Another time I decided to play with my PTSD.
We were doing the “knock-on-the-door” exercise with an addition to it. So, in the early version we had an actor inside the class, and the other actor outside the class knocking at the door. The actor inside the class lets another actor in and they start a repetition exercise. The addition here was that the actor inside the class had to bring an independent and fidelity activity, which would fully captivate him, and he had to accomplish this activity in a small amount of time. Of course, the activity and the outcome from not achieving it has to matter. For example, for my first one I broke a cup and had to glue it back in five minutes, because it was my sponsor’s cup and if they knew I broke it, they would have thrown me out of the house. Please, mind that’s just the story I made up for the exercise. But it terrified me deeply. As soon as I set up the timer and started the exercise, everything went wrong: I could not open the glue and had to pierce it with my earring, the glue wasn’t holding the cup together but glued the pieces of the cup to my hands, the clocks were ticking. But the most fascinating part is what it did to me. I was literally going crazy. Even though I didn’t concentrate on the circumstances I made up, they worked for me by just being there. Suddenly, the cup that I broke twenty minutes ago on the street was extremely important, the fear of being left without a place to live stiffened my body. It was excruciating. I didn’t glue the cup back as I wanted.
And here I had a thought: why don’t I use my trauma to get deeper into the exercise next time? I remembered the second morning of the war, when my family, other people and I had to run away from the factory bomb shelter, because russians were in the building and we heard them shooting. I decided to use this situation and to add a bit to it: there was a five year old girl, really scared and screaming. I had to distract her with something. The only thing I had with me was some envelopes that were lying in my bag. So I decided to make an origami animal for her. And I had to do it quickly to calm the girl down before the russians heard we were there and killed us.
I have never made an origami in my life, so I found a tutorial online and made a screenshot of it. The activity was hard enough for me. I had to accomplish it in 4 minutes and it was very urgent. The given circumstances were as sharp as a knife. I was entirely sure it would work and the experience from the exercise would be mind blowing.
I put the envelope, the scissors and my phone with an origami tutorial screenshot on the table. My partner went out, I set the timer and we started. As usual, everything went wrong: I could not fold the paper as needed, could not understand what to do next… But it didn’t help me. Instead of being deeply affected by everything that was going on with me, I felt like my body rejected everything I did. My partner knocked on the door, I let her in, we started repetition. But I felt like everything I do is stupid, like it has no sense. I started to giggle and laugh, but couldn’t understand why. It wasn’t a story to laugh at. I felt like subconsciously I devalued everything I made up – my given circumstances seemed silly, I felt ridiculous. My entire self rejected playing along with me.
We finished the exercise and had a talk with Scott about it. It was the first time I mentioned my PTSD openly and told him why I wanted to use this set of given circumstances. I don’t remember the exact words he said, but this is what imprinted in my memory:
“You don’t have to play with your trauma or PTSD. You don’t need to traumatize yourself to become a better actor. Destroying your mental health is not about acting. Try using something good for the next exercise, you never know where it might lead you. It’s just the starting point for your journey, but it doesn’t indicate where it will lead you.”
And you know what? It worked. My further activities had nothing to do with my trauma and every journey that I had was unique and led me to different places. It is such a relief to see that it is not about using your traumas to act. I believe acting is about joy, about incredible experience and journey you get every time you act. And I’m so happy that unlike other acting techniques, I don’t have to abuse myself with all the pain I have inside over and over again.