The singer Beyoncé Knowles has an alter-ego she calls Sasha Fierce. When she was young in her career, and nervous about a big show, she would internally decide it was not Beyoncé going onstage, it was Sasha Fierce.
This character was brave, and strong, and confident. Assuming this persona allowed her to handle difficult challenges, because she was playing a game as a character, rather than herself.
Creating a persona can help you handle something difficult or challenging. When I was the understudy for Romeo in my first Equity show, I needed an alter-ego. Professional Shakespeare productions employing members of the Actors Equity Association (the labor union that represents theatrical professionals and sets standards for live performances) require understudies for critical roles.
I had performed the role of Romeo previously, in a non-Equity production, so I knew all of the lines. I was cast as a background character, and memorized all of Romeo’s blocking so I could step in to replace the lead actor if something happened to him during the run.
As the ‘third spear holder from the left’ (a typical term for background actors in a play), I didn’t have very many interesting things to do. One day during rehearsal, the Capulets and the Montagues were having a stylized sword fight in the background, while Mercutio and Romeo were waxing poetic downstage. I found the choreography to be trite and boring, and the rehearsal was stopped when the fight choreographer called me out on it.
“You look bored,” he said. “You need to seem engaged, you’re in a sword fight.”
At first, I scoffed. We were fighting in slow motion, and we had two moves: strike high, and strike low. There was little purpose to our fight other than window dressing. With the skills I had learned at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater, I wanted to be doing flips, complicated swordplay, something exciting.
But then I realized, that was not the game I was playing.
This game I was playing was to set a mood, without being noticeable. The audience needed to pay attention to a conversation happening downstage, not to the minor actors upstage. We were quite literally the background, and the more convincing I could…