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Psyche & Eros

It’s always flattering to be asked to play the God of Love in one of the few Greek tales that doesn’t end in tragedy. It also promised to be a physical journey, in which movement would define both character and story- an engine that drives instead of a vehicle to reach a goal.

This physical brief and the exercises undertaken by director Dana Koellner to discover how physicality affects us emotionally and psychologically, using an ‘outside in’ method of discovering how to play scenes as opposed to the traditional way of using internal objectives to generate external effects. It was invaluable for me, so used to using psychology to dissect the forensic evidence of the text and reconstruct my characters like Dr. Frankenstein from print into life.

The play itself was a translation of the original Greek text, and it was interesting to see this piece alongside the two Shakespeare’s I was directing and producing respectively, and against the contemporary farce I had just finished.

The piece was heavy on both exposition and literal descriptions of internal states & mental processes. This provided a particular challenge to make credible as an actor – even when versed in Shakespeare, the explicit specificity of Greek texts is on another level.

Thankfully, putting the actions before the words allowed us find the visceral and the immediate, and discover the meaning of the words was not in their literal descriptions of states and scenes, but in generating emotional catharsis from the character’s journeys.

Greek theatre was considered a therapeutic process- a feeling box in which individuals could safely transfer their stresses, distresses and neuroses into the characters on stage, and have their inner conflicts safely externalised, played out and resolved. In this way, it can be said that theatre has not much changed since this time, simply that creators and audiences have become more subtle and indeed, remote in this connection.

The play had just two performances, but was for everyone more about the process of discovery, uncovering new ways in which to address and interpret text guided by physicalisation of both character and intention, then combining these not just from your own character, but from the characters affecting yours, to create the performance.

In conversation with Dana after the show was over, she explained that because of my combination of intelligence, creativity and impatience, the biggest challenge for me to overcome as an actor is to have the stamina sufficient to recreate. Creating spontaneous emotional realities is easy for me, but recreating them feels almost impossible. These brief moments had drawn tears from our director in rehearsals, and yet in performances I found them frustratingly flat. Once I had lived a moment, it existed only in memory even when played again and again.

I realised that the only way to overcome this limitation was in fact not to recreate at all- but to open myself, to be affected, to be vulnerable enough to allow the moments to hit me time and again anew and not let myself become calloused by them- I then cannot sit back on memories. I need some kind of existential moisturiser to keep my emotional self soft and radiant on stage. I’ll let you know if I find it.

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