Aristotle's Six Elements of Drama
by Salena Deane
Living with mental illness
is like being forced to act 24/7
in back to back to back matinees
of a low-budget production of my life.
Like a fresh method actor,
I am constantly trying to get a feel for my character’s life,
for what I imagine my character’s life would be like.
As if this character isn’t me and this life is just exposition and not plot.
As if it’s this fictional creation over which I have no control
besides the afterward portrayal of someone else’s imagination.
Every day I wake up on a stage, getting out of bed in a room
dressed with bargains and memorabilia:
the room I grew up in feeling like an overused set piece.
A wooden desk: marked by pen and paint graffiti.
A makeshift bookcase: stuffed with Magic Treehouse and Junie B. Jones
alongside prop yearbooks, fictional photo albums, and empty journals.
And the tower rack of CDs: messily and intermittently placed on the shelves
are the albums of popular music artists of the early 2000s era as period markers.
Traveling from stage right wing toward center,
the mainstage features lots of familiar fancy bells and whistles.
With precise blocking and choreo for my scenes in the coffee shop,
I am constantly engaging in dialogue with the ensemble that surrounds me;
the store that’s supposed to be my second home feeling like a deserted island.
My scene partners: uniformed to match; chit chatting, arguing, questioning orders
between service above the hum of the coffee grinder and chime of the card machine.
The countertops: a faint silver, hoard noisemakers, kitchen props, and counterfeit;
all the fixings of a fine establishment clamoring to the point of almost breaking.
The customers: scattered in a less than perfect line in front of the counter.
I do a speed through and run lines with regulars, while others try to test me on my improv.
Even during intermission, I’m faced with the challenge
of knowing what to say at all times. Backstage in supposed solitude,
the world is on the other side of a screen, taking a peek
like in a behind the scenes tour, to make sure I maintain
the same endearing persona on the internet as I attempt to during my scenes.
At least on the internet, people are a bit more cognizant of the fact that I’m an actor.
We’re all actors: using our voices to recite lines we didn’t write ourselves,
to provoke people we don’t even know, to get attention we think we deserve.
We’re all models: using our bodies and faces to attract the comments
and messages we, who crave human interaction in any form, so long for.
We’re all poets: using our thumbs to type away on tiny screens
the larger texts of our lives into existence for all to read.
As the final act begins, I make my way to the stage left wing
into a replica of my childhood homes’ cluttered living room.
Brown leather couches seat comfortably the 4 people they’ve paid
to play my family. Donning age makeup, we sit conversing with
some primetime reality show or crime drama blaring on the cardboard TV.
The younger sister: a popular young collegiate who keeps to herself,
stays out of the house to escape and ignore the drama from the rest of us.
The mother: an extroverted middle aged woman with a youthful spirit,
trying to navigate her world now that it doesn’t revolve around us.
The father: a silently angry middle aged man with an extremely guarded heart,
uses humor and sarcasm as a way of coping with his struggles.
And the younger brother: the athletic problem child who provides
comic relief but at the same time, dramatic tension since at the end
he’s left scrambling to pick up the broken pieces from our combat scene.
And then there’s me. Faded to a dark out, a spotlight shines down as I lay
center stage at the end of every performance. Before the final curtain,
when it’s time for my soliloquy, I face the audience one last time
to signal that the show has come to a close.
But my speech never comes. Turns out it’s written in the script
that I just lay there, as both I and the audience await closure.
No neatly folded program to peruse back through.
No last lines to be said.
The lights fade out.
No standing ovation.
And then I do it all again.
Salena Deane is an undergraduate English/Creative Writing major at Brandeis University who has been published in her campus' literary magazines Laurel Moon and Ebony Axis. She is currently working on her Senior Honors Thesis in which she will write, compile, and complete her first full-length collection of poems.