Acting: A Tool for Mental Health (pt. 4)

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 |

What Should Drama Teachers Do and Teach? And Why?

If drama teachers are not integrating psychology or mental health techniques into their lessons, then their students will be unaware of them. If these students are unaware of the benefits, then when they are dealing with overwhelming characters or stressful plays, they’ll be unable to deal with it healthily.

Drama students are unaware of the psychological benefits, thus the drama students can deal with the stress unhealthily. Therefore, it is incredibly important to teach drama students as early as possible that acting is correlated with psychology; and acting has mental health benefits (such as acceptance, concentration, relaxation).

The first step a drama teacher should take towards progressive action is to research, or take a class on, psychology and mental health. After doing so, the drama teacher will learn—like Natalie Alvarez, a performance theorist, and Catherine Graham, an author, did—that: “[Acting] allows us to take an approach to health that views the human body as the core of an ‘experiencing being,’ formed in the richness of lived encounters” (Alvarez and Graham 5). The drama teacher needs to eventually integrate this belief in the world of the actor. For instance, my drama teacher, after dealing with Beverly, learned that integrating this in her lessons allowed her to connect with her students in a way that motivated them to trust her wholeheartedly. Additionally, I am a product of her teachings and have valued my mental health tremendously; meaning I try to see my therapist twice a month, even if I am feeling completely okay.

After extensive research, the drama teacher should connect what she/he learned with any approach to acting. Schreiber believes that Stanislavsky’s idea ‘emotional recall‘, or affective memory, is a great tool that allows the drama student to connect with their characters without having experienced the issues the characters are facing. Affective memory is an acting exercise used to pull out personal experiences that the actor has faced in a scene or for a character. For example, if I am playing a character who lost her boyfriend, affective memory allows me to pull out the emotions I felt during the breakup or loss. Schreiber finds that without knowledge in psychology and mental health, this method can be unhealthy for the actor.


However, with knowledge in mental-health-related subjects, the drama teacher can conduct a healthy and proactive experience, like Schreiber did:

"I ask an actor to consult with me privately about a feeling or 
emotion that may present a problem in his or her work. An actor may
 say, "I know I could play this role, but the character is very 
vulnerable" — or shy, angry, silly, out of control, bounding with 
joy, or any other trait the actor wants to access — "and I always 
have problems with that." I ask the actor to select a moment from 
Ms or her life — a "traumatic moment" when he or she experienced 
one of the abovementioned feelings. I ask the actor to pick an 
incident from at least seven years ago, preferably one from 
childhood. And in big, bold letters, I ask the actor to make sure 
the incident is something he or she is psychologically and 
emotionally resolved about — as opposed to one that he or she is 
trying to resolve or work on in therapy. Then we work through the 
exercise, helping the actor recall the incident through sensory 
detail, not just through the narration of a story. When successful,
 the actor will succeed in re-creating not only the event but also 
his or her age and response to the event at the time. All that 
information is stored in the subconscious, and reliving it with 
correct sensory guidance will release it" (Schreiber).

Conducting a proactive experience like this can help actors apply their same emotions in another scene or play and manage their feelings healthily. If the experience does not help or bring out unwanted emotions, then the drama teacher can walk her student through recuperation (meditation, relaxation, concentration, etc.). The student will then use these skills for the rest of his life in all fields, not only acting. Integrating these lessons into acting classes will not only enhance performances, but inspire the students to be the healthiest version of themselves.

What can schools do to make actors and actresses healthier?

Acting is a great tool for mental health. However, as previously said, many are unaware of this; and it needs to be known and taught in drama schools all around the world. Fortunately, there are some schools that offer ‘holistic acting’ classes, such as the National Theater Institute. However, these schools are either very expensive or highly selective. Thus, all drama schools need to hold required classes focused on mental health to limit the amount of students who take on an unhealthy approach to acting. Acting is about letting go, connecting with your best self, and staying focused; not mainly about fame or fortune. Let acting bring you peace, stability, and bliss. What is greater than being in tune with your own body, objectives, and yearns? If an actor lacks these skills, she will experience less cathartic moments on stage. What good is that? Thus I say: Drama teachers, schools, directors, and actors unite!

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 |

Works Cited:

Alvarez, Natalie and Catherine Graham. “Performance and Health.” Canadian Theatre Review. 146. (2011): 3-5. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

Goodwin, John and Rick Deady. “The Art of Mental Health Practice: The Role of Drama in Developing Empathy.” Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. 49 (2013): 126–134. Web. 28 Apr. 2015


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