Wednesday, June 25, 2008

‘Post-Dramatic’ Stress: Negotiating vulnerability for performance

by Dr. Mark Seton, Honorary Research Associate,
Department of Performance Studies, University of Sydney

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The greatest accolade given to actors is that of bravery rather than technical competency. We admire actors who ‘lose themselves’ in a role or who ‘expose’ themselves through their vulnerable portrayals. Yet at what cost? Some actors move from role to role with apparent ease while others seem to ‘live out’ their latest roles often prolonging addictive and potentially destructive habits. Schechner observed “the cool-down ought to be investigated from the point of view of both performers and spectators”. From my participant-observation of sites of actor training, I have witnessed advice in dealing with vulnerability, in the aftermath of performance, that suggests that actors either “develop the heart of a dove and the hide of a rhinoceros” or just “get over it!”. I discuss the lack of preparation for performers to negotiate what I have coined, evocatively and provocatively, ‘post-dramatic’ stress. I review the limited research that has sought to highlight the neglect of actors’ wellbeing in training and performance contexts and, subsequently, I proffer some options for negotiating this vulnerability. I argue we can teach and learn ways in which vulnerability can become a transformative process rather than something that has to be either defended against or denied.

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