What To Do When Life Imitates Your Casting?

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Hey folks, this is just a quick answer to a question that comes up time and time again when I'm coaching actors.

The Question:

I am working on a 'break-up scene' for a casting/ film/ play.

I feel overwhelmed, because I actually broke up with my boyfriend/ girlfriend very recently. I'm having to say lines that are almost identical to what I said when we ended our relationship.

How do I cope with this?

The Answer:

If you are working with a script - as opposed to improvising - and that script includes a break-up, which you've recently experienced in real life - then of course it's going to be tough.

In all likelihood, assuming you are in an open state to begin with, you are going to experience the theatrical version of this break-up VERY deeply - because it will focus your subconscious back to the actual event that has taken place in the real world.

There is probably no way this can be fully avoided - unless you turn the role down - which might not be an option for various reasons.

But, why would you want to avoid deep feeling as an actor anyway?

Why not use this 'emotional intelligence' to your advantage - tapping into that 'real' emotion, just a little.

If you were playing such a thing in a play, every night - in the midst of an actual break-up in your life - it would be tiring perhaps.

But, I assure you - no one ever died of a feeling.

There is ONE strategy that I always give my students, to help combat being completely overwhelmed, whilst still using some of that raw emotion to aid performance.

Bring Your Focus Back To What Your Character Wants In The Scene

I would suggest that you pay very close attention to the character you are playing opposite, before you begin.

Then, take care to clarify what it is YOUR character WANTS from him/ her - and 'WHY' your character wants that - staying firmly WITHIN the imaginary circumstances.

Focusing on the imaginary will help you separate fact from fiction - although there will inevitably be an overlap.

Knowing what your CHARACTER wants and why they want it, will however, help prevent you from being completely swept away by pure emotion.

But it's still HARD - I get it!

Only via the experience of nightly repetition in the theatre, or multiple takes on a film set, will you really find your way with this.

It's something for you to face head on - and OWN!

Also, remember that your relationship with your actual past changes over time. Things that feel insanely raw today, might not feel as bad in 6 months time.

In the case of an improvisation, you may still experience the situation deeply, but unlike a scene, the improvisation may end with a different result - i.e. you may expect a break-up, but actually end up with a reconciliation.

The main thing to remember in the case of both scene and improvisation, is that there is no such thing as a 'break-up', just a series of moments that are more or less authentically lived by the actors.