I have a recurring dream where I’m in the wings, about to go on stage in the middle of a production, and I suddenly realise that I can’t remember my lines.
Usually it’s a production of Macbeth. I’m playing Lady M, and I scramble around backstage trying desperately to find a script, believing that if only I could see the lines I’m supposed to say, my memory will click into place and I’ll be able to go on and play my part without a hiccup.
A few nights ago, the dream was different.
First of all, it wasn’t Macbeth.
I was playing the female lead, but it was some other historical Shakespeare drama that I didn’t recognise. It was opening night, so there was a certain amount of nerves and anxiety around giving the audience a good show.
Instead of being backstage, this time round I was standing in the aisle, surrounded by audience members, waiting for my cue.
When I realised I was about to go on, and I couldn’t remember a single line, I desperately began searching for a script, trying to signal to the other cast members that I needed help.
I felt so ashamed.
When I magically, Lord-knows-how, hallelujah praise the goddess found a copy of the script…
I didn’t recognise any of the lines.
No memory click. No ‘a-ha yes I remember’ moment of clarity that I’ve always believed would happen in other versions of this dream.
One of my old university lecturers happened to be the director of this play, and she was furious with me. As was the rest of the cast. As was the audience.
Because I went on stage and read my lines on opening night, in front of a paying audience, from a script I’d never seen before.
Because I broke the fourth wall.
Because I cracked the illusion.
And although I felt exposed, ashamed, fearful, and sad in this dream, once I’d stepped onto that stage with said foreign script in hand, I felt something else entirely.
I felt free.
I realise this dream illustrates how I feel about life at the moment.
Fearful, and also brave.
Powerless, and also resourceful.
Despairing, and also hopeful.
More than anything else, what I learned from this experience was that I’m done with trying to find a script to tell me what to say, and how to act, so that I can keep up the momentum of the performance for everyone else’s benefit.
I’m tired of pretending to know what I’m doing all the time.
I’m tired of feeling like I have to put on a façade, afraid that other people will see just how vulnerable I actually am.
That perhaps I just want to be in the audience for a while.
Perhaps I would rather just watch the play for a change, instead of always being in it.
Perhaps I want to say ‘f-you’ to the establishment of the roles I’ve been expected to play all my life, and the expectations I’ve been conditioned to fulfil, and just break the fourth wall and be the real, extraordinary, ordinary me.
When you finish reading this story, here’s what I want you to remember:
Your life is precious. Your story is your own. If you’ve been learning scripts all your life to maintain other people’s perceptions of you, or you’ve felt the heavy pressure of other people’s expectations that your life will turn out a certain way, then this story is for you.
Please, cast yourself in whatever role you like. Place yourself backstage, centre stage, in the lighting box, in the director’s chair. Give yourself permission to perceive your life from a different point of view.
And sometimes, if just for a moment of respite, allow yourself to occasionally just sit in the audience without having to play any part other than your Self, and be entertained as you watch, and enjoy the play of life.