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Acting: Safety tips from LARP

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

We never know what's going to happen in an improv scene, and it could be it takes you places that are uncomfortable, but you don't want to stop the scene. How do you keep that character's emotional state from affecting your own?

The discussion in LARP around setting boundaries with your scene partners and with yourself is, not surprisingly, also applicable to our work. Scroll down to get to the relevant sections of this post, but the economic discussion is also interesting tbh.

The term bleed is especially relevant because a lot of grounded improv encourages bleed-in where the player's emotional state influences the character. When we’re focusing on our psychological safety, we're mostly concerned with understanding and minimizing bleed-out, where the character's emotional state affects the player's.


My tricks to minimize bleed-out

- stretch/shake out even during show on sidelines

- write down what actually happened in a scene/show from outside and inside perspectives. and feel MY emotions around it as separate from the characters’. 

- engage with scene partner as person in real life again and not as character - talking about the show OR about our lives. 

- wear different clothes for the show and change afterwards (not quite as a effective as a character costume, but it helps)

- avoid characters/scene material that I know are unsafe for ME as me at the moment. get out of scenes that have become unsafe. KEY for this is knowing what's unsafe (as opposed to brave zone) for me at any given moment.

FOR EXAMPLE - There's a great draw-from-real-life exercise where you say something to your scene partner that you've always wanted to say to someone in your life but haven't. The last time I did it, I had a BIG check in with myself on what I felt safe saying at that given moment and honestly I was a bit surprised at how very CLEAR the line was. So the more you check in with your boundaries, the easier it gets.


Threshold crossings

We have an additional element that most LARPers don’t, which is an audience and obligations to communicate our safety to them. For me making the threshold cross between stage/character and sideline/player VISIBLE to the audience helps with this. 

This also helps the audience remember that I am both myself as well as the character, and those two things are different. I am not the villain I am playing, just like an actor in a scripted play is not the villain they're playing. But for whatever reason, in improv it sometimes takes an extra reminder to reassure the audience that you do not believe or feel the same things that your character does.

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