Stress Management through Theater

Gowri Iyer

“Theater is the art form of the present: it exists only in the present, and then it’s gone.”- Simon McBurney

It has been said enough times by enough people that being in the present, in the NOW, helps in managing stress. Well, theater is exactly all about that. It is done LIVE, in front of people. So there is no scope for being anywhere else even mentally.
Stress has become so much a part of our lives that dealing with it consumes a major portion of our time.  Most of us consult therapists,  or have a set of routines or tools  to deal with stress. One major help in this regard could come from performing theater because  working on a theater performance is like a rehearsal to life itself ! 

Let us see how…
Well, certain requirements of stress free life are similar to the demands of a smooth theater performance. Theater production has tools embedded in it for stress management.
Stress needs to be addressed with patience and perseverance, theater rehearsals need it too. Stress free life needs acceptance of people as they are, and working with them. Role plays and teamwork inculcate that. A lack of clear communication and understanding  in human interactions cause stress. Emotional awareness is a tool in this regard and theater so embodies it by providing a scope for actors to put themselves in others’ shoes and understand a range of emotions and perspectives. Organisation skills help in reducing setbacks, theater builds this too.

Acting in a role helps in understanding the consequences of an action or behavior, or the feelings attached to it. What are the choices that a character has? Well watch a drama on that. How do you perform under pressure? Is it possible? Well try watching a character doing that or try playing that. 

You train as an actor to be somebody else in front of many unknown people, to manage a show with your fellow actors,  in changing scenarios, going through different emotions, using different body movements and get ups and doing all of this enthusiastically under pressure, just to portray a life like story line. What more do you want to train yourself with, to play life? Isn’t this skill enough to deal with any kind of challenges that life may throw at you? 

Gowri Iyer in action with the tiny tots

One of life’s major challenges is negativity.  When we have a negative thought, it helps to disassociate from it, go on a neutral mode and then replace it with a positive thought. In theater, if you have the fear of performing in front of people, you need to do this on the spot. Disengage from your fearful thoughts, neutralize it, think of a positive way to perform, for example, fade the audience away from the mind or catch hold of a prop to shift the focus on it, etc. and, Bang! Do it here! Do it now! Are you feeling better? Now, have you overcome fear ? 

What causes stress ? Self, other people or events that become a little more than what we can manage cause stress. But when you are trained to manage relatively more challenging situations, like a public performance, you face life with a little ease. 
Mostly it’s the fear of our capacity to deal with an unexpected situation that causes stress. With Theater, you can test the waters by putting yourself in some other person’s shoes and enacting it. The only thing that is required is the practice to face the audience and the courage to take the feedback, which in itself is also a life skill. 

Different people like different aspects of theater but most might benefit from the inherent nature of it –  to convey a message or to entertain others in an impacting manner. That completes a learning in social skill and, in fact, is also essential in reducing anxieties. 
Take theater as a hobby or a profession, its impact on your life is inescapable. 

I remember one young mother telling me that her son, when he took up theatre , initially didn’t like the dancing or singing part of it . But when he learnt to go beyond his comfort zone, he learnt the life skill of trying without fear. And then on, he even tried his science experiments without fear. Wow! 

So go ahead! The Stage is set! Collect the tools and play your life unbridled! 

Author Profile:
Gowri, is a storyteller at heart, with a passion for entertaining and engaging children. She writes stories for children too.

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