If you have ever been a part of a play, then you have probably had Postpartum Show Depression. Maybe you haven’t called it that, but you’ve probably had it. In fact, if you’ve ever devoted yourself to a long-term project, and felt a sense of loss upon its fruition, you’ve probably had Postpartum Show Depression, or, rather, Postpartum Project Depression. When I first heard the term Postpartum Show Depression from my stage manager at the end of my last show, it struck me as not quite accurate. It seemed to me that the term should be simply Post-Show Depression, because what did the closing of our show have to do with the period following childbirth? But the more I thought about that question, the more I realized the answer was, actually, a lot. Now, of course, our show was not an infant, and we would not have the luxury to raise it and nurture it after it had burst forth from our loins. And yet, it had burst forth, hadn’t it?
Before sending us off to go on stage on opening night, my director had given us a pep talk, as any director I’ve ever had has done. He was going for something inspirational, some strong tonic to assuage whatever pre-show jitters we might have. He told us that the ink on the pages of our scripts was blue, and that the blood of our souls was red, and that where the two met, on stage, it was purple, and alive, and pulsing. Now, I didn’t have pre-show jitters that night, but I still liked the sound of his words, even though I had a sneaking suspicion that our cast was not the first to hear them, and would not be the last. It wasn’t till later, when I had time for reflection, that I really got to thinking about through our work and our passion. I guess our show was purple, and alive, and pulsing on that stage, like a newborn babe, and that we, its mothers, had grown it within us, had given it that gift of life.
Three shows came and went, and in the few spare moments I had, I dreaded the end of the process. It came anyway.
The weekend after closing night, I did as little as possible. I cried a fair amount, moped around, neglected school work, and watched TV in the middle of the day. I was struggling to stop living the show, struggling to sever myself from Anne, my character. I kept returning to two ideas, both of them frightening. One was that now, I was a singular being, not a member of a cast anymore. The other was that the show was out of my hands now, the gestation period was over. It had been presented to the world and was no longer contained within me and my cast mates, but somewhere outside of us, elsewhere, perhaps in the minds of those who had seen it. These realizations brought with them a deep sort of emptiness, and it took a week or two to wait that feeling out, and even thereafter it lingered, a wispy ghost of its original intensity but present nonetheless.
Closing night was a month ago now, and the next show, Henry V, is just starting its rehearsal process. For the past couple days, the theater has been alive with the sounds of auditions, and I’ve been watching, and listening, but not contributing. I won’t be acting in Henry V, since I’ll be doing a semester away this spring, and can’t see the process through. Nonetheless, I’ve been going to the auditions, and helping out with anything I can. It helps with the emptiness. And it hurts. The other day, I was watching the guy who’d played my character’s husband in the last show reading a scene in auditions, and, in an instant, felt overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed to see him being Not Will, who’d been his character. It signaled to me another marker in the end of our show… the time when a new one takes its place. And I was jealous of him. I was jealous that he was on that stage, filling the void with something new. I was on the other side of the audition table, as I’d never been before, because it was the closest I could get to being in his place.
Of course, the best treatment for Postpartum Show Depression is to start a new show, which is why, I think, I’ve been trying to be a part of Henry V. I never knew how much I needed to be in a cast, to be in show, to create, because I have always been doing it. I have always had the next thing… the next show, the next sports team, the next mock trial meet, the next group within which I became a “we,” a we that transcended individuality to create some life within a moment. Until now. Because now, I don’t have the next creation brewing within me. I have been denied my palliative treatment for my chronic condition, my drive to create new life from within myself. If I had that, if I were in a new cast, creating a new living being, I wouldn’t be feeling this. I will fill the hole again, though. I know I will be in another cast, even if I never do another show in my life. I will create again, and when my creation has come to fruition, I’ll repeat the process. And maybe, every so often, I’ll pause to let Postpartum Show Depression take its toll, so that I don’t forget that there will always be hole where a new creation needs to be.
I believe in Postpartum Show Depression. I believe that it exists, that it demands to be felt, and that it can be remedied, if not cured, by its cause.