Madness

I’m sure there will be a number of contemplations on this topic.

Our first read was the afternoon of May 9th. It was wonderful to hear the rest of the cast (so many talented artists!), but it was a wild, messy swipe at the play on my part. I tend to over prepare and hoped to stay relaxed by not doing so for the first read of Hamlet. As a result I fell, and somewhat continue to fall, into some old, horrible habits. Chief among those bad habits is a manic, frenetic energy and a clamping down with force and pressure. This results in the appearance of a tremendous amount of effort which can be exhausting to watch as well as a horrible pain and tension in my neck and upper back. This was disappointing to me on a number of levels. In one respect I am not always sure when it is happening. When I DO become aware of it, I lose control and can’t let go of the behavior.  I get “in my head” as we actors call it.

Being “in your head” means to be physically engaged in an interaction with the outside, real, tangible world, but to be trapped in an intellectual tailspin of the mind, which detaches one’s self from being present in the living moment of reality. This happens to everyone, not just actors. A driver might get lost in his or her thoughts and speed through a red light. It happens to me from time to time while reading. Sometimes a whole page goes by before I realize I hadn’t been absorbing the story but contemplating some matter in the day that needs to be dealt with; like an oil change, or a confrontation with a loved one, or really any old “day dream.” The difference is that when it’s happening while trying to play a role on stage or in rehearsal it becomes much more apparent to one’s consciousness. Becoming aware of one’s lack of attentiveness may in and of itself be an experience of “presence,” but the play is still rattling on and as an actor one must let go of the chaos of thought and return to playing the moment at hand. This gets harder the more it happens because it is so easy to beat one’s self up for not being present, which results in more of the same… NOT being present.

CONFESSION TIME: Am I a crazy person? I don’t think so. Have I felt crazy? Yes, I think we all have from time to time. I do have a type of paranoia or fear that I am constantly fending off. It is a suspicion and fear that I am letting people down, or worse… that I am cause for other people to speak ill about me behind my back. The intensity of these feelings fluctuate. Some times I have more stressful anxiety surrounding these thoughts than other times. Often it is difficult for me to receive praise or love without fearing that I am either a.) not worthy of such kindness or b.)  that such generosities given to me are mere gestures of cordiality and that the second I am gone, my absence will ignite a sigh of relief for those that remain.

In the play Hamlet is met by his two dear friends Rosencrantz & Guildenstern. Unbeknown to Hamlet, the two have been summoned by the King and Queen to spy on him. After a few brief exchanges, Hamlet quickly begins to suspect something is not right and proceeds to corner them into confessing they are actually not visiting him of their own volition but were in fact sent for by the King & Queen. Suspicion confirmed. Friendship betrayed. Hamlet is now beginning to see that not even his closest friends can be trusted. If this is so… who can be trusted? What is real? What is not? Paranoia strikes deep.

Now, madness meets madness. As an actor that knows what it means to experience an irrational fear, I try to set myself into such a state. However, while these feelings may seem similar to one another, my social anxiety is of a very different breed than the life or death stakes that Hamlet’s suspicions are engaged in. Now comes the delicate task of extricating my real life fear of doing a poor job in front of my peers and replacing it in my  active mind with an acute listening to my fellow actors for evidence which will either disprove or confirm Hamlet’s most pressing and terrifying fears. Is fear madness? I don’t think so… but I am pretty sure spending too much time thinking about the fear can drive one insane… so I’m going to put away these thoughts for tonight.

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