5 Ways to De-role When Working With Triggering Material

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Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

Have you ever taken on a character going through a lot of psychological turmoil? Did the set leave you feeling like an open wound? Triggering scenes can leave an impact on both the actor who’s in peril and the actor enacting the violence. These scenes can even affect the crew who are watching them—along with the editing team who cuts the footage. Marci Liroff, who’s currently working as the intimacy coordinator on a project about sex trafficking, says part of her job is to be there for the cast and crew if they get triggered by highly charged scenes. “I can provide trauma first aid in the moment, as well as preventative education to avoid a delayed response at home,” she says. After an emotionally draining day on set, Liroff explains it’s important for an actor to know how to de-role. Here, she shares five techniques an actor can use to remove themselves from the character.

1. Physically change your appearance.

One method after a performance or audition is to physically change your appearance by taking something off, such as a piece of clothing, jewelry, makeup, or a wig. “It can help you connect with yourself again,” says Liroff. “This should feel ceremonial as if you are shedding the skin of the character and snapping back into yourself.”

2. Scrub away your character. 

Some actors recommend showering or bathing as a way of “washing off” your character, she says before suggesting you treat yourself to scented bath oils or soaps. Changing and noticing your sensory intake is a great way to ground yourself. This can also apply on set if you’re triggered and begin slipping into a panic attack: Begin by naming three things you can see, feel, and smell. It helps get your brain out of fight-or-flight mode and brings you back to reality. I usually keep mints and scented hand lotion in my bag for such occasions.

3. Keep personal items nearby. 

Another trick is to surround yourself with things that root you in your life and personality. For example, Liroff suggests displaying a few small keepsakes, like photos of friends and family, in your space backstage or in your dressing room. “When you leave at the end of the day, take in your new surroundings. Using all your senses, notice all the differences that separate the performance space from the outside world, and get ready to rejoin off-set life,” adds Liroff. 

4. Come home to a safe space. 

“One of the most important things is to have a safe place to come home to,” advises the intimacy coordinator. “Whether that’s a cozy apartment where you can watch your favorite TV show, a furry friend waiting to greet you at the door, or a home shared with someone you love who supports you and can be a sounding board, having that security can work wonders on your psyche.” 

5. Always remember to plan ahead. 

Lastly, Liroff explains that whenever someone is faced with challenging material, actors should “plan ahead so you can keep your mental health intact when your shooting day comes. Preparation is key.”

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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Marci Liroff
Known for her work in film and television, producer, casting director, and intimacy coordinator Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world. Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light.
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