Have you ever confused your dreams with reality? I am a very vivid dreamer. I have been shot in a dream only to wake up and find a damp circle of sweat exactly where the bullet hit my body. My hands are drenched from grabbing the sweaty spot, only to realize upon looking at them closely, that there is no blood and this was only a dream. My heart racing, the hairs on my arms standing straight up, I’m usually short of breath, and it sometimes takes hours to calm down enough to fall back to sleep again. I spend far too long recollecting the events that took place, trying to piece together what may have prompted these bizarre, very realistic dreams to occur. Usually those I encounter are strangers I’ve never met before, but possibly saw in passing throughout my day. It’s all so confusing to me, but these terrifying nightmares happen more often than I’d like to admit. As I go about my day following these sometimes very disturbing dreams, I start to weave the memories into my reality, to the extent I start to confuse the two worlds. As time goes by, these dreams become somewhat distant memories, but my mind still twists my dream world with reality, and these faint recollections tend to stay buried in my imagination forever.
A vivid imagination is a great tool to utilize as an actor, but throughout the process of submerging myself into the role of Margaret Elizabeth Lofty in The Drowning Girls, my nightmares became so frequent, bizarre, and so very realistic, I struggled tremendously when it came to getting a restful night’s sleep.
When rehearsals first began, I was still soaking up the last few days of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, and chose to spend much of my time at a nearby lake, as I worked on my script, played in and under the water, enjoyed the sounds of the water, and took in the scenery around me. I began to imagine what it would be like to have something so peaceful turn your whole world upside down.
I have always found water – being in the water, under the water, and near the water – to be the most peaceful thing in the world. The sounds of the water rushing over rocks in a nearby creek, the sounds and imagery of the waves crashing on the sandy shore, diving down under the water only to look up at the surface to see the distorted view of the sun and clouds rippling by – it’s all so beautiful and calming, and there is nothing I can quite compare it to that makes me feel so at ease. Feeling encompassed by the velvety, comfort of the water is my safe space. There is also something so unique about the sounds of being under the water – it’s a muffled, surprisingly loud sound, but also so calming that it drowns out any thoughts of the outside world.
However, as we dove deeper into the lives of Margaret, Bessie, and Alice, and how this one man managed to take everything from them – their money, their families, their identities, and their lives – my dreams turned into nightmares again, all relating to water. First, my car drove along a bridge and the edge of the road became almost a boat launch, disappearing into the water, my car being submerged under the surface as I frantically tried to save my own life, relieved my husband and daughter weren’t in the car with me. Then, I was walking along the streets of Hillsboro, when it was as if a dam broke and the water gushed down the street, as a nearby car began to sink next to me. I stood there helpless, looking into the eyes of the driver, knowing I would be the last one they’d see before they drowned. These are two very simple examples of the maybe 25 dreams I had during the course of rehearsals relating to water no longer being that peaceful haven, but rather what took life from me.
In the midst of our very challenging rehearsal process, following a sleepless night, I decided to turn on mindless TV at the gym, only to find a show I had forgotten about on A&E called, “I Survived.” With a simple black background, some minimal lighting, and three people who barely survived incredibly traumatic experiences telling their story, it was exactly what I needed in order to understand what we had to do to share the heartbreaking stories of Margaret, Bessie, and Alice with our audiences. One of the stories was about a woman who was forced at gunpoint to get into the trunk of her own car, which was then pushed into a lake. Her description of what it was like knowing she was going to die as the water filled up around her was extremely haunting. One minute, she was driving to meet friends, the next, her life was flashing before her eyes. The things you think about in the last few minutes before death, the memories that flood into your mind, and the things you wish you’d done differently…it’s all very bizarre and disturbing, but it all was described in a stripped-down, simple-yet-cinematic episode that focused solely on storytelling. I knew what we had to do.
The Drowning Girls is unlike any show I’ve ever seen or been a part of, especially at Bag&Baggage. It has been the most challenging show I have ever been a part of. The script is so lyrical and poetic, but the content is so physically, vocally, and emotionally challenging, we had to continue to remind ourselves that if we just ground ourselves and tell the stories of these women and their experiences, it will be enough. Beautiful, raw, storytelling is what Bag&Bagggage does best. Adding the peaceful elements of water and lighting, and I knew it would all come together. While my world outside of rehearsal was filled with disturbing nightmares and repeated themes relevant to the show popping up over and over around me, the moment I slip into my bathtub at the top of the show, I know that if I just take a deep breath and let all of the images and thoughts – dreams and reality – floating around in my mind exist, it will all color the journey of Margaret, Bessie, and Alice.
Jessica Geffen, B&B Associate Artist