The Live Wire – 4:48 Psychosis


[Instrumental Music Playing] Good afternoon I am Meg Whalen. I am the director of communications and external
relations for the College of Arts + Architecture and welcome to The Live Wire. Today we have with us a professor from the
Department of Theatre, Robin Witt. She teaches directing and is also a director
professionally in Chicago and other places. And she’s directing the current production
that opens tomorrow night in the Black Box Theatre of Robinson Hall. It’s called 4:48 Psychosis and it’s by
a British playwright, Sarah Kane. It’s a very experimental work, so Robin’s
going to tell us a little bit about what to expect when we see this play, and give us
some context for its presentation and its creation. So welcome Robin and start off by telling
us a little bit about the playwright Sarah Kane, who she was, and what kind of works
she created. Sarah Kane began writing plays in 1995 and
the first play was called Blasted and it opened at the Royal Court upstairs. It was a little 60-seat house, and it was
indeed blasted by the critics because it was incendiary, it was provocative, it was visceral,
it was confrontational. All those things that have later been called
a few years later by Alex Sears a scholar and critic, a UK scholar and critic, he calls
it in your face genre. And so Sarah Kane was really one of the playwrights
that jumped off into and pushing that genre forward. There’s some other playwrights during that
time as well like Tracy Letts. He is the writer of August: Osage County. Some people may know that as a Tony Award
winning play or the film that just came out. And in the 90s he wrote a couple of plays. In particular, Killer Joe which is a part
of that genre. And you know, I think Meg they actually made
a move of that last year as well. And one of the other playwrights that is considered
an in your face playwright is Martin McDonagh. He wrote The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The
Cripple of Inishmaan, and folks might know him as the director or screenwriter for In
Bruges which was also nominated for an Oscar a few years ago. So it’s this genre that came about in the
90s as a reaction against maybe the political correctness of the 70s and 80s and of the
conservative movement politically at that time as well. Sarah Kane unfortunately took her own life
a few years after her first play debuted. She was 28 years old when she passed and she
had written 4:48. That was her last play, 4:48 Psychosis. She wrote that play and then committed suicide
and then 4:48 was produced after her death, which one of the things I didn’t know when
we started planning on doing this play this February is that we are exactly at the fifteenth
anniversary of her death. She killed herself on February 19th or 20th. They don’t know in the middle of the night
exactly when that happened. But although her plays have been very provocative
when they first appeared and got a lot of very mixed reviews, she is now considered
one of the most important playwrights of the late part of the 20th century. An English speaking playwright. Right. I know that we have a Sarah Kane specialist
coming to campus during the time of the presentation of the play. Tell me a little bit about who that is and
what the topic of conversation will be. Yes. It’s Dr. Ryan Claycomb. He’s coming from the University of West
Virginia. And he has written extensively about in your
face, Sarah Kane, feminism, and playwriting as autobiography. And so that’s why it sort of fits into,
fits in very well in fact, with the play. This is, some critics when this play was first
produced in 2000 called it a 40-page suicide note. But in fact, if you look at her correspondence
with her agent, she was really delving into the marriage of form and content. And I think she was incredibly brave to put
onto paper things that would be perceived as her personal biography. I think it would be wrong of us not to acknowledge
that she, right after she completed this work, that she did take her own life. But I didn’t want to lead from that. I think there is a struggle for identity. It’s a struggle to bring these fragmented
parts of one person into a whole. And it’s a very noble struggle. So I think that concept of marrying form and
content is really interesting. And that is the big challenge of producing
a play like this. So I think we ought to talk a little bit about
what that really means. Why don’t we talk first about content in
terms of very briefly what is, why is this play called 4:48 Psychosis? And what is just the general idea of the content. Then maybe we could both talk about the form,
both as it’s presented as a script and also as you’re going to present it as a production. Great. 4:48 Psychosis. The name comes from this in the play the protagonists,
the subjects, were calling this character. Wakes up at 4:48 almost every night with this
clarity of vision and it’s this clarity of vision that something needs to change drastically
in order for her to go forward. And she names it sometimes metaphorically
as a hatch opening stark light, and sometimes she says quite boldly and baldly I am going
to kill myself. I am done. And so that’s how the name came about, 4:48. It’s the time of the night that the subject
would wake up and experience what she calls or he calls a moment of clarity. The play is incredibly interesting. It is nonlinear. There are 24 sections to it and it, the way
that the play, the text, the words fit on the page are sometimes just as important as
what the words actually mean. And so there’s twenty-four sections and
what we have done with these sections is we’re experimenting with form as well as a department. What we’ve done is that we split up the
play into three sections and we’re presenting them in three different parts of the Black
Box. And we are expecting the audience, we’re
going to split them up into thirds, as well. And we’re going to have the audience promenade
style go from one section to the next. And the larger idea of course is that this
