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Author Topic: Portraying Schizophrenia  (Read 786 times)

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Kuildeous

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Portraying Schizophrenia
« on: May 27, 2016, 02:50:46 pm »
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I am being considered for a play for an upcoming Fringe Festival. In this play I would be playing a veteran who was discharged due to schizophrenia. Through most of this play, Danny (the character's name) interacts with the other characters while he's medicated. Later he is shown having violent outbursts due to not having his medication. That part I'll worry about later.

What I'm most interested in is how to portray Danny in a way that indicates that he does have schizophrenia but not to the point where he's distracting from the rest of the cast. Basically, I want to present this character realistically and also theatrically.

After reading up on some of the many symptoms of schizophrenia, I've been pondering the following affectations. 
  • When not part of a conversation, obsessively chew on my lips. This produces a kind of tic effect that should indicate that there is a disorder. Also, I may adopt a blank stare with very little blinking.
  • When talking with other cast members, avoid eye contact. This will be tricky because the natural tendency while avoid eye contact is to speak softly, but I'll need to remember to project for the sake of the audience.
  • There are a couple of scenes where Danny interjects when someone doesn't know or can't remember a musical artist. I may consider saying it out of the blue while never acknowledging they are there. Just keep looking at what I'm doing. Since these characters are familiar with each other, the others may acknowledge what I say and not take offense at the interruption. This may need to be hashed out once I meet the cast and we start blocking.

Other thoughts on how to portray schizophrenia that isn't outrageous? He is on medication, but he's also homeless, so he's still having difficulty adapting to society. Again, this is for theatre, so it should be obvious enough while not upstaging the rest of the cast (until it's my time in the script).
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Burning Skull

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Re: Portraying Schizophrenia
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2016, 03:49:33 pm »
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Try to get some inspiration from Sepultura's "Schizophrenia" album maybe (Inquisition Symphony is a great song for example)?
That is clearly not a very serious piece of advice :)

I just came up with a better idea: rewatch Taxi Driver!

Donald X.

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Re: Portraying Schizophrenia
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2016, 05:15:56 pm »
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Other thoughts on how to portray schizophrenia that isn't outrageous? He is on medication, but he's also homeless, so he's still having difficulty adapting to society. Again, this is for theatre, so it should be obvious enough while not upstaging the rest of the cast (until it's my time in the script).
I've only known one schizophrenic person, and only online, though I chatted with him plenty, and we talked about the schizophrenia some. From this small amount of data I would say, that for the period where your character is on meds, anything you do to portray lurking schizophrenia is strictly over-the-top. The meds work; he'd just be normal. My guy was all, yeah, I thought Egyptians were trying to steal my walls. It was a funny thing to reflect on and not remotely part of his current life. I mean there's the sad specter of, if you go off the meds you'll be in trouble. But uh. It doesn't manifest as twitching or lack of blinking or what have you.

Man maybe I knew another schizophrenic person, irl. She had a radically different personality when not on the meds; she could look back at it and laugh, just like the guy. There was nothing weird about her, on meds. I don't actually know what she was diagnosed with though. She heard voices.

Then too, for me, it's tragic if the completely normal person has their life wrecked by not being able to afford the meds or whatever it is. It's less tragic when it happens to an already messed up person.
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Kuildeous

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Re: Portraying Schizophrenia
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2016, 03:41:55 pm »
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The meds work; he'd just be normal.

I had considered this as well. That's why meds are prescribed: Because they work.

I guess it depends on whether the audience will be distracted by someone claiming to be schizophrenic while not exhibiting anything (though there is the unmedicated episode later) or if it's another distraction for this guy on his meds to be acting like the meds aren't working.

This is clearly something that we'll have to a serious conversation about when we begin rehearsals. I may need to track down people on meds to learn more.
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dondon151

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Re: Portraying Schizophrenia
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2016, 12:40:20 am »
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When not part of a conversation, obsessively chew on my lips. This produces a kind of tic effect that should indicate that there is a disorder.

I don't think that tics are strongly associated with schizophrenia.

In any case, you've done some reading on symptoms of schizophrenia, so pardon me if you already know what I'm telling you. Schizophrenia symptoms are divided into positive symptoms (psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, disordered thoughts) and negative symptoms (blunted affect, alogia, anhedonia, diminished movement). Medications used to treat schizophrenia are commonly much more effective at managing the positive symptoms than the negative symptoms. Hence, if Danny is effectively managed, he would probably not be floridly psychotic unless he stops taking his medications.

So if you wanted to portray managed schizophrenia in a non-outrageous way, I think that you should try to exhibit some of the negative symptoms. Since it's hard to get a good handle on what blunted affect or alogia or diminished movement really are, you would benefit from talking to and observing real people with schizophrenia.

While on my psychiatry rotation, I interacted with a handful of schizophrenic patients, and the best way that I can describe them is that they always appear to be uninterested in what you're doing or saying. You can tell a joke and they won't smile; you can show concern and they won't acknowledge it; you can press for detail but they usually won't say more than a few words.
« Last Edit: June 01, 2016, 12:47:58 am by dondon151 »
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Kuildeous

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Re: Portraying Schizophrenia
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2016, 12:54:04 am »
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Thank you. I knew about the positive and negative symptoms. I was not aware that medication normally manages the positive symptoms more than the negative symptoms. That's good to know. I had considered making him a little disconnected from the others. What you describe sounds like something subtle but fairly prominent if spotted. We won't have a cast meeting for another few weeks, and I know the director is doing some research as well.

There is a scene where it's announced that a 5-year-old child was shot just down the street. Undoubtedly the other characters will react in horror and sadness. How I handle this character may be definitive of him.
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