I woke up alone. I had the sense I had been here before, though where here was, I couldn’t quite remember. This wasn’t my bed. This was too uncomfortable.
Slowly, everything slotted itself back into my mind. First my date with Brian, then the ghost of the old man blaming me for the Billy House, then Monster being himself and wonderful. We’d fallen asleep on the floor in my tiny living room / kitchen.
My mouth was full of a disgusting fuzz from drinking wine and hot chocolate the night before. I got achily to my feet and went and brushed my teeth. Looking at myself in the mirror I felt okay. Not great. Especially not great physically. But emotionally, spiritually, I felt stable, almost happy, like I could open my mouth and bird song would come out. I had no idea why I felt this way.
My first class that day was drama. I had been looking forward to it since the last one. Was this why I felt as if springtime had come early?
I was on time for the bus to campus. I got all the way to the door of the classroom before the bubble popped and I remembered Brian was in this class. I wanted our date to have been a thing. But did he want it to be a thing? Had it just been one of those casual things? And why, if I wanted it to be a thing, had I made him take me home last night? Because I wanted it to be a thing, but not a thing that happened really fast? That had to be it.
“Hey, Laura,” I jumped, but it wasn’t Brian. Our instructor Kate gave me a friendly smile. I was struck again that she could hardly be more than two years older than I was. She was juggling a carton of eggs and a box of birthday candles and a binder and a laptop. “My bag broke,” she said. “Nearly cracked all my eggs.”
“Here,” I said and took the carton of eggs and box of birthday candles. “Why eggs? Are we making a cake?”
Her smile grew. “You’ll see,” she said.
I had to walk passed Brian to set the eggs on Kate’s desk. I gave him a smile and a quick “hello” Then I started talking to Kate. I said, “This is my favourite class so far.” Because I had nothing else to say and when in doubt a compliment is usually a safe option, as long as it’s the truth.
“Thank you,” she said. “This is only my second time teaching.”
“Are you working on a master’s?”
“PhD,” she said. “This is really fun, though. It’s a nice break. Okay guys,” she said to the class at large. “We have very many things to do this morning.” She had everybody’s attention just like that. “Let’s do some yoga to start,” she said. “Some really basic poses.”
She got us into these poses, and then came around to each of us and balanced an egg on us so that if we moved, the egg would fall. She said, “Pretend that egg is something really heavy, like a truck or a museum.”
“Are museum’s heavy?” someone asked.
“The one on you is. And it’s squishing you, squishing you like a balloon. It’s so heavy. Are we all squished yet?”
Everybody said they were squished good and flat.
“Okay,” she said, “on the count of ten, you’re all going to become something really strong and powerful. Pick what you think is the most powerful thing in the universe and on the count of ten, that’s what you are. Ready?” She counted.
I tried to imagine the most powerful thing in the universe. A blue whale? An aircraft carrier? The ocean itself? The Earth? The sun? Nope.
When she said ten, I had become a book. Not a particular book, just the general Platonic form of a book. I felt the egg tip and slide off my back. I heard cracks all around the room. A few people gasped and laughed. Nobody had broken their yoga pose but the eggs had all toppled off and broken on the classroom floor. Of course, the eggs had been hardboiled.
“Great,” Kate said. “Remember what you were when you moved the world off your back. It might be a useful role to play later when you’re feeling crushed.”
After that we did some trust exercises. I made myself partner Brian. He kind of was looking my way. I said, “I wasn’t avoiding you earlier. I was just helping Kate.”
“I got it,” he said.
“I’m really sorry about last night,” I said. “I had a lot of fun in the first half.”
“Me too. And don’t worry about the rest of it. I didn’t tell anyone about…well whatever happened.” He gave me a searching look as if he wanted to know more about what had happened but wasn’t going to ask.
“I didn’t overdose on anything,” I said.
“I believe you.” He sounded like he was being honest.
We went outside and took a lit birthday candle from Kate. We were supposed to pass the candles back and forth to one another without burning each other with flame or hot wax. It was a little messed up, I thought. But it was kind of windy and the candles kept going out, so there wasn’t much of a risk of being burnt. Of course, some of the guys burnt themselves intentionally. Anyway, I didn’t really think the activity was the type of thing the university would be okay with. Kate said it was better when you did it in a room with all the lights turned off. I guess I could kind of see that.
At the end of class Brian asked if I wanted to come to one of his hockey games that night. I said I would, even though I couldn’t care less about hockey.
Kate caught my eye just before I left. I was kind of surprised but also excited to see what she wanted. Maybe she needed help carrying things? But her eggs and candles were all in the trash. She could manage her binder and laptop fine on her own.
“Hey, Laura,” she said. “I’m recruiting people for a research project. It’s kind of a performance, but then it’s not. It’s for my PhD work on drama therapy. I don’t know if you’d be interested at all but you can get some research credits for doing it and you might enjoy it.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m interested.”
“Thank you so much.” She gave me a conspiratorial smile. “I am kind of behind in recruiting people.” She took a printout from her binder. “Here’s an information sheet about the project. It’s like a game, really. Have a read and we’ll talk more?”
“Yeah. Sounds good.” My hand was almost trembling with excitement as I took the sheet. A game? With Kate? Helping her with her PhD project? It seemed like I’d been chosen by a wizard to go on a quest. Obviously, it wasn’t that. But after reading the sheet none of my excitement went away.
I read the information sheet during my next class, totally ignoring the instructor:
This research project has been approved by the university ethics board.
All students must submit a completed consent form. Names will not be attached to any data collected. This data will be used in the development of a thesis to be submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts in the Department of Drama.
Researcher: Kate S. Hadley
The fourth wall is a term used to describe the imaginary wall between the performers of a play and their audience. Traditionally, performers make every effort to maintain this wall and to engage with the story they are performing as though it is real and the audience is not present. More recent innovations have worked to bridge the gap between audience and performers, sometimes to expand the world of the story by asking audience members to participate, or sometimes to offer a critical or ironic view of the situation of the performance-audience paradigm.
In some respects, each and everyone of us maintains our own fourth wall, separating the performance of our waking lives from the unconscious dreamscape world that surrounds, observes, and manipulates the stories we perform. We all stand upon a stage in the vast theatre of our own minds, and sometimes we feel alarmed when the unconscious audience makes itself known to the conscious performer, when the fourth wall is punctured and we become aware of the fragility of our own stories.
Through play and experiment, drama therapy allows performers to notice these breaks in their own fourth walls, and discover ways of understanding what our unconscious audience is telling us. We can learn novel methods of solving problems, how to achieve personal and professional goals, how to express what we believe is inexpressible, and how to free our feelings and emotions in a way that empowers and heals.
Twice a week we will meet to take on “super-conscious” roles in a “real-virtual” space. If anyone is familiar with live-action roleplaying, this may be a helpful stepping off point for the practice we will embark upon. Wikipedia may be a useful primer for those who haven’t heard the term before.
If you are interested. Please send me an email. We will all have an initial meeting on campus to answer questions and sign forms. The following meetings will happen at various locations around the city. Costumes are not a requirement but will certainly help. There is a small budget available for costumes and props. We will talk more about that Saturday September 18th, 10:00 Am. Room LR31-A.
I read it twice over. Live action role playing was something that rang a faint bell in my head. All the rest of it may as well have been written in Aramaic. Except that part about the fourth wall. That was really interesting. We were all on little stages in the vast theatre of our unconscious minds? Interesting. Maybe a little too new age? Or maybe not.