Actors in Isolation - 11 Tips to Stay Sane During a Pandemic
Coronavirus/COVID-19 could be the opportunity for growth we've been wishing for.
As coronavirus spreads rapidly across our world, fear and anxiety seem to be following. Businesses are closing down, countries are entering stages of lockdown and the empty shelves of supermarkets has everything feeling a little apocalyptic.
Now unless you're Leo or Margot, you'll almost always find an actor with a hospitality day job to pay the rent and the crippling amount of expenses required to establish ourselves in the industry (IMDb Pro, Showcast and Casting Networks, I'm looking at you) and as of midday March 23rd, our jobs have been deemed a non-essential service and have been forced to shut down (and rightly so) to halt the spread of this relentless virus.
Not only has this has left many of us flocking to the technically challenged Centrelink website to apply for support, but it's also presented an unexpected abyss of spare time that we've never quite had before.
Self-isolation feels a lot like a lonely, downsized Big Brother, only with better internet allowances, and the risk of dipping into old habits and letting hours pass us by is high. Gyms are closed, motivation may falter, serotonin stores might deplete and social connection may be hard to maintain for some.
With all this bleakness being said, every experience we have in life is steered by perception. We can choose how we use this time and ensure that we don't allow ourselves to fall into a hole. Some days may be less productive than others and that's okay. The key is to be gentle with yourself during this time of uncertainty and remember that we can find happiness and excitement in anything.
This has always been one of those things I've wanted to get into the habit of but in all honesty, consistency is something I struggle with.
In recent months I learned that there are many forms of meditation, methods that don't necessarily involve sitting cross-legged, eyes closed and trying to tune out the dulcet tones of Bojack Horseman from your housemate's TV in the other room.
The short- and long- term benefits of meditation are incontrovertible. Increased grey matter in our brains, improved ability to manage stress and you just feel real damn clear. I always find I have a laser-like sharpness and clarity to my thinking when I meditate and now's the best time to start introducing healthy habits for our minds.
Some traditional forms of meditation:
- BODY SCAN - ideal for addressing the physical imprints of stress on the body, focusing on releasing tension. Typically 2-4 minutes.
- YOGA - great for quieting the mind strengthing the nervous system to improve the ability to managing daily stress. Anywhere from 5 - 60 minutes.
- GUIDED MEDITATION - handing the reigns to an external stimulus is great for beginners or those who's mind drifts from focus. This 10 minute guided meditation is a go-to of mine.
- SOUND HEALING - typically uses Tibetan singing bowls, gongs or even a digeridoo. If you find your household inventory lacking, watching this monk is sure to bring some calm vibes to your living room.
Other non-traditional forms of mediation:
- WATER - if you're lucky enough to have access to a pool or spa, get yourself in it and focus on tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Otherwise, a steamy bath with some lit candles is also a great muscles relaxant and way to calm the mind. Alternatively, lie down on something soft and spend a few minutes listening to waves, giving your mind allocated time to wander through whatever it needs to while observing the thoughts.
- CLEANING - my mindset is synonymous with my environment. Messy space = messy mind. Chuck on your favourite hottest 100 playlist and banish any bacteria-breeding areas in your home or organise the pantry.
- BAKING - this one is fab because you get a tasty reward at the end (if you don't screw it up). Whack on some tunes at check out this delicious AF vegan brownie recipe.
2. Watch Movies
Kind of a no-brainer here, but nevertheless, now is the perfect time to tick off those recommendations we add to our never-ending mental watch list.
I'd definitely recommend awareness and caution with this though because it's incredibly easy to feel like you've accomplished absolutely nothing after spending an entire day lounging on the couch with Netflix.
To combat this, here are some options:
- Give yourself a day-per-week limit. Set aside the day/s where you allow yourself to spend it watching TV and ensure the other days are productive. Avoid negative thoughts dragging you down by planning it out.
- Limit your watching to one movie a day or make it a nightly treat to look forward to.
- For every movie watched, do one thing productive or one chore that needs doing.
- Turn it into research and take notes on the actors. What do you like? What don't you like? What character traits or idiosyncrasies would you like to borrow or explore.
We all know how easy it is to waste half an hour actually deciding what to watch so if you're stuck, pick a year and make your way through all the Oscar and Academy Award nominations in a particular category.
Here are some of the lastest categories to get you started:
3. Learn a new scene (every week)
Like any skill and profession, we need to be constantly doing and practising to get anywhere in our industry. It's very easy to get complacent and think we're working on our craft when really, the last scene we uploaded to our Vimeo pages was 4 months ago.
With a huge amount of time on our hands, it's the best time to learn new material and exercise the muscle. Script Slug is an incredible resource with an enormous database of scenes for free download. From HBO's Euphoria to Greta Gerwig's Little Women, they've got it all.
