Most actors reported regularly using warm-up routines; far fewer reported applying regular techniques for cooling down after performance, particularly after performing challenging roles. Instead, high numbers of actors reported the use of alcohol as a means of unwinding.The Australian Actors Wellbeing Study, 2015
We have previously talked about things that can assist with preparation and post-work relaxation. These included meditation, breathing exercises and physically removing yourself from your working environment as part of a daily regime. Consider this next bit a fully-realised extension of these techniques into a complete framework.
One of our main goals for TheLongHaul.com.au was to act on the key recommendations of the Actor’s Well Being Study. So we put our heads together with several excellent psychologists and psychiatrists to create an actionable system that any actor can use in preparation for the work AND as a warm-down afterwards. We wanted this system to be structured around techniques that actors were already familiar with so it could easily be incorporated into your standard warm up routine regardless of environment. Most importantly though, we wanted this system to replace and prevent the use of self medication via drugs or alcohol.
We’ve incorporated techniques from several different strands of psychology and body/mind sensitisation:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Organisational Psychology
- The Third Space (from Dr. Adam Fraser and Deakin University)
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Power Posing (from Amy Cuddy)
- The Linklater Workout (from Kristin Linklater)
So, in consultation with mental health professionals and their top-quality resources, we have created the ‘CHECK IN, CHECK OUT SYSTEM‘ or C.I.C.O System™ for short. We hope that CICO provides you with a safe and ritualistic way of entering and exiting the creative space cleanly.
THE C.I.C.O SYSTEM ™
1. Prep a few things before the big day:
‘Check-In‘ takes approximately 30 minutes to complete, so allocate a period of time at least 30 minutes prior to call time. Also, prep a jar filled with slips of paper upon which are written some of the funniest and most incredible things you’ve ever witnessed or been a part of in The Biz. We’ll call this your Jar of Laughs. Finally, organise something special to look forward to and have it ready to go the moment you’re finished. It could be a low-key or as grand as you want. Your favourite chocolate bar ready to devour in the fridge, your favourite show ready to roll on Netflix, a round of poker with some friends, a surprise brownie delivery to someone you haven’t seen for a while, a trip to your favourite Food Van, a late night movie with a home-made snack, a slap-up round of board games with some cast mates. Just make sure that you cannot wait to do it after knocking off.
2. Begin Check-In:
- Set an alarm on your phone to go off after 10 minutes. Reduce the volume to make sure it isn’t too loud when it does goes off and, if possible, use some relaxing music as the alarm tone.
- Start your timer, lay down on the floor, close your eyes and just ‘be’. Permit your mind to go wherever it wants and don’t force it to relax. Allow any amountof positivity, negativity, recognition of sound, sense of touch and the sensation of your breaths to register in your mind. This is not an exercise designed to force you into a state of relaxation. Accept yourself just as you are, allow yourself to feel whatever you are currently feeling and just continue listen to your breathing.
- When the alarm goes off, slowly and quietly roll to your side. Then, when you’re ready and- still listening to that music- start rolling onto all fours. Once again, this can be as slow as you want. Keep your eyes closed.
- Stand up slowly by rocking back into a squat. Then slowly extend your legs so you move upward, but keep your torso loose with your arms brushing the floor like a weeping willow. Keep the tension out of your neck and slowly begin an upward spinal roll. Imagine placing each vertebrae on top of the next like a tower of bricks. Go as slow as you can, visualising each vertebrae locking in perfectly to the one below it.
- When at last you’re standing up straight, slowly open your eyes and stare out in a soft focus.
3. Begin your personal vocal warm-up:
We recommend you start your vocal warm up now as the dual vibration of your vocal chords and deep breaths are in themselves a form of relaxation. If your warm up happens to be excessively ‘scream-o’ , we would recommend reserving those parts of your warm up until the very end of the Check-In.
4. Begin to finish your Check- In:
Head to your trailer or dressing room and find your Jar of Laughs. Read a few and re-live those experiences.
5. Begin any personal prep for the show:
This is where your artistry can kick in. Permit your mind to go where it needs to so you can do your best work.
***DO THE SHOW/SHOOT/SCENE***
6. Start Check-Out:
The moment you get back to your dressing room, chuck on some tunes from a favourite playlist. If you’re a bit of a poddy, play a good podcast. Even better, listen to one that REALLY makes you laugh. You’re spoilt for choice these days!
As you hang up your costume and chuck your smellies in the washing basket, visualise those clothes as the character literally being peeled off your skin. You’ve inhabited their skin and their story has been told. Time to dump it all and get to that food truck/Netflix/poker match ASAP.
Hug or shake hands with your cast mates. Show them that you appreciate their work and that you value them. Give yourself reasons why you’re looking forward to working with them again.
As you make your way back to your pre-set ‘reward’, check where your post-performance head-space. What kind of things are you hearing in there? Do you hear A CHEERLEADER? Or is the bastard INNER CRITIC starting to pipe up again? If for some reason you weren’t happy with your performance, work backward as best you can to the exact point where you believe it all went south. Very rarely will the issue be an entire performance. After all, where is the evidence that you did the entire show badly? Once you have found that sour point, track how your mind took the steps it did to label your entire performance as ‘bad’ from that single negative instance. Ask yourself: Have I exaggerated or made a biased judgement? Did this exaggeration or judgement propel me into this generalised wash of negativity? Once you’ve nailed the starting point, you will see how the mind is more than capable of taking a bit of negativity and stretching it to ludicrous lengths.
That’s pretty much it. Whilst it all looks a bit overcomplicated in word form, it will become a lot more straightforward the more you do it. The real thing we want you to aim for is to make it as ritualistic as possible so that in time it will become an indispensable way of prepping for and debriefing from a performance. As with all good habits, it takes self-discipline and time to get it to the stage of self-perpetuation.