Dreaming Elsewhere – Caitlyn Tella

My whole residency has been one big dream workshop. Time expands in Paonia and anything seems possible.  I came here to explore dreams (the kind you have when you are asleep) through performance. In addition to doing this with so many wonderful participants, I also made a performance that took place inside of an actor’s nightmare.

The piece was a quest to find out if a person can have their own unique voice when all of their lines have already been written. To journey this path, I called on Ophelia, the classic people pleaser, whose identity is generally confined in this image: beautiful corpse.

Ophelia is a young woman in the play Hamlet written by Shakespeare. The world of Hamlet is broken.  A lot of hypocrites inhabit this world, and it is no wonder people start to go crazy. Hamlet is famous, even genius, for going crazy. Ophelia is notorious for it.

From the get go, Ophelia’s father patronizes her like a baby, and she internalizes this learned helplessness. The image of being a baby became central to my investigation of Ophelia also because she’s pregnant with Hamlet’s baby.

In the show, when I emerge from the ditch water (where I drowned at the end of my life) I’m born into this situation where everyone is watching me and I’m supposed to be performing my part in the play.  This same shit happens to me all the time: I wake up, remember who I am, act like myself all day, fall asleep. When will she exercise the courage to stop acting and be herself? But, Ophelia is really good at acting. She has a lot of practice, because every day she acts like a wholesome, obedient girl, and she’s always being watched.

When I imagine her alone, removing her mask, a body of water floods the stage. Unfortunately my desire for a strong woman, a Joan of Arc, to be revealed beneath the mask is impossible. Instead, what outpours is drenched in bodily fluids—it’s the stuff of raw, unbounded emotion. This is where the show begins–with an embarrassing desperation to speak one’s mind for the first time, after a lifetime of shutting down and cutting off herself in favor of others. If I do not embody my erasure, I will be erased.

To make the performance, I put on Ophelia’s clothes, surrounded myself with what she likes (make-up, dresses, shoes, juice, toothbrush, cat’s cradle), and lied down on the floor. Like a baby, Ophelia started learning how to walk. I let everything that happened in this improvisational space be felt by my body, and I let my body be imprinted in turn. Most of what I discovered about Ophelia got composted and didn’t end up in this incarnation of the piece. But, down the line I’d like to continue to let the piece grow in clarity, to let it breathe, and to add more actors/characters.

Thank you Chris for jumping into the role of Ophelia in my performance with such an open mind and gentle touch.

Ben and Jessie doing bridges in a dream

Ben and Jessie doing bridges in a dream

The dream workshop is so fascinating because I never know what is going to happen. I think that’s because dreams are unpredictable by nature. When the workshop starts, we recognize that right now we believe we are awake. And then we recognize that when we dream, we also believe we are awake. From this outlook, we proceed with the knowledge that this right now is a dream. Right now you are dreaming. You are dreaming that you are reading this blog. We begin to explore the dream world we find ourselves in, the space around and inside of us. We allow the heightened experience of dreaming to express through our actions. It’s been a treat for me to watch these waking dreams unravel into the unknown as dreamers test the waters of their environment and encounter the unexpected.

One of my favorite discoveries from the dream workshop is flexibility of the self. We experiment with letting our self go and filling the vacancy with an object or character from our dream. In doing this, we re-position our habitual ways of knowing and seeing the world. It’s so damn fun!

Thank you to all of the dreamers who dove right in to the workshops with their amazing talents and unique perspectives: Ben Lehman, Jessie, Alessandra, Aralia, Joanna, Ian, Tracy, Kael, Bailey, Brooke, and Ben. You guys rock!

-Caitlyn Tella / http://www.thesecretplays.com

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