With the help from our little friend Technology, you can stay connected and hit up your acting pals to film a scene while they read for your over FaceTime or Skype.
4. Read, read, READ.
That acting book you started and never finished. The fiction series with whispers of a TV show on the horizon. That story your friend lent to you a year ago that they've forgotten all about. Read it.
If you can get access to fresh air while you read, it's a great opportunity to also focus on your deep breathing. Crack the window, sit on a balcony or simply turn on a fan to a low setting to gently remind you to focus on the flow of air in and out of your lungs.
- The Warner Loughlin Technique: An Acting Revolution by Warner Loughlin
- True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor by David Mamet
- At Left Brain Turn Right by Anthony Meindl
- No Acting Please by Eric Morris
My favourite read/to-read books:
- Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas (fantasy)
- The Stuble Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (psychology, motivation)
- Everything Is F*cked by Mark Manson (psychology, motivation)
- The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain by James Fallon (psychology, science)
- Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy)
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (psychology)
- A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber (history, science, evolution)
5. Perfect your accents
The more versatile you are, the more you open yourself up for opportunities. There's a wealth of knowledge and tutorials on YouTube to help you nail any accent you want - take this time to smash it.
There are two amazing playlists on YouTube to get you started, one from WIRED and the other from The Actor's Academy:
- The Actor's Academy - How To Do An Accent FAST!
6. Learn a language (seriously)
If you've got what the industry calls an "ethnical ambiguity" you've hit the jackpot for opportunities in overseas film industries.
If you've ever wanted to learn a language, nows the time to get into the habit of 20 minutes a day. I've been using a free podcast called Coffee Break Italian - they're short episodes to help you learn the foundations. They have a range of languages including French, Spanish, German and Swedish.
7. Take up a bizarre skill
Casting directors have the tough job of finding the perfect fit for a project and sometimes the brief asks for an obscure talent or skill that requires searching outside the realm of professional actors (we all remember the Cadbury eyebrows ad from 2009).
Make their job easier and prepare for the unknown. Some examples you can spend 10 minutes a day on:
- Eyebrow dancing
- Singing with your mouth closed
- Talking backwards
- Slow-motion walking
- Convincingly mimick an animal noise
- Sharpen knives with flair
- Pick a lock
- Read binary
- Burp on command
8. Co-watch your TV shows together
There are numerous apps and websites you can use to virtually watch Netflix/YouTube with your friends or family as if they're in the room with you.
9. Call your friends and family, don't text
There are too many ways to communicate via text these days. We have SMS, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp, do people still use Viber?
The problem with social media is how it shades people's honest reality with the public image they want to portray. Communication is the key to everything and if we don't mindfully practise doing so honestly, we lose authentic connection.
Calling and even video calling your loved ones will help nourish that social contact we will see less and less of as these lockdowns accelerate. Especially if you live alone or aren't best friends with your housemates.
Schedule time to talk and really engage. Let the people you love know it. We all like hearing that we're appreciated and loved and it costs nothing to say. Offer kindness and support and ask for it if you're struggling. We're all in the same boat and are stronger when we're honest and transparent.
With the world's health and wellbeing literally at stake here, anxiety levels will be up and down for everyone. Grab a good pen and one of the Typo notebooks you've had hoarded for the last 4 years and start writing it down.
While some are opposed to the idea, the act of writing down feelings or thoughts of your current state can be extremely healing and therapeutic.
Some like to write down their rants and then burn them as a metaphor for letting it go. Please do exercise caution with this one and ensure you don't light your place on fire.
Or alternatively, you could take a page out of our great-great grandparent's war journals and use it as a detailed recount of the coronavirus pandemic for history. "It's day 72 of isolation. Data of the numbers affective remain inconclusive...".
Some of the best actors are writers too. Exercise that muscle, you never know when inspiration may strike.
If all else fails...
11. To-Do Lists
Don't underestimate the power of a to-do list and goal setting. Each day choose a few simple things you want to get done and have one non-negotiable goal you want to achieve.
Our brains are complex organs but have a very simple positive response to reward systems. In other words, it feels really good to accomplish things.
While many are divided on this, I'm the type to always make the bed in the morning and this video is the reason why.
Creating to-do lists, however short or long they may be, is a great way to keep yourself accountable and bring structure to your day, which is an easy thing to lose in such a self-isolated time with reduced work options for the foreseeable future.
It's important to remember to be gentle with yourself and others. This is a very scary time that many generations have no first-hand experience with. We're all trying to navigate the ins and outs of this new way of living that will continue to change over the next 6 months.
Call your family, call your friends, stay productive and help those around you where you can. Check-in on people and yourself. Forgive and correct negative perceptions and wash. your. damn. hands.
If things are looking bleak, remember that it's okay. As they always say... this too shall pass.