Features Artist-in-Residence Published 9 September 2011

An Open Letter

The first in our series of artist-in-residence features at Exeunt, in which Laura Jane Dane will detail the process of putting together a solo performance piece, which she hopes to take to Edinburgh festival next year.
Laura Jane Dean

Hello. My name is Laura and I’m a performance artist. I have something I would like to share with you.

For the past twenty-one years, I have suffered with what is commonly and psychiatrically known as OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

For twenty of these years I was firmly in the closet, and inside that closet I was embarrassed, ashamed and scared. There was a part of me that believed I was certifiably insane, and if I told anyone the thoughts that plagued me then they wouldn’t understand and saying them out loud made them seem very real and all the more possible. These aren’t the kind of thoughts people necessarily want to hear: telling your partner you are worried you will kill them or saying to your mother you are worried you will harm yourself.

It isn’t just the thoughts you contend with; the behaviour patterns, routines and rituals that you build and develop and have to carry out with fierce precision to protect yourself and others is, at times, all consuming and exhausting. You take on a huge responsibility for your own and others lives. It’s a false reality, but when those thoughts implant, your ability to think rationally is severely compromised.

Over the last year I have poked my head out of the OCD closet and have started to talk about this ‘thing’ that I live with. I am yet to undergo any treatment for my OCD – cognitive behavioural therapy, medication or otherwise. I am at the very beginning of an ongoing process; a process which terrifies me.

Throughout this time I also wanted to make a new performance piece. I have previously shied away from solo work with myself as the subject, due to the risk of being self indulgent and making unimportant work. But with some gentle encouragement and the thought ‘write about what you know’ rattling around in my head, I started to write about my OCD. The thought processes, the behaviours, the rituals, the violent intrusive thoughts, the compulsive repetition. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to say it out loud yet, or even if I wanted to.

But making theatre is about trial and error, it is about the process as much as the product, it is about not being afraid of failing and creating something truthful for an audience. So I went into a rehearsal room and said my words out loud. To myself at first, then to a few others. The more I said, the more I wanted to write and as I wrote, the more I wanted to say the words out loud.

I’m at the beginning of a process, at the start of embracing and tackling the OCD and at the start of creating a piece of theatre. To share and document this practice, I will be writing about my research, rehearsals and scratch performances here on Exeunt.

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Laura Jane Dean is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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