Coping Skills: #7. Acting

The Grandmother in Guys and Dolls

Playing the Grandmother in Guys and Dolls

At a fairly young age, I began to act in musical theater productions.  Over the years, I have continued to pursue this pastime and even longed to be a famous actress at one point in time.  However, over the past few years, I have taken a break from the stage.  Sure, I helped out as a costumer, backstage hand, watching the children in the cast, or ushering.  But the last time I was actually on stage was winter 2010 to 2011.  During this time, my eating disorder grew stronger and sneakier.  Since then, I have either chosen to take a break, been in too much treatment to attend practices, or not been cast.  Part of me began to believe my acting days were over.

Last night, I went to the theater company where I feel more comfortable than anywhere else outside of my home.  As a shy insecure teenage, I auditioned for my first show years ago.  To my shock, I received the lead role as Cinderella.  Since then, I have loved being in, helping with, and viewing their plays.  Thus I was not surprised at how much I loved Oklahoma last night despite the dark moments in the show.

Honk Cast

The cast of Honk!

What did shock me a bit was my longing to be back onstage.  That desire still burns deeply inside despite my insecurities, anxieties, and time away from the spotlight.  Today as I think back, I realize how much acting was a helpful coping skill for me during rough years in my life.  I believe that others can also use it to escape from reality for a little while.

When you are onstage, nothing else seems to matter.  You are someone else living another life.  Suddenly, you get to choose actions you would never do in real life or pursue dreams different from your own.  Free to express yourself, no longer are you held back by pressures and expectations of everyday life.  Instead you get to choose your own character, thoughts, deeds, motives, dreams, and fears.  Sure, you have to follow a script and the director’s orders.  However there is so much more freedom than restraint.

Often you can carry some of that fearless freedom back into your life.  Although nothing can replace the thrill of being onstage, each show I have done and every character I have played have taught me a little about myself.  That is another reason that acting is such a great coping skill;  you not only learn about your character, you also learn about yourself.  Being someone else for a little while makes you think deeply about who you truly are and if that is indeed who you wish to be.

Goofing around backstage during Annie

With another cast member and good friend backstage during Annie

Now, theater can be very helpful in many ways.  As mentioned above, it helps you to learn about yourself and also gives you a break from the pressures of daily life.  Other benefits of this coping skill include increased confidence, sharpened social skills, lessened anxiety, building team-work, and much more.  Even if you think that acting is not for you, I advice you to give it a chance.  You might be surprised.

However, there are some risks to trying this pastime.  First of all, you need to be careful of what theater you choose.  Some places are very competitive, nasty, and perfectionistic.  Try to avoid these places unless you think that you are strong enough to handle them.  Secondly, researched the show before you audition.  Make sure that the show’s content, message, and roles fit what you are comfortable with.  There is a wide variety of scripts out there.  Some you might love while others make you cringe.  So it is important that you know about the play before you try out.

Also, bring along a friend if you need support.  Having to meet all new people might give you a fresh start but it also can be very lonely.  Decide if you would like to already be known so that you will be prepared for mingling with the cast.  Finally, remember that you will not get cast in every show.  Sometimes you will be told no and other times you might get a role other than the one  you longed for while auditioning.  This is normal but very painful.  Often, I need to quietly trust the director’s decision.  Every time, I have found that I liked the role I received better than the one I had previously desired.  You never know what will happen in theater.

Joseph Cast

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Overall, I have experienced so much healing, self-discovery, learning, and joy through theater!  I cannot thank each and every director I have worked with enough.  Through acting, I have been able to put aside my disorders and hurt to be someone else.  Although it might seem daunting, I suggest theater to anyone.  Just give it a short try if you need to but please open up your mind to it.  You never know what might happen when you get up onto that stage.


Related Articles:

Ashland Productions – my wonderful theater company

The Effects of Theatre Education by AATE

Guidelines and Advice for Actors or Performers Auditioning for Roles by Brian Michael Peterson

Aspergers and Theater by Blueskyplans


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