March 26, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 41°F


The psychology of theater

The clock read 4:48 a.m., and senior Christina “Teeny” Lamothe was awake. She was not suffering from insomnia or a late-night study session. She was just trying to find some clarity.
Lamothe’s alarm went off at this time for a week straight. Disoriented, she gave in to the beeping and got out of bed to write in a journal. She wanted to connect with her upcoming role as a woman who struggles with bipolar disorder — a mental illness that causes a person’s mood to rapidly fluctuate — in Sarah Kane’s play “4.48 Psychosis.”
Kane herself was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and committed suicide shortly after writing the play in 1999. It shares her experience living with the illness.
“4.48” refers to the time of night when the main character, an unnamed woman, can see with the most clarity. Scenes between the woman and her doctor flip-flop with scenes between the woman and the many emotions within her (represented by ensemble members). Their characters see the woman’s behavior as pure obliviousness and insanity.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever played a role like this,” Lamothe said. “I would consider myself a comedic actor, so this has been a really hard undertaking.”
Writing in a journal wasn’t the only thing Lamothe did to prepare for her role in the Department of Theatre Arts’ annual senior directing project. She did extensive background research on bipolar disorder and collaborated with senior director Brian Hashimoto. Hashimoto had spoken with people that lived with someone who had bipolar disorder in order to better inform the direction of the play.
Hashimoto was chosen at the end of the spring ’06 semester as one of two seniors to take part in a senior directing project this year. He had to submit a proposal to the Department of Theatre Arts that included a written statement of purpose, a director’s concept, a script and other relevant information.
Jeff Tangeman, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and the directing mentor for the project, said the faculty and staff reviewed each proposal and chose the projects they felt best offered challenges to the student director and the students in the department. He said there is a minimal production budget, so the focus of the project stays on the directing work and the students’ growth.
This was Hashimoto’s first time as a director at the college, so, he said, he chose a piece that would best reflect his abilities. Kane’s script is not the standard format of a play. It follows no rules or structure, no specific designation of lines. It is simply text on a page. “It blew me away,” he said. “I was shocked but really fascinated with it.  I liked the open-ended idea of being able to do it however I wanted.”
Hashimoto had never seen a production of the play, which premiered in London in June 2000, so he knew his version would not be influenced in any way. Each production of this play is radically different, which, he said, is an important development in contemporary theater.
“It’s from such an emotional, heartfelt place,” Hashimoto said. “The play becomes something more universal. This isn’t just one person, there are many people going through this. Many of these feelings being expressed, many of the questions that are being asked — everyone else is asking these questions at some point in their lives.”
With only three weeks to prepare, everyone in the production worked frantically to get it off the ground. Lamothe said the actors really came together as a group.
“The ensemble brought this character and play to life,” Lamothe said.
Junior Patrick Prudent played the doctor, whom Lamothe’s character had the most interaction with, and said it took a great deal of teamwork to create the realism the piece requires.
“As actors, we always have to stay on the same page as each other,” Prudent said. “You don’t want to make it seem like they’re watching a drama or a show. This is something that happens on an everyday basis to some people, so we wanted to show it as truth.”
Sunday night’s opening performance in Dillingham Center’s Studio 2 brought everything together. The room was set against an off- white sheet, and the ensemble, dressed in white, sat in designated seats within the audience. As they began to make sounds and help develop Lamothe’s character, they became the facets of her mind. The audience couldn’t look away.
The emotionally turbulent production was done creatively and with a fresh take, but Hashimoto wasn’t nearly as concerned with the response to his directing technique as he was with the recognition of the disorder.
“Whatever reaction people have to it, I hope it at least sparks a curiosity in the subject,” he said. “I want people to walk away with a little bit more of an open mind.”