Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lithium: It's Not Just for Teenagers Any More

There’s no clever way to come up with an intro here, so I’m just going to begin. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and have begun medical treatment for it. Specifically, my doctor believes I’m bipolar-II. II is less severe than I in that the high state manifests as hypomania rather than the more severe mania, but the depressive state is largely the same.

Here’s a link to WebMD's page on bipolar disorder for anyone who’s interested in further reading. I plan to add links about bipolar disorder to this page soon.

I spent the first three months of the year in the highest manic state of my life and have since crashed into the lowest depression I have ever experienced. In the middle of some discussions with Karen last month, she suggested that I might be bipolar. I didn't think much of it at the time, but started to do some research the next week and found myself answering a vehement "yes" to almost every question on the diagnostic surveys. I started seeing a counselor who soon concurred that I should see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. It took two weeks to get in to see Dr. Sajid, and about 15 minutes for him to make a diagnosis.

There's no blood test or CT scan for bipolar disorder (though I am having blood work done to check other chemical levels). There's no "if it turns blue you're bipolar." The way it works is we try some medication, keep talking to medical practitioners, refine the doses, and see how it feels. I'm taking lithium right now (just started yesterday); it's the most commonly-prescribed medicine for my indications. It will be several days before I begin to feel any of its effects, and weeks before enough has built up in my system for a real gauge. Also, potential side-effects are myriad, and are worsened by too much caffeine intake (down to one cup of coffee per day) and use of anti-inflammatories, which means I have to hope aspirin will soothe my aching joints.

This comes in the middle (or as the result) of a host of massive personal questions and issues that may or may not have much of their foundations in a hypomanic or depressive phase of bipolar. In simple terms, I'm kind of a mess right now, and Karen and I could really use your kind thoughts and prayers. I'm not a lot of fun