Last night, I had an Actor’s Nightmare – you know, the nightmare where you’re on stage in a play that you’ve never heard of…and you’re naked – that was more along the lines of the “Audition Nightmare”.
In it, I was warming up for an audition with all the other auditionees in the room. The casting director walked in and decided that my audition had begun. When I was done warming up, they criticized me right there. The casting director was condescending and made it clear that I didn’t get the job. As I was packing up, I saw that one of the people who auditioned after me didn’t even have the sheet music for his piece, but he still got a real audition.
This has been one of many, which have included:
- Having to perform an hour and a half of singing and playing guitar and not knowing any songs.
- Getting ready for a performance, leaving the theater, going to the other side of town, wasting time and then remembering that I was supposed to be performing.
- Same as above but with an audition and dangerous animals.
- Performing West Side Story without having any rehearsals on a stage the size of a football field.
- Performing West Side Story on the edge of a massive mountain that was decked out like a stadium, again without any rehearsals.
The amazing thing is, that the more I have the dream, the better I handle it. During the nightmares where I’m performing something I don’t know, I used to get worried. Not anymore. Now I just make stuff up and wonder why everyone is so accepting.
Though that isn’t always the case, it’s becoming more regular that I adapt to my actor’s nightmare.
Dream to Learn
Recently on NOVA, it was explained that a leading hypothesis for the function of dreams is for learning. They cited studies of subjects performing learning tasks. Those who had full REM sleep performed much better than those who didn’t. They may have experienced the kind of dreaming related in this anecdote:
In support of this… the work of Stanford University psychologist William Dement, who in the early 1970s instructed hundreds of undergraduate students to work on a set of challenging brainteasers before bedtime, so that they’d fall asleep with the problems still on their mind. For example, “The letters O, T, T, F, F … form the beginnings of an infinite sequence. Find a simple rule for determining any or all successive letters.” [The correct sequence is the first letter of each number, so the next one would be “S” for “six.”] One participant who went to bed frustrated by this brainteaser dreamed:
I was walking down the hall of an art gallery. I began to count the paintings—one, two, three, four, five. But as I came to the sixth and seventh, the paintings had been ripped from their frames! I stared at the empty frames with a peculiar feeling that some mystery was about to be solved. Suddenly I realized that the sixth and seventh spaces were the solution to the problem.
– Jesse Bering, Dreaming of Nonsense: The Evolutionary Enigma of Dream Content, Scientific American
In this hypothesis, nightmares are considered especially useful because they force the dreamer into stressful situations where they would have to learn to survive. For children, they tend to dream of monsters or wild animals, while adults tend to have work related nightmares. Bingo.
And that’s what I thought once I got over the frustration from this latest nightmare. Within the dream, I was actively trying to discover the best way to handle the situation, and perhaps that will serve me when I face a similarly humiliating situation. When started practicing, I felt like something had become easier in my voice. That bit of warming up in my dream may have actually helped me sing better in waking life.