not only your creative accomplishments, but for taking care of yourself as well. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
And finally, it’s time to Move forward. You have not only fully committed to the life of that character, but you have respectfully let them go and fully reinvested in your life in a healthy way. Congratulations! On to the next one!