is, well this person is fragmented and she’s trying desperately to pull her life together
and to complete a whole and it’s a very broken world that we’re creating. But also, the thing that is so wonderful about
splitting up that space is that we’re going to be able to give the audience a really intimate
experience because there’ll be 25 folks or audience members in each of the sections
and they’ll be able to be right there in the action and what’s so wonderful about
that is not only are they going to be observers but in some way they might also feel as a,
feel like they’re a participant. Right Yeah. We actually have, I think, visually an image
of the script and so on the screen is a page of 4:48 Psychosis and this visually represents
kind of that experimentation with form in terms of the way she wrote it and presented
it and already just gives you a sense of that fragmentation and also there are no characters. I don’t see any characters or stage durations. Tell us a little bit about what it’s like
for the actors to encounter a script that looks like this as opposed to a more traditional
presentation of the text. It’s very exciting for all of us because
we are, what that text demands from us as artists is that we be colleagues with the
playwright in creating this piece. I have a lot of experience in working with
this sort of abstract dense work and I find it thrilling because of what is demanded for
me is something very different than a text, which has its own challenges, a text that
is more traditional. And so what we were able to do, I have a fantastic
student co-director who we worked on this piece. I’m just looking at the script. We worked on a little bit of this piece in
class last year and she was very much drawn to it and she actually was the one who figured
out as you’re looking at the script, these numbers are 191, 84, 81 and what this is is
the subject trying to count backwards by seven, which evidently is what you are supposed to
do when you are troubled. The doctors try to find out if you are lucid
and if you’re able to count back and as you can see, this person is not lucid in this
moment and cannot count backwards. But also if you turn the text the other way,
it also could look a little bit like a heartbeat. If you draw the 100 down to the 42 and just
go up and down, an erratic heartbeat. And so how do you represent that in space
in real time with an actor? And those sorts of questions are incredibly
exciting because what is asked of us is something very different than a typical play script. And I am hoping that what we have come up
with it will be something that is moving and visceral experience for the audience I have just a few pictures of the upcoming
production. SO let’s take a look at these and you can
maybe tell us. So we have basically three sections of our
black box theatre in Robinson Hall, which is a big, literally a big black box. And so it will be divided up and action will
be going on simultaneously in these three areas depicting sections that you have created
out of the 24 smaller pieces and you have that authority as a director to conceive of
this in a way that you think is powerful, which is sort of a neat thing in and of itself. You’re not bound by a kind of script that
would delineate exactly how you’re supposed to do it. So tell us what those three sections are and
how we’ll experience them. Yes, I would like to start with the audience’s
experience at the very top in the lobby. There’ll be a crew going by and giving them
a wristband and each wristband has a color to it. And there’s three different colors. And so whatever color your wristband is ultimately
will be the section you will begin at. And so it’s going to start very much in
the lobby and then you’re going to be brought in and there’s going to be an explanation
of what is going to happen in the evening and how the audience will be moving clockwise
through the space from one section to the next. And the three sections that we came up with,
and all three of these titles are things that occur over and over in the text and in the
one that you’re looking at right now on the screen is what we call the waiting room. And it is the more traditionally acted out
of all three of the sections. It’s realism naturalism, and this is the
subject we’re calling the protagonist in this play because there are no character names. We’re calling her the subject and we also
have the doctor. And so we have put together all the sections
that have the subject with the doctor speaking in them. And so those sections occur randomly throughout
the script that you have. They do not occur as a chunk together in print. No they don’t. So we pulled them together in order to carry
out what our bigger, our larger idea was. And it was really my co director, my student,
a very talented senior named Cara Foster who actually came up with this idea. And at first I said oh no, and then thinking
about more and more about it and how exciting this could actually be for us to really get
our hands in and tell the story in a way it’s never been told before. And this is what we’re calling the cage
of tears. It is something that the playwright talks
about in the text. There is the cage of tears that the protagonist
is in. And what you what you don’t see right now
is is all of the makeup. And these pictures were taken just a couple
of days ago so we’re not quite finished with the design. But we have the protagonist will be over there
on the left in the grey t-shirt and what we’re calling is the alter ego. It is on the other side. And this is really the battle between staying
in the real world and being pulled into the darker side. And the alter ego is really trying to keep
the subject from going over to the other end. And so it’s a real battle in this cage of
tears on who’s going to win. And that’s another one where she is desperately
trying to get out of the cage and she’s being held back by the alter ego. Yeah Yeah. And this is a great picture because you can
