Storytelling and the Subconscious

by Mr. Burns cast member Elyse Edelman

Hello Forward Theater BLOG readers! Elyse Edelman here. I’m an actor new to Forward, and currently rehearsing for MR. BURNS, A Post-Electric play, which opens in (oh my goodness) one week from today, Thursday, April 7!

I’m writing this having just returned home from a lovely birthday celebration for Georgina McKee, another cast member. It was an incredibly entertaining dinner after rehearsal, filled with uninterrupted conversation and the kind of unbashful laughter that results in tears and a stomach cramp. At one point we got to talking about our favorite Julia Roberts romantic comedies - think we got to this because Georgina mentioned that one of her favorite movies is Pretty Woman. And soon we were playing out that gem of a chick flick My Best Friends Wedding. If our banter was a script, a snippet would be something like the following:

ME: I think. Yeah. I think the best part of the whole movie is when Julia Robert’s good friend comes at the end to console her.
GEORGINA: George? His name is George.
ME: She doesn’t know George has come to rescue her!!
ME: Julia Roberts is the last one at the party. Everyone has gone and she answers a call from George. He says: “But tonight there will be dancing” ….. ?
RANA: “I can just picture you, sitting alone at that table in your lavender gown. Hair up. You haven’t touched your cake. Probably drumming your fingernails on the tablecloth. Suddenly, a familiar song. You’re off your chair. (pause) And suddenly you see him. Bizarrely, he’s on the telephone. But then, so are you. And he come towards you.. the moves of a jungle cat. Maybe there won’t be marriage. (pause) but, by God, there will be dancing.”
ME: Whoa.
GEORGINA: That was amazing, Rana. You just remembered that whole thing.

This kind of recollecting happened sporadically throughout our dinner together, slowly, as storylines crept back into our brains. It’s amazing how much you can remember with a simple jog of your memory. But what’s fun is how intermittently animated you get when remembering a quote that brings you joy. The storylines of the movie provoked conversations about similar storylines in our own lives, and impetus to talk about our own love stories, heartbreaks, and relationships.

I feel incredibly comfortable with these women even though I’ve known them both for only a very short amount of time. We have each come here from somewhere else to do this play and have spent a lot of time together during and out of rehearsal. We also have a real need to connect with each other fast for the good of the play and for our relationships in the play. It’s the whole “dual” thing: strong relationships offstage often correlate to strong relationships onstage.

And then as I sat down to write this blog I was seemingly struck at how we are creating OUR. PLAY.

The text of MR BURNS starts in the middle of a conversation. Three of us are trying to recall an episode of “The Simpsons” - for entertainment, yes, but also as a subconscious effort to connect with one another. The grid has gone down, nuclear power plants have crashed, and electricity is no more. For all our characters know, we could be few of the people still living. Our families are most likely gone. We use the story of this random Simpsons episode for comfort, for connection, and as a way to bond and tell the stories of our own lives.

Our play is about a lot of things. Jen Gray, our fearless director, has said that MR. BURNS is about storytelling at its core – and the need to remember stories as our history so that we won’t forget it. It is about oral tradition - survivors banding together to recreate what our old lives used to be through pop culture, music, and theater.

For myself and for my character, our play is about how few tactile things we actually need when we are left with nothing. We need food and water, but more than anything we need stories that bond us.

Strangely, what has happened between us coming to Madison alone and getting to know each other quickly is exactly what happens to our characters in our play.

Individual productions of MR BURNS in different cities are drastically different from each other because it’s hard not to bleed a lot of self into the piece. It’s an incredibly personal story because it’s our story. I find it interesting that the characters come to the piece with little backstory, little exposition or explanation as to who they were or what they felt before the disaster. Somehow our imaginations and personal backstories fill this void.