Yell Less, Talk More
We got to sit down with Jessica Bennett, then newest member of a group called The Acting Collective.
Jess is part of a new show at the Fringe Festival - LOCKDOWN.
It’s about young women, and coping (or not!) with mental illness.
So of course we asked for the inside scoop...
So can you tell us a bit about LOCKDOWN?
“I can’t tell you a lot because I don’t want to give away any spoilers!
It’s about two women, one of whom has DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder- often misunderstood as multiple personality disorder) and the rest of us are playing the alternative identities.
A lockdown happens (so they can’t leave their house) and drama ensues!
The woman with DID (Emma) has four identities, and I play Keira. Keira's the really aggressive identity who protects Emma, and she'll always step in to be the protector when there's a conflict.
That sounds so interesting! What’s it like to play someone whose really aggressive? Are you like that in real life?
No, I am not that kind of person at all, I don’t like yelling! I can be sarcastic as heck but I don’t like yelling. You have to really let go to yell like that.
Denise (who plays Jacqui) really pushed me, she would stand back and say “you can do more”.
I think I am doing better all the time, because I haven’t been told I am too quiet, so obviously I am yelling loud enough now!
So how do you feel after doing a scene that’s particularly intense?
My first thought is to drink some water. It’s not cathartic, I’m not that kind of person.
It’s more like when I walk away from it feeling like I have done right by the character then I feel proud.
We understand you were selected right out of school - can you tell us how you got involved for any readers who are aspiring actors?
The Acting Collective posted they were having open auditions, so I had to email and say I was interested then I went in and did a workshop audition. I have done a couple of workshop auditions, mostly for youth shows or school things. This is my first semi professional gig, which is awesome.
It was great because I’ve always been interested in psychology and mental health so it’s exciting to see a play about two strong women dealing with mental health issues on stage
What has it been like working with all the actors at the Acting Collective?
In all honesty I was a bit daunted. I have only ever worked with people my age or family friends. I was going into something where I knew no one, and it was a little scary.
Initially I had no idea what to expect but then going in they were all very friendly, they work really hard to make everyone as comfortable.
Like with the yelling thing Denise (who plays Jacky) put her hand on my shoulder and said “remember this is a safe space”.
So knowing that everyone is there to support each other helped a lot, no-ones afraid to try something, and no-ones afraid to encourage someone to try something. It’s a really relaxed environment and they know how to laugh.
It’s so hard to keep going when you feel daunted like that, but it’s something we all face sometime. How did you cope with self-doubt?
I was very worried I was out of my depth, I am just out of school and felt SO not on the same level.
I was very much worried I wouldn’t live up to the expectation, we would get to some point where the director would take me aside and say “sorry I made a bad decision, we shouldn’t have chosen you”.
But I just focused on doing what I could do and putting myself out there in the way I knew how to do. I tried to take the feedback on as much as possible because that is the way you improve, working with criticism.
I did have moments where I felt that what I was doing was really good and then I would face some critiquing and it would disappoint me.
The good thing about acting is you learn very quickly that you can’t take criticism personally or you won’t develop, you won’t get to where you need to be. It has helped me be like “this criticism is aimed at my work and not me as a person” and once you can separate that it all goes a lot better.
Focus on the goal rather than yourself.
How do you handle nerves and stagefright?
I’ve always found that I’ll be fine until 5 mins before, and then I am terrible inside, and then by the time I go on I am fine again, so it’s about surviving that 5 minutes. I use the usual breathing exercises.
I go into a corner and pace, shake it all out, focus on trying to be in the moment, and not think about all the people watching.
What are you hoping people learn about life with a mental health issue like dissociative identity disorder?
Well we all start with a monologue, so Emma explains what DID is, how it differs from schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder so I am just hoping for people to be more understanding.
An important thing to me is always representation, so I am excited we are presenting someone there that they can see and learn from.
What are some of the things you've learnt about how we can support each other instead of getting frustrated with each other when someone's having an episode?
I’ve always been the kind of person who would suggest talking things out, putting it on the table and being honest when you want to sort something out, without yelling!
It’s great because my character is the one that prevents that from happening a lot in the play because my character does the yelling so that’s been the big thing I have taken from the play.
Being emotional and yelling doesn’t help, you need to be able to talk things out.
What do you wish we learnt about mental health?
It’s kind of cliché, but it can’t be said enough, don’t be afraid to ask for help. So many people try to deal with their issues themselves or in ways that aren’t healthy or helpful.
It’s been so interesting being part of a play where the focus is on what happens when one women deals with a very serious mental disorder in a way that’s not the healthiest.