Imagine You're Dead and then Some Rando Portrays You at a Theatre Festival.
It's weird, right? It's weird for me, too, and I'm the rando in this scenario. This August 2022 I'll be portraying a version of world-famous author Ernest Hemingway in Brain Hemingway, a musical short by writer/composer Erin Murray Quinlan, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I'm going to cut and spray-color my (currently pandemic-length) hair, grow a big ol' beard, and put on that signature Hemingway turtleneck sweater (you know the one), and then I'm going to walk around and act like I'm Ernest Hemingway. And he has no clue, because these days, he's quite dead.
I say I'll be acting like I'm Ernest Hemingway, and like is the operative word. I haven't really seen much footage of the man in action, and I've only heard his voice a few times. I went to his house once, but he wasn't currently in residence there (again, due to his preceding death). Normally, you might call my lack of familiarity with Ernest Hemingway "preparing poorly for a role", but in this case it's alright, because my Hemingway will not be the Hemingway, but rather a version of Hemingway that exists only in the mind of Ms. Quinlan. But isn't every character just a version of a person that exists only in the mind of the author? you might ask. Well yes (though that's rather pedantic of you), but in this case it's much more literal than that. The premise of the show is that my Hemingway is a kind of echo or ghost, the mental remnant of years' worth of research into the real man, which now haunts Ms. Quinlan, embodying her worst fears and reciting her past critics' most savage remarks. So really, even if Ernest Hemingway were somehow to see this show and tell me I was doing a shit impersonation of him, I'd tell him right back that I'm not even playing him, I'm playing a mental construct of him, so CALM DOWN AND DRINK YOUR DAIQUIRI.
But still, people will come see this show, and they will see me dressed as this other guy, who had a real life with real joys and real tragedies, and they'll—at least temporarily, while they dutifully suspend their disbelief—attribute the things I do and say to him. That's kind of unfair, right? No matter how abstract the premise of the show, there's a duty there, for me. I'm not sure what that duty is, yet nonetheless I feel the need to fulfill it, or at least honor it. I think I will try to keep in my mind, like a mantra, the way I would feel if, sixty years from now, someone threw on a pair of jeans and played me on an Edinburgh stage, for better or worse. Whether the script was pro-me, anti-me, or me-neutral, I'd just want them to try and be honest with the character, to use me to the best of their ability and do something interesting with my memory. Perhaps for a prolific creative like the real Ernest Hemingway, it would be an honor to still be contributing to the creative arts long after he's laid down his pen for the final time.
At least, I hope so. Either way, I can't help but feel like my character of a half-remembered research subject won't be the only ghost in the room.
Brain Hemingway premieres at Edinburgh Festival Fringe at Greenside @ Infirmary Street on August 5, 2022 and will run until August 29. Get your tickets today, and please consider donating to our indiegogo campaign!