Walking Across the Room

Theater director Peter Brook writing in his 1993 book on theater craft The Open Door offers an interesting exercise. Ask any volunteer to cross a space. Just walk from point A to point B. No problem. Then Brook complicates the task by adding an element: a bowl. The person is to imagine, act out, carrying a valuable bowl in their hands and they walk across the same space. Next, the person is asked to imagine while walking, and holding the bowl to act out that the bowl comes loose and slips from their hands and crashes to the ground. The first couple of tasks can be carried off without too much trouble, writes Brook, not so the third. It’s the last one when one becomes self-conscious, when it becomes clear that most display “the worst kind of artificial, amateur acting.” It takes over the body this bad acting, this “woefully unreal” display. And the gig is up, so to speak. The actor knows. So does the audience. While not entirely similar, I find similarities between this scenario of bad acting and my own bad faith as a being, my own self-consciousness; awareness of my illness; full blown existential angst of changing, of not knowing the full story, the narrative pattern of my own life. For a very long time I have found it entirely alien to be a human being in a social function or interaction. I couldn’t understand how I go where I was from where I’d been. I was so aware I was doing it I could not longer do it. I tried very hard to be Anthony Connolly, but there were times when people could see I’d dropped the bowl and had badly enacted the crashing artifice. Sorting this out, and unpacking all of the above, has lead me to read books about mental illness, about spines, about brains, about memory and selves. Often, I simply find myself walking through space thinking this through. In my hands is a precious bowl.

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