In the midst of directing a musical, I couldn’t help but wonder over the last few months what makes someone want to act and what does acting do to you? For me, I could NEVER imagine getting up on stage after memorizing a bunch of lines and performing in front of countless strangers. Even having to get in front of people to say a thirty second speech about exits and cell-phones was almost too much. I am much more content working behind the scenes. But why is it that others can be so comfortable, even crave acting? And what about taking on the persona of a character for months on end- can that lead to changes in the individual?
Anecdotally, yes. As I’ve worked closely with many of my close friends, I have seen them grow as both actors and people. And interestingly this growth has paralleled the growth that their characters experience throughout the show. Earlier in the process I noticed that many of the actors incorporated their own mannerisms into their characters. However, on opening night I couldn’t help but notice that some of the characteristics and phrases the characters use were now a part of the individual’s’ body language off-stage.
This could be due to the emotional ties the actors developed with their characters as a result of method acting. Method acting is used by actors to create realistic emotions for their performance by drawing on their personal experiences. This “compartmentalizes their own feelings while playing another character so they could bring the emotions of that personal feeling to cry if they needed to with that character” (Hamden, 2010). However, when the actor does not properly separate these spheres of their lives, the emotions can seep into other areas of their lives. This can happen with both good and bad emotional experiences. In addition, actors often delve deeper into their memories than they ever have before and buried unresolved emotions are discovered — and added to their character development.
Side effects of method acting are experienced differently by everyone, but most often include:
- Personality changes
- Psychotic disorders
- Sleep deprivation
These side effects of method acting are most likely to occur when actors’ actual feelings are different than the actions they take (Grandey). A way to avoid the emotional fatigue and physical effects of method acting is to instead use ‘deep acting’. ‘Surface acting’, unlike deep acting, involves only changing your actions, and not the thoughts and emotions behind the action. Method acting, in contrast, is ‘deep acting’, which means that you make sure your thoughts and emotions match the actions you are performing. The feelings of fear, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and shame are associated with the emotional exhaustion caused by surface acting.
Raw or unresolved emotions used to act can also lead to sleep deprivation and the other physical and cognitive effects of sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation alone can lead to psychosis. It causes neurotransmitter concentrations to change in the brain and leads to the erratic behaviors often associated with psychotic individuals. If the actor does not address these unresolved emotions, but still continues to draw on them, their symptoms can become exacerbated.
Overall, if you are someone that enjoys acting, I urge you to observe yourself and fellow actors throughput a show process. Take note of the changes that you observe. I also urge you to be aware of the effects of improper method acting. Whenever you notice that your feelings and emotions do not match your character’s’ actions in a scene, evaluate the actions and yourself. Determine if this dissonance is causes you distress or fatigue. If it is, try either changing your actions and/or ask yourself about your past experiences that could allow you to relate emotionally to the action. However, also please be aware that the emotions you conjure from your past may be detrimental to your emotional and physical well-being if you continue to draw on unresolved or traumatic emotions.
Grandey, Alicia A. “When ‘The Show Must Go On’: Surface Acting As Determinants of Emotional Exhaustion and Peer-Rated Service Delivery”.
Hamden, Raymond. “Clinical and Forensic Psychology”. Interview. Dubai Today. Arabian Radio Network. Dubai. 14 April 2010. Radio.