Performing Trauma While Dealing with Trauma

APT’s “Measure for Measure

APT’s “Measure for Measure

  • Rebecca Magson

Trigger warning: sexual violence (thanks, Shakespeare).

Sometimes, physical health can get in the way of rehearsals and, even worse, shows. Cast and crew members can be out of the loop for days on end with a lot of precious time being lost due to missing company members. As such, the first aid kit and incident reports are brought out in a flash and the injuries are swiftly dealt with.

But what if it's a company members mental heath that has been affected?

A pivotal part of my university career was the adapted performance of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, which is a revenge tragedy that centers around the back and forth feud between Titus and Tamora, Queen of the Goths, and a lot of pie.

The character of Lavinia affected me in ways I never thought could be possible, and the show was made exceptionally more difficult when, as stage manager, I had to risk assess, nit-pick and re-watch Lavinia's ordeal time and time again. I could have done so many things to take care of myself and those in my company who found it too difficult to sit through, but I didn't, and learnt that the hard way.

So, what can you do when your mental health is affecting rehearsal time, and your performance in the work space?

Remember that what happens in the rehearsal room, stays in the rehearsal room. The movements and the words stay in the rehearsal room. The characters you interact with stay in the rehearsal room. The atrocities you perform on stage do not follow you home, they stay put, on the stage. They can have an impact on you, of course, but detaching from rehearsal to reality is a key self care step to making rehearsals easier to be in.

Leave the room to breathe. You have every right to leave a situation if you are uncomfortable. I was once told to "check my privilege" by a lecturer who asked if an actors consent in performance matters, and I said yes. Money is money, but if you're uncomfortable, remove yourself.

Speak to your director/stage manager - they are the ones who have the best understanding of the way the actions flows with the script, and the safety precautions that can be taken. If it can be changed, it can be changed. If not, your discomfort will be kept in mind in scheduling and throughout the rehearsal process, if communication is constant and honest. Keep in contact with them about your well-being, talking makes a problem shared a problem halved.

Go at your own pace. Look at the script when you can, not when you need to. Sometimes the words jump out at you and can attack you out of nowhere. It's also best to do your own research during script learning hours, so you know if any triggering events such as r***, m*rder etc. are present in the play.

Thank you to fellow writer Carly Ozard for sharing her #metoo story earlier this month ("Big Little T's - My #MeToo Story") and inspiring me into coming to terms with my own.

Remember that, even though you're choosing to be in a situation such as a college/community theatre performance and your role to the company is very important, you have every right to take a breather when you need it - everyone does. And please don't do what I did, which was stay silent and become apathetic to your art. It's not the art's fault, don't fall out of love with it whatever you do. Take care of yourself!