Posted by: nancykenny | October 25, 2009

Extreme Method

A few months ago, I mentioned that I do work as a Standardized Patient. I’ve signed confidentiality agreements and so I can’t talk about the specifics of cases, especially not in this blog. These are medical exams after all and, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to have a doctor who passed his exam because he cheated through regular readership on some chicky’s acting blog. Oh, and I don’t want to get sued. There’s that too.

That said, I am allowed to mention that I do the work in general. So far, I had always found SP work to be quite simple. Learn some case details, show up for training, show up for exam, listen to the candidate, improv a little when thrown a curve ball, eat some free food, done. Easy paycheck.

Yesterday though, things changed. I didn’t realize I had a case that would be both tough on me physically and mentally until it started. Some details started hitting close to home and, during a break, I broke down a bit. When you put yourself into a position where you try to be as believable as possible with your “part” and you keep repeating the same issue over and over again, it’s understandable that your mind and body might get a little confused. It starts to take a toll. (This actually got me thinking about Hugh Laurie and his current leg issues on House.) They do have spares that are available to replace us if something happens, but it was late in the day and the spare was already sent home. I did talk to the trainers/supervisors. They would have let me sit it out if I absolutely needed to, but I knew I would be leaving them in a bind. My actor survival instinct kind of kicked in at that moment. I splashed some water on my face, had a soda and a good stretch and then I jumped right back in. It was difficult, but I managed.

We were debriefed on the case post-exam and I know they will propose some changes, which might include an SP rotation and more frequent breaks. That said, the shadow of this case followed me home and haunted me for a good two to three hours later. I just couldn’t shake it off. Finally, I did the one thing I realized always clears my head these days. I went for a run. I pumped my legs harder than I ever had before with angry music blaring in my ears. In the damp night air, the coolness on my face was invigorating and I started feeling like myself again.

Has this ever happened to anyone else? Have you ever had difficulty letting go of a part or a character? Am I just weird?



  1. Thanks for sharing and being honest about what happened to you. That has only happened to me in theatre school in Vancouver during voice work or scene study. Where we did very intense stuff. But in that process they teach you to see the warning signs of that potential danger of forgetting the audience is there and going too deep so you can’t get out — that is why Method acting can be dangerous. That is why most respectable theatre schools teach you to check yourself. You always have to remember that you are there for the audience not yourself and a part of you has to be a police or security guard for you acting self. In this particular case you describe above, you are there simply to let your audience (Dr.s who paid lots of money) – a chance to pass an exam. SPS is technical acting. In my view Method is better for film not stage. In film you have to get into a part very quickly.
    Here is a story of how Method is dangerous – in a voice class I was in a year ago the teacher told of a time she saw Daniel Day Lewis play Hamlet (with Judy Dench as his mum). He got into the Method mode as Hamlet and actually saw his real father before him (who had died). This Voice teacher said as she watched, she saw the immediate danger – something was wrong, the actors around him including Dame Judy looked scared. Daniel did a few more shows – same thing happened – he then had to leave the part due to a breakdown. Method cannot be sustained on the stage when you are doing a run. In film you are doing takes. Then you hunker and shake it off move on to the next scene. Doing the same on stage can be damaging for your psyche me thinks.
    Glad you found your way through running to shake it off. Just be careful when in front of a real audience and using Method.

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