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Monday, April 20, 2015

On Saying Goodbye to Your Character and Your Play Family

Greetings, and welcome to Theater is a Sport, my own little place on the internet to talk about all things theatrical.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I'm a playwright, an actor, and a director.  I'm also an all-around theater geek, and proud of it.

Recently, a production of The Jungle Book I directed for the Center Theatre, my hometown theater, came to an end.  It has me thinking about when a show ends, and that feeling of letdown that we in the theater experience when saying goodbye to a character and cast of people who have become your family.  So, that's what I'm going to talk about today.

First, I'd like to share this quote from Daniel Day-Lewis, arguably one of, if not the best film actor of the last thirty years or so, about disengaging from a character:

"There's a terrible sadness. The last day of shooting is surreal. Your mind, your body, your spirit are not in any way prepared to accept that this experience is coming to an end. In the months that follow the finish of a film, you feel profound emptiness. You've devoted so much of your time to unleashing, in an unconscious way, some sort of spiritual turmoil, and even if it's uncomfortable, no part of you wishes to leave that character behind. The sense of bereavement is such that it can take years before you can put it to rest."

Now, perhaps we don't all  invest as much of ourselves when we do a play for the community theater or a school show, but, to be honest, I do, and I think Mr. Day-Lewis has described the feeling in the best way I've ever heard it described.

When you are putting on a play, there are weeks of rehearsal, often with people you may not know, or, other times, with a gang of actors you've performed with many times before.  As days go by, you learn to depend on one another, trust one another, complain about one another, praise one another, and, yes, love each other.  You may not always like all of your cast mates, but I do think you grow an indescribable bond with each of them.  After all, you are a group of people who have come together with the purpose of creating.  The act of creation is a powerful one, not to be taken lightly.  For weeks, you have sacrificed time to focus your energy with this group of people.  You have been pretending to be someone else to tell a story.  You have thought what it would be like this character, and, to some extent, whether you are a method actor or not, you have been doing your best to become this character, if only for a few hours a night, for the sake of the audience.  You invest feelings and actions that come from you, explore "as ifs" that get you thinking about your own life on this planet.  

It ain't easy to just shake off.  At least, it's not for everyone.  It's absolutely fine if you are a person who can shake it off--- in fact, you may be one of the lucky ones.  

For those who are more like me, folks who feel a terrible loss after a show closes, here's a few tips I have found helpful...

--- SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR CHARACTER:  Start a personal ritual of how you can say goodbye to a character.  Don't be concerned if it would appear silly to others or not.  It doesn't matter.  It's not for other people, it's for you and your character.  How you say goodbye is a private matter.  

---ALLOW YOURSELF TO GRIEVE AND "MISS IT":  There's not shame in missing a play.  There's no shame in wishing you were still up on that stage, giving your lines, playing your actions... it's an exhilarating and joyful experience.  You've made new friends, possibly lifelong friends.  It's okay to miss spending this time creating with them.

--- GET SOME REST:  You deserve it.  Take it easy for a few days.  Pamper yourself as much as you can.  

--- JUMP INTO A NEW CREATIVE ENDEAVOR:  I have found this to be very helpful.  Try out for another play!  Write some poetry or a short story!  Bake!  Knit!  Sing!  Anything that feels creative and lovely to you.  

And most of all, remember--- these moments in time you shared with your cast and the audiences who watched you, this shared experience lasts forever.  Energy lasts forever, so do these moments.  

And chances are, if you live in a small community, you're going to be acting with these people again sooner than you think.  

Please feel free to comment below with your tips on saying goodbye to a show or character! 


  1. I just read this to Benjamin and he said "That was a really nice speech. How does he know so much?" You've impressed him yet again. He is one who grieves the end of a play too and is already missing his Jungle Book family. Thank you so much for your kind words to him and to Andy and I and also for filling in for him when he was sick. Not everyone would have offered to do that AND to pull it off as if you had practiced those lines for months :)

    1. Thank you, Melissa, for your kind words. I'm so happy Benjamin was a part of the show, and I hope to be able to direct him again some day!