Monday, August 15, 2016

August 15. Day 228. Performance Anxiety

 I always considered performance anxiety to be a term that related largely to alcohol-induced bedroom shortfalls. As the parent of an aspiring actor - one whose audition monologues generally involve playing a psychopathic criminal - I should have given more thought to exactly what happens to your brain when you play emotionally taxing roles. But I didn't ... until today. Director Marcel Dorney, whose latest project True West opens at The Powerhouse this week, was explaining just how draining the piece is for the actors. True West is described as "a modern masterpiece that is a physical and psychological showdown of sibling rivalry played out in two hours of the most gripping theatre you’ll see this year". The roles of the brothers, previously played by the likes of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John Malkovich and David Wenham, are being taken on in this production by Thomas Larkin and Julian Curtis. Even just seeing one scene in rehearsal you get a hint of where this is going and that it is not good. But listening to Dorney speak you come to understand that this is just the tip of the iceberg. He explained that studies have shown that when a performer conveys a depth of emotion on stage, the mind might know it's an act but the body does not.  The impact is exactly the same as if that individual is actually living that experience. The research does back him up. In an article in the Guardian psychologists at California State University wrote that there was a body of research concluding  "there is a psychological cost for participants engaged in the creative arts". In short, to convey grief or anger, or despair or self loathing or profound sadness in an authentic way you have to feel it, and that hurts in a real way. Dorney went on that to say the Powerhouse season was relatively short (12 performances between August 17 and August 27). If it was a longer season, mechanisms would be have needed to be put in place to protect the actors essentially from themselves. And all for our theatrical enjoyment. Given that level of commitment it would be quite wrong not to see True West. It promises to be one of those unforgettable nights in the theatre - for the actors and the audience.

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