Mental Illness vs Acting Part Four

On my course we’ve been doing a few classes on Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty, for those who don’t know (which is probably the majority of normal people) Theatre of Cruelty is all about breaking boundaries and provoking strong emotion from audience and performers alike.

We were split in half (groups of four) and asked to create a piece of Artaud inspired theatre using an extract from ‘4.48 Psychosis’ by Sarah Kane.

4.48 Psychosis was the last play written by Sarah Kane before she took her own life, it’s an uncompromising play about depression and suicide, a lot of people argue that it wasn’t actually a play at all but her suicide note and performing it is somewhat controversial.

Long time readers of this blog can probably hear the alarms already starting to ring in my head. To make this situation even worse I was put in the position of ‘director’ for my group.

I hate this play.

I mean, it’s brilliant as a play; it touches me on a level that few pieces of writing do and gives an incredible and heartbreaking glimpse into the mind of someone with nothing left, I’m getting emotional even writing about it, so having it placed in front of me and being asked to create a wacky, physical, ‘crazy’ piece of theatre around it was too much.

I let the others do what they wanted and tried to concentrate on breathing and staying calm about the whole thing. I just had to get through the hour and then it’d be over and I wouldn’t have to deal with the emotions that I was feeling any more.

I felt really weird, mostly I felt angry. I felt angry that it was being used a piece of text- like it meant nothing- and that it was fun, because it meant they could act ‘crazy’ and shout and scream. It’s not that, it’s my life and the lives of thousands of other people, it’s a personal and intimate piece of text and just the fact that people were reading it like it meant nothing made me angry.

About half way through someone asked me if I was alright and I just started crying (which as you know is my basic emotional response to everything) it was pretty impressive crying as well, proper, face-to-floor sobbing in the foetal position and everything.

I really hate crying in front of people… it’s possibly one of the most awkward and uncomfortable things to do ever.

So after everyone awkwardly left I spoke to my tutor for a bit, explained why I felt what I did, she agreed and said that it would be hard for me. I really hate it when people say that- I know that some things are going to be harder for me than other people but I really, really hate it when those things actually happen and I’m left feeling inadequate.

I think that if people decide to teach 4.48 and plays like it they should also teach about mental health. It’s a personal and controversial play, making the decision to use it as a teaching material is a big one. It’s not just a play, it’s a very raw insight into the minds of a lot of desperate people, and if you’re going to use something so personal in such an impersonal manner you should at least give the people who are going to be working with it an idea of its importance and an idea of how sensitive it is.

’til next time,

Wren x

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