All Good News

Becoming Cassandra

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Becoming Cassandra
by Alyssa Angelica James
Strong wind muscles its way into sounds of moaning through the small openings in the windows in my old house in The Berkshires. The gusts are strong since the house is on top of a mountain but aside from that all is quiet. I have the task of learning my lines for the role I was cast in as Cassandra in Aeschylus’s version of Agamemnon.
I take my script upstairs with me into bed, get comfortable and begin to meditate on this character.  I read over the lines—the intensity of her hysteria, her pleading and psychic visions. I know her. She already lives within me. I feel love for her and must honor her voice. I close my eyes and breathe deeply in and deeply out as I imagine her. I imagine me as her. I begin to see me as her. I breathe deeply in and deeply out and I begin to see the heights of emotion I need to reach to do this woman justice, to convey her desperate message. “Earth! Oh Earth!”, “Apollo!” I begin to see myself on stage in a plain white dress with an open back and strings that tie behind my neck to hold my breasts up. I have been held prisoner and used as a sex slave—part of my punishment for not desiring Apollo as he did me. I see my long uncombed hair blown into knots and coated with salt from the sea air; coated with sweat and the hot breath of men as they use my body for their pleasure.  I breathe deeply in and deeply out, my vision getting sharper. I feel the rage, I feel her tears, I see her against the black backdrop of the stage, in the spotlight. I get her. I am her. I breathe again put down the script and smile.
On stage, I ready myself; the hot surge of emotion boils up from every corner of my being – so happy to have the words for it, so tasty and satisfying are the words to match such emotional heights. In the moments before I speak I meditate on stage. I bring forth to mind the memories, the awful memories, ingredients from my internal kitchen, each memory adding spice and flavor till I am stewed and marinated in their juices. The words call out from my heart and hit the audience like arrows. I am Cassandra; I am saying goodbye to these sickening psychic visions Apollo has cursed me with only to be dammed by others’ disbelief. I see my bloody death—I have been raped and taken as a sex slave—I know too much! I scream out my lines with a lump in my throat, holding back the tears of rage and frustration until the last moment when I say goodbye to my life.
My beautiful Cassandra’s performance is met with thunderous applause and I know as satisfying as it was to bring her to life—it was equally satisfying to see and experience the storm of her in full bloom.

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