FIND 2016
Daydreaming Theatre
Marcus Lindeen’s »Wild Minds«

by Joseph Pearson

10 April 2016

Swedish director Marcus Lindeen – whose piece »Wild Minds« comes to the Schaubühne for FIND 2016 – first learned about the phenomenon of maladaptive daydreaming from a US psychology journal. Little did he know that this initial fascination would lead him into the fantasies of those who suffer from too much daydreaming: that he would join their internet forums, meet and interview them, and then bring their stories to the stage. And perhaps, after all, their self-directed fictional worlds are not so different from theatre.

Maladaptive daydreaming (MD) is an extreme condition. It is not simply your mind wandering, fantasizing, and then returning to the here and now. Rather MD describes when that fantasy world takes over your daily tasks. It involves hours of self-focused make-believe, with invented characters and plots, that can be scripted, directed, by its authors.

It is important to clarify that MD is not hallucination, nor a form of schizophrenia. Those who have maladaptive daydreams do not see or hear things that are not there. They are aware that their worlds are imagined. They do not suffer from psychosis, reports Eli Somer, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Haifa, who identified the condition. MD is often accompanied, however, by telltale repetitive actions such as rocking, nodding or pacing.

The question remains, should MD be pathologised? Might it not be an extension of creativity, the kind in which Freud invited us to indulge, or what Jung called ‹active imagination’? Is that one reason MD is not listed in the bible of psychological disorders, the DSM (»Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders«)? Or is maladaptive daydreaming so excessive, so damaging to lived everyday reality, that it must be classed as a discrete dissociative disorder requiring treatment?

Let us take a well-known example of »excessive creativity«. Thinking about MD tempts me to clinicise composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856). He invented an intricate imaginary world that is at times violent, but also gentle and whimsical. One can see this in the musical vocabulary of pieces such as the Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, or Kreisleriana, Op. 16 – which draw from his invented community, the Society of David. Two of the society’s members, Florestan and Eusebius, became Schumann’s best friends – the former extroverted and the latter withdrawn. Significantly, it does not appear that Schumann suffered from psychosis; he did not think these friends were real. They were instead most likely created as a poetic form of escape from a tragic year in which the composer lost two close members of his family. The composer is, of course, not present to submit himself to today’s psychotherapy. Any diagnosis of MD is perhaps complicated by the likelihood that Schumann was also bi-polar or manic depressive, to use vocabulary from our era. What the example does provide, however, is an example of the facility with which one can clinicise creativity.

I ask Lindeen, »Is not MD simply a rubric to pathologise everyday life? One knows that the pharmaceutical and medical industry is forever on the lookout for new conditions«.

But Lindeen explains, »It seems that the desire for a diagnosis is driven by the patients themselves, rather than therapists who want to treat people. They are fighting to get some help. Everyone daydreams, but for them, it becomes something much bigger, to the point that it is out of control, where they need to hide it from their families. I think they do need help. One man I spoke to, from Minnesota, says he spends 75% of his time awake in his dream world. Of course, we are living in a diagnosed world – in one hundred years we will think it’s ridiculous, the way we now think about psychological conditions of the 19th century. But maybe in future we will also realize that these people were actually suffering from their inner worlds«.

Lindeen’s subjects have less celebrated everyday lives than Robert Schumann’s; their fantasy worlds prove more compelling than the ones they inhabit. They become locations for wish fulfillment: sometimes they want to change sex, or occupy dramatic roles that come from popular culture. Lindeen is well-known for his celebrated documentary film and stage play, »Regretters«, about two Swedish men who both regret their sex-change operations. He says, »Several of the women I interviewed for »Wild Minds« told me they had male daydream selves. Which I don’t think necessarily has to do with secretly identifying as transsexuals, but rather is an effect of being oppressed by a patriarchal society, where women are not given as much power and control as men«.
»One woman I interviewed is a 53-year old banker from New York. She has been living with the same dream scenario since she was 10 or 12 years old. Her alternate persona is a gangster thug named Kevin. She lives as a bad-ass drug lord in her secret life. She loved the activity of daydreaming, it expanded her life experience, but at the same time she felt it took too much time, and so she tried to stop it. She wanted to kill Kevin, and tried to let him die three times in her daydreams. But she failed three times to do it. She felt too strongly about him«.

He continues, » I do think they are sometimes missing something in their own lives. The guy from Minnesota lives with his grandparents, dreams about living in a larger city, but isn’t able to make the move. So he focuses on his private fantasy life, where he is out as a gay man. He dreams about being a famous gay artist – a musician, director, or actor. He has this same reoccurring scenario, in which he is a guest interviewed on a TV show, like »Oprah«, and he is asked how it feels to be the first openly gay actor or famous musician. He expresses directly how he feels while he is daydreaming. He lives out things he cannot live out in his real life«.

Lindeen tells me that he also feels frustrated that he cannot live parallel lives. There is an existential issue at play here: time moves forward relentlessly, and the narrative of our life cannot be changed. He toys with alternate trajectories his life could have taken. »Why can’t I be a writer in Cairo? Or have had a different family? It might sound naïve, but what if my life could be more than it is? I’ve made certain choices and I’m stuck with them. I come from journalism: reality is the basis, the method, of what I do. I use research and interviews. But I have started to turn to fiction as a way of solving the existential issue of not being able to live more than one life«.

But then isn’t working on the stage a way of enacting these imagined realities? One need not daydream if one has the theatre. I ask Lindeen, »How do these stories play out in the theatre space?«

»The audience is usually nervous when they see the setup: because they have to sit in a circle of chairs together with the performers. They have this instinct, that they will be drawn into something, made to say things in front of other people. But they really just have to sit back and listen. I like the intimacy of the circle of chairs: it suggests a therapy group, a place for storytelling. I think the music and the soundscape enhance the dramatic situations, help explain the fictional landscape. I use actual interview material from subjects who suffer from MD. I recorded four interviews and use a sound script. This documentary theatre method, also used by others, is called »headphone verbatim technique«. During the performance, the actors listen to the documentary tapes directly in hidden earpieces, to repeat simultaneously the text fed into their ears. They adapt a rhythm, a way of speaking, not only the words. I am also using non-professional actors for the first time. When the piece was commissioned by the Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, I cast US expats living in Sweden who could speak perfect English, because this technique requires that they use the same language as the interview subjects«.
We return at the end of our conversation to the overlaps between those who experience MD and those who direct theatre.

Lindeen explains, »The librarian I interviewed, she worked as a director in her mind: rehearsing scenes, playing with construction in an elaborate way, but unlike me she does not share it. Nothing she does differs from the work of a fiction writer, except she is elaborating her creations only inside of herself. She is not communicating. For someone like me who works with storytelling, to communicate with audiences is a mindset for me, to have it reach an audience. It asks a question: what is the meaning of fiction if it is only for yourself?«

Perhaps, after all, what »Wild Minds« does is bring the compositions of these authors suffering from MD finally to a public. In the end, Lindeen is their curator, their communicator. But I press, »But why should it not be preferable to create in private, for yourself, than in the theatre? Why in the end do we need to communicate?«

Lindeen replies, »Maybe performing in public, reaching an audience, is in some way exhibitionism. At least for me, as a writer and director. Wanting confirmation, all these boring things. But would I really be happy locked in a room by myself? It might be an honest existence, less stressful. But it would also be more lonely«.

Wild Minds

by Marcus Lindeen (Sweden)
Direction: Marcus Lindeen

Premiered on 13 April 2016