Performance Journal: Going Through the Tunnels

Tonight I will be working what has become, for me, a very difficult scene in The Elephant Man.

Toward the end of the play, Treves, so disturbed by being confronted with his own beliefs releases an emotional torrent onto the Bishop. While trying to maintain face at first and make his troubles about other people (mainly his patients who he sees as intent on destroying themselves), he unleashes a spontaneous search for the answer to all his professional decisions until this point. I think he realizes at this point in the play that he’s adhered to a structure of rules in which he never chose to believe in the first place – rules that require judgment, analysis, and deduction in order to make ‘informed’ decisions for his patients.

I’ve had my own confrontation with a system of rules to which I believed I had to adhere. Objectively, I am trying to ‘bottle’ a sense of what it feels like emotionally as well as physically. It is a rather raw feeling. A feeling of humility, of peeling back the layers of ‘that is just the way things are’. There is a constriction in my throat, a loss of appetite, a tightening in my solar plexus.

Having been here before, I know these sensations are inherently warning signs and also a light at the end of the tunnel. In order to push through to the other side, however, I have to acknowledge my stubbornness and remove the blinders I’ve put over certain areas of my life. Like Treves’ path, mine is like a train going in and out of tunnels – each exit reveals a new perspective, a new landscape, and new horizons.

Another analogy is a snake shedding its skin. While he feels guilty for going against these rules he’s become so familiar with, Treves cannot resist the itch beckoning the birth of a new man, a new skin. Even if the skin is old, rough, and patchy, it is safe. But safety is not why we’re here. And though we’re all afraid of change, new beginnings, new directions, and new horizons, for some the temptation to reach the end of the tunnel is too great… it just feels like shit at first.

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