Self-Care for Actors: A few ideas on how to release the character energies when you’re done acting.

What can actors do to come back to yourself after rehearsing or performing? How do you release the work and not let the characters voice stay in your body?

In light of the devastingly sad death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, coming in the wake of Heath Ledger’s equally sad passing, I’d like to put out there a few ideas for actors on how you can rid yourself of your character’s energies that can run through you while you’re acting.

Those of you act know that “losing yourself” in a character is one of the true joys of truly allowing a character to inhabit you. From my perspective, as person who’s acted in over 100 roles and who now coaches actors, acting is, on one level, about allowing and running energies through your body and voice. You can think of your voice as being made up of different frequencies: a high frequency is literally a high pitch. A high pitch vibrates at a fast frequency just as a low pitch vibrates at a slower frequency. Just ring a few bells and you know what I mean. Your voice, when It’s free, travels through the bones of your body – that’s how the voice resonates and how you can loud without effort. A full voice is comprised of many different tones, aka pitches, aka frequencies – and these frequencies travel through your body – as if your bones were like a subway system carrying the vibrations through all of you.

When you have an emotion or an impulse or a need of some kind to do something, or even a thought – if your voice is traveling through you, the vibrations of your voice pick up the energy of those things, say an emotion for example, and moves that emotion through you and out into the world, into the bodies of those within the sound of your voice. – It’s amplified and it’s a kind of way humans have of communicating on a vibrational level, sometimes subtley and sometimes not so subtley.

So…let’s say you’re playing a dark character like the Joker in Batman or Lancaster Dodd in The Master. You would be sending lots of energies through your body on your voice as you connected to the feelings, desires, impulses, and thoughts of your character. These vibrational energies can stay in an actor’s body until they are somehow released. This is an occupational hazard for actors and in my opinion, it’s really important for an actor to know how to rid yourself of the character’s voice vibrations each night after you work. It’s part of an actor’s self-care program. And in some cases it’s even more important than eating your vegetables.

How can an actor get back to self after acting?
The first thing you might feel like doing is drinking a beer or something along those lines. As we can see from recent events, that is a very bad idea. Drugs and alcohol, while mildly entertaining in moderate doses at the right time, are not a way to get back to yourself or rid yourself of negative character energies. In fact, it can make you feel worse and have less awareness that what you’re feeling is not you but your character.

So here’s what I recommend instead:

It’s all about the body and the voice.
Shake sound out of every inch of your body – shake it though your legs and your feet, your shoulders, arms, and hands, out of your whole spine, your butt, your head – shake those parts of your body and sigh out on your speaking voice easily but with intention through your whole range. If you’re having an emotion, make the sound of that feeling as you literally shake it through your body. Get the feelings out with sound and movement. Jump up and down as you let out sound.

Use water: Take a shower and while you’re in there, shake the water off your skin. Take a swim. Drink lots of water. Tons of pure water.
Go outside or to the gym and run, the faster the better.
Get your breath moving – do some kind of physical activity that makes you breathe fully. Take 4 huge sighs of deeply felt, preferably pleasurable relief!

Sing with abandon – move your voice through your range. If your voice is tired, hum through your range with lips closed. The humming messages the vocal folds. Don’t push, keep sighing, letting go on your voice.

The goal is to move your voice through your body, and all that stuff that’s not yours will move out of you on your voice – let the vibrations of your voice move the character out.

Then sit, close your eyes, watch your breath, relax your belly muscles. See how you feel. If you feel better, you’re probably done and you can go meet your friends. If you’ve still got it in you, let it out – cry, scream, laugh…jump, shake the sound out of your body.

Do this each time after you perform – it’s just self-care. Actors and all artists in our crazy world need to know how to care for ourselves because it is often a hostile environment. Don’t let anything that’s not yours stay in your body after you’re finished working.