‘Void cannot go’
Trauma and actor process in the theatre of Samuel Beckett
in Samuel Beckett and trauma
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Nicholas Johnson in this chapter discusses and analyses trauma of actors in performing Beckett’s plays. In the rehearsal process, many actors report traumatic symptoms such as panic, fear, anxiety, and nightmare, but it can be difficult to disentangle the overdetermined origins of these feelings: are they ingrained in the source material, individual to the actor’s process, specific to the performance context, or simply authentic physiological responses to the physical demands? Working through these questions first in terms of contemporary acting theory, Johnson introduces qualitative data from both experienced and early-career practitioners of Beckett. Alongside historical and theoretical explorations of acting, the chapter emphasises the concept of the ‘void’ as one possible key to navigating the potentially traumatic terrain within Beckett, as well as naming it as one of the tools at the actors’ disposal. By connecting to urgent contemporary debates in the medical humanities and positing Beckett as core to a unified theory of acting that takes account of the ‘cognitive turn’, Johnson’s focus on the materiality of these experiences extends a discussion beyond the fictive space of the texts and the biographical, currently the two most common approaches to Beckett and trauma.

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