- De-Roling and Debriefing: Essential Aftercare for Educational Theatre
I invite you to examine the given circumstances of the 2020–21 academic year. We were (and to a certain degree, still are) in the midst of a global pandemic, a fraught election cycle, police brutality, xenophobia, imprisonment of children at the Mexico/United States border, an insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, an unstable economy, and thousands of artists out of work for what seems like an eternity. Many colleges and universities opened their campuses despite urgings from the Centers for Disease Control to keep social distancing. We were not only managing our own anxieties about the world and doing what we can do to contain the pandemic; we were anxious about those flouting medical science by going to bars, restaurants, and large social gatherings without masks or any form of distancing. As I write this, vaccines grant us a hope that the pandemic may end. Even as we may begin to feel our bodies’ tensions depart, however, so much about our daily lives remain unchanged. We will be a long time shedding the stress of this year.
Imagine for a moment that this pandemic year’s stresses were the given circumstances for a role you were playing, perhaps for an acting class. You took on all this emotional turmoil and physical stress in the course of living fully within this world. Then the performance ends. Would you be able to leave that emotional state behind at the drop of a hat? Would you be able to leave the work behind in the space and go about your day or evening unencumbered by the emotional rollercoaster you just took your instrument through? As our society grapples with the challenge of emerging from a period of long stress, we as theatre teachers have the opportunity to renew our attention to the tools we give to student performers to help them shed the extra stresses of living imaginary lives. Such de-roling and debriefing practices, I argue, are essential.
I am moved to write about these practices because, in my work as an intimacy designer, I have seen a troubling lack of attention to healthy transition and processing between the stresses of the studio and the stresses of life. Students often lack the tools to do this work, the expectation being that they learn techniques on their own or that they should naturally be able to segregate actor and character. In reality, however, this is not always the case. For instance, once when I was teaching de-roling and debriefing practices in a college intimacy workshop, a skeptical faculty member asked me, “Do we really need to teach our students how to do this?” A student in the room immediately shouted out, “Can I respond to that?” She looked directly at her professor and firmly stated, “Yes. Yes, you do.” A chorus of students chimed in, attesting that their experiences in X or Y production during the previous years would have been significantly healthier had they had such techniques at their disposal.
Examining some of the major acting texts commonly used in academic settings, I find little to no mention of what to do post-performance. For example, Konstantin Stanislavski, Sanford Meisner, William Esper, and Anne Bogart make no mention of what to do post-rehearsal or post-performance in their major acting texts (Bogart and Landau; Esper and DiMarco; Meisner and Longwell; Stanislavski). Sonya Cooke’s Seven Pillars Acting: A Comprehensive Technique for the Modern Actor nods towards the post-rehearsal process in discussions of rituals both pre- and post-performance as a part [End Page 129] of her acting pedagogy, but the discussion of post-performance ritual spans all of three pages in the text (159–61). In this small sampling of acting texts, it is not surprising that students are affirming to their professors that they do not have the tools necessary to transition out of a role and leave their work behind in the theatre.
Our students need tools to transition out of a character and recenter themselves, and that need is especially heightened with the panoply of pandemic pressures they are encountering. In this...