Trauma Informed Pedagogy in an ‘erotic’ art

ABSTRACT by Jessica Hartley

Acting involves desire. Performers are drawn to it through the pleasure of play and the immersive rapture of storytelling on stage and screen. Acting well is a whole-body encounter with the self that is intricate, a sensorial connection with others and with text. Being ‘present’ for others demands representational vulnerability and personal control. Training to act inheres a doubling, a splitting, a fragmentation and new syntheses of the self. Scripts frequently reflect the darker sides of humanity: conflict, chaos, despair and pain. The phenomenology of being an actor is shaped in social epistemological relation to expressing dark emotions, to freeing impulses, and to enduring sacrifice for the approbation of the paying public: this is what the actor is impelled towards.

Using Audre Lorde’s evocation that “the erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings” (2017, p. 7) and Susan Sontag’s demand for an ‘erotics’ of art that allows us to “see more, to hear more, to feel more” (1964, p. 14), I suggest that actor training must embrace desire so as not to rupture the ‘whole’ actor. I call for trauma-informed pedagogy (Thompson and Carello, 2020) as a way we may ‘welcome’ student actors; and forward the premise that this framework may mitigate the sensorial overload or the fragmentation of identity that some performers experience during or after training.

I also offer three important questions to consider about our responsibility as teachers. Why do people want to act? What does acting ‘feel’ like? And how do we train performers to understand, safely manifest, and generatively reconcile those feelings to ensure wellbeing for all?

>> Deutsche Version