Saturday, March 15, 2014

Day 195: This Breathing World

It’s been over a week now since we performed This Breathing World, a student-written play which sets Shakespeare’s Richard III in a dystopian (almost Orwellian) future.

"Don't think of it as murder. Think of it as Political Removal."
I was cast before Christmas, auditioning with a few scraps of the script that the writer/director (a friend of mine) had pieced together. I admit I was a little wary of the project at first—would it be worth it to invest so much of my time and effort into such an odd play, especially when the script didn’t exist yet?

Then callbacks happened, and the script we read from (parts of which had been written just the night before) was fantastic. I immediately got a great sense of character from the script and chemistry from the other actors I auditioned with. I left the callbacks desperate for a part… and was absolutely thrilled when I was offered the role of Lieutenant Brackenbury in an email at about 1am that night.

"I may not be the one that makes the laws, but
I'm the one who enforces them."
Lieutenant Brackenbury was a fascinating character to play. She’s by far the strongest character I’ve ever portrayed—a sassy, gender-bent, powerful version of the conflicted character in Richard III. She’s important yet respectful, upholds justice but loves mercy, professional yet emotional… The writer, Catriona, really expanded on Richard III and made Brackenbury a proper character, not just a figurehead for the law.

The play itself was intriguing, concentrating on Harriet, Duchess of Buckingham (a gender-bent version of Henry Buckingham) and her reasons for helping Richard seize the crown. Together, they murder and manipulate their way into power… until Richard’s decision to kill the princes in the tower (his own nephews and the rightful heirs to the throne) convinces Harriet that what she’s doing is wrong. The play was an interesting look at doing the wrong thing for the right reasons and the disastrous consequences of “simply following orders.”

My character was the embodiment of the famous phrase: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” As the Lieutenant of the Tower, I had some authority, yet I used it almost unquestioningly to help Richard. I was the one who oversaw the execution of all of his political enemies, many of whom were innocent. I felt bad about it, I tried to help people, I nearly cried… but I never actually had the courage to stand up and say that it was wrong.

"My Lords and Ladies of Albion, on behalf of His Imperial Majesty,
Emperor Richard III, I would like to remind you that the Tower
complex is a secure area."
It was a hard play to perform, emotionally. When I act I try to get deeply into the character, to feel everything they’re feeling. In Brackenbury’s case, by the end of the play, this was complete and utter brokenness, a loss of faith in the empire, humanity, and herself. It was so hard to perform the execution scenes, acting as if I was allowing my friend to die behind me. After the act one finale, a particularly distressing execution, I had to run offstage and literally sob against the wall because that was the sort of emotion Brackenbury (and thus, I) was feeling.

I’m sad This Breathing World is over. I miss running around with my leather jacket and my space gun and my snazzy All-Seer jewellery. Still, I don’t mind leaving that dystopian future and returning to the significantly happier present. I loved taking over Brackenbury’s life for the rehearsals and performances, but the fact remains that I’d far rather be a student at St. Andrew’s than a lieutenant on the planet Albion. Acting is a wonderful escape, an adventure, but, after the last light fades, it’s time to live my life.

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