When I was studying at university to be an actor, among all the techniques to bring physicality and voice to our characters, to understand emotional beats, to make choices in gesture and blocking that help convey story to the farthest member of the audience, one of the earliest and most important we learned was how to put our work behind us at the end of the night.
There are two natural tendencies that make it otherwise difficult to do this:
- You’ve just spent the better part of two hours embodying the emotions and behaviors of someone else
- You have expectations of yourself and the show and when elements of the production misfire, they do so publicly
Yet, rehearsal after rehearsal, show after show, we had to get up the next night and do it all over again. Part of treating theater acting like a profession meant learning how to leave our character and our investment in the show behind us when we left the building and return to our personal lives. Without time away, we’d run out of steam.
So at the end of the each performance, whether the audience seemed entertained or not, whether a line was dropped or a technical issue delayed an entrance, we were taught to reflect back on a few specific values we’d set out to achieve, evaluate whether we were true to those targets, and consider values for next time. We acknowledged our pride, our embarrassment, our joy or anger in what had just happened and then dropped it. Tomorrow night was a new night, a new show, and we had to start again.
There’s a statue installed outside of the Yaletown-Roundhouse Skytrain station in Vancouver by artist James Stewart of a man squatting low with his arms hanging over his knees. It’s called “Jeri”. Although, clearly transcribed from another place and lifestyle than mine, Jeri’s physicality reminds me of sitting quietly after a performance to reflect on what we’d done before rejoining the world.
I haven’t been part of a stage production in over ten years. I still rehearse and perform, but now it’s for teleconferences, in boardrooms, and for much smaller audiences. I still have expectations of myself and of my company. And when they are met or missed, I still carry them with me.
All the more reason not to forget my training.
Having time to decompress is one of the reasons I don’t mind living a little further from the office. It’s one of the reasons that, either through metro transit or light rail, I’m thankful to have a buffer between my time spent at work and my time spent at home when I don’t have to be laser-focused — even if there are some days I can’t take full advantage of it. I need that time to reflect on things that have happened, evaluate whether I was true to the values I set out to achieve, and shed as much of the unimportant stuff as possible before I get back home to my family.
I need that time to hunker.
And, fortunately, someone always reminds me to do so as I leave work each day. Because it doesn’t seem to matter what kind of a day he’s had, Jeri’s always there at the Yaletown Skytrain Station, in the middle of a hunker of his own.