see in the background we have the waiting room over there. So all three of these are going to be happening
simultaneously and we’ve worked very long and hard to try to keep the focus in each
one of these little sections and, but, part of the experience too is for the audience
to experience what that fragmentation is like. So the audience will be hearing echoes of
the other section when they’re at their own section. Right But this is the dancing on glass and we have
a chorus. And what we tried to do in this piece is incorporate
several dramatic modes, forms of dramatic expression. And so we have a Greek chorus. Our reimagining of a Greek chorus that’s
in the dancing on glass section that has the subject. It interacts with the subject. And here is towards the end of the play. There’s sort of a moment where she is elevated
and moves through the space there. And so then you can see the platform. Behind is the glass that she will be dancing
on in that section. One of the things I’d like to say to the
audience is that when they’re coming in, is that it’s about an hour long. And we are expecting most audience members
to be standing throughout it. We do have one section where they can sit. So they do have a rest bit in it. And so it’s one of those things where we’re
hoping they’re going to get right up close into the action and be there. So we’re, making some demands on the audience
that is not normally made, I think at the University. Have you seen a production of 4:48 Psychosis
before? Yes. And it’s really unusual. I usually don’t direct plays that I’ve
seen before for a variety of different reasons. And so, but I did see this one a very very
long time ago in Chicago in the Steppenwolf Garage by an incredibly talented company called
the hypocrites. And very different from our production because
this text, really, it asks of you so many different things that you can interpret in
any way you’d like. And so Sean Graney, who’s an incredible
director, did a really wonderful sort of whimsical job on more of a circus atmosphere that he
created for 4:48. I will say the original production only had
three actors in it and there was so much interest in the play by our theatre students that I
wanted to give as many actors an opportunity to work on it as possible. So that also was a consideration as we were
trying to put this piece together. So is the chorus, the Greek chorus that you
have, is there any text that that chorus has that’s part or? Yes Yes. So you took just text that existed and attributed
it to… To this chorus To this chorus. And, and they interact with each other and
they interact with the subject. The subject is a dance major with a theatre
minor. So she’s mostly in movement as the chorus
explains what she is going through and, in fact, sometimes impacts what she’s going
through. So it’s really quite unusual and it’s, it’s
our sort of nod towards another dramatic form. And how many students in total are part of
the production? We have nine. Nine total that are actors. And then of course we have all of our crew,
our actor, our students as well, majors. And we also, I’m very excited as well because
we also have some designers that are students which doesn’t always happen in the department. It’s been very fun to work with a costume
designer who’s a student and also our light designer is a student. We have a student dramaturg named Caroline
K Adams and she has a wonderful Tumblr site called With a Killing Smile. And if you hashtag UNCC, hashtag Sarah Kane,
you will get to it pretty easily. And we’ve been maintaining a rehearsal log,
any musings that any of the actors have had and also Caroline’s own thoughts about the
play. And also you’ve had a former theatre student,
a theatre alumna, right, who is getting a masters? Yes. Social work? Yes. Yes. Being a part of the conception of this. Tell us a little bit about how that’s been
and what that has brought to the student’s experience and how that connects to the larger,
I guess, our larger experience of it. Jenny Wade is a graduate student at MSW and
she was also, she graduated from the Theatre Department. And I don’t know how many years ago. And she is doing an independent project using
4:48 Psychosis. And what’s been so great about having her
around is she’s become our, sort of expert on mental illness. And she’s also brought in a psychologist
to talk to us. There’s a lot of mention about different
kinds of medications that go on. We were given, we had to do a lot of research
on the impact of those medications and also what really mental illness, this subject is
going through. What is her diagnosis. And so Jenny’s been really great in bringing
that in and also starting a conversation having some concern about the actors who were working
on it. Because it can be such a dark piece, how that’s
affecting them as artists. And one of the things I keep trying to reinforce
is what a gift this play is, because we are able to go to these places and pull them out. And that, that we really need to know that
we are in control of that because we are actors in control of our emotions as opposed to letting
that go away. And so it’s been a really great, I think
experience for our students to walk that fine line of delving into something emotional,
but also knowing this is a craft. This is an art form. And that we need to do this again every night
and we need to keep ourselves safe in order to do that again. And I guess that’s true in a way for the audience
too. Because on the one hand, you think okay this
is really dark. This is really disturbing. You know, why encounter it as an audience
member? Why subject yourself to that kind of darkness? But I guess, you know, art is the safe place
where we can explore those things and experience them and try to identify with people who suffer
from these problems or whatever it is. In this particular case, it happens to be
someone suffering from extreme depression. So that’s kind of an interesting thing about
art providing that safe place to really grapple with very complex, and upsetting sometimes,
issues. Yes, and we also in our program we have a
section where resources to get help. We’re, you know, we’re hoping of course
it’s going to start a conversation. But I think, Meg, that’s such an interesting
thing though. Like why should an audience come and see something
that is so dark. For me, for theatre, why I do it and why I
like to be the host of that evening and what really does me proud and makes me feel so
in touch with the world is that I provide a place where people can come and, and be
as a community and to feel not so alone in the world. So what you’re saying, perhaps, is something
that maybe you have experienced or a friend has experienced. It may not necessarily be mental illness. It might be addiction. It might be grief. And it might be something else. And for people to come and see it and not
feel so isolated and alone. And that for me is why I create theatre because
I go to theatre and get that feeling and there’s, for me, there’s nothing really like that. And especially in this production, the intimacy
of the experience and the audiences. You’ll be put in this small group of people
who will be sharing it with you and there’s almost an extra sense of community in that
very, in just wearing those bracelets and being part of that little group together to
kind of enter into this nightmare really, in a way, but be there together in it and
come out of it together. So that’s, that’s an interesting way to
present it to the public. Yes. You and I have talked before about how in
the arts and in the performing arts such as theatre, performance is a form of research. We’re a research university, we talk about
research a lot as an institution and the value and the importance of it. And, whereas, often we’ll think of that
in terms of scientific research or economic research or archaeological research. You know, we do research in performing arts
through performance. So tell me a little bit about how that works
with this production and in your own research that you do. This is the first time I’ve been able to
direct a play in the season that relates exactly to my research. The kinds of plays that I do are very brand
new plays from the UK and Ireland that deal with the rough texture of contemporary life;
that can be considered, a lot of them, in the in your face genre that the characters
live in a hard scrabble world. And they’re trying to persevere in the fact
of just so many great odds of them finding happiness. And so these are the kinds of plays that I
really enjoy. I’m actually a really happy person. But these, to walk on the dark side, I am
very much drawn to that struggle. And so, what’s been so great is I finally
am working on a play that is in that genre or in my research area. And I am able to share that with my students. And of course I share my plays that I work
on with my students and in other ways. Like in my play analysis class we’ll always
be reading one of the plays that I’m going to be currently working on, which is fantastic
because I can steal all of my students’ ideas as I go forward, which is really great. So this for me is very exciting because it’s
the first time that I am actually being able to melt these two together and I’m really,
it’s very satisfying. It’s a very satisfying experience. I want to show one additional image before
we finish. This is a striking picture of a piano on fire! Tell me why this is associated with your production
and what it’s all about. Well we have a, a sound design professor at
in Robinson Hall named Ben Stickleson. He found, somewhere he found an audio of somebody
playing a piano as it was being lit on fire. And we, Sarah Kane is very much influenced
by (arch ho) and this idea of cruelty. Theatre cruelty and elegant cruelty. And so one of our phrases as we are working
on this piece is elegant cruelty and there was nothing, I think, more fascinating with
using that phrase then having a piano that’s on fire with a beautiful playing with then
this roaring rush. So Ben decided okay what we’re going to
do is find our own piano and we’re going to videotape it, because we have projection
in the play as well, and he wanted to use that as part of the projection for 4:48. And so he found a piano that somebody wanted
that wasn’t really working very well that somebody was giving away, and he secured it
and brought it to campus and got permission to do this. And so he set, they set the piano on fire. Now they weren’t able to play it while it
was being set on fire for security, for safety reasons. And looking at it, I’m glad no one was playing
it. Because the keyboard is actually on fire! So hot! But it, it’s wonderful image that really talks
about this idea of elegant cruelty and the beauty that’s also always embedded, I think,
in pain. And so will we hear this as well as see projection
of it? We’ll actually hear that sound in some scenes? Yes. We will hear that sound. There’s a dance interlude in dancing on
glass. And we’re using the piano being lit on fire
during that section. And then there’s another during the transition
section that you will hear the roar of the piano being burnt. And you’ll see the projections as well. Well I hope that people will come from across
campus and experience this really interesting and unusual production that you’ve put together. Very experimental, very experimental for Charlotte. And I think it places our department right
at the edge of theatre production in this city. I mean there really is no other theatre company
that’s doing this kind of work. A lot of contemporary work, but this kind
of really in your face which is in your Y-E-R face I discovered. So the performances begin tomorrow night,
February 19th. Everything’s at 7:30 except for Sunday the
23rd, I guess, which is at 2:00. Yes And tickets are available online at our college
of arts and architecture website coaa.uncc.edu and at the box office in Robinson Hall. Thank you so much for joining us for The Live
Wire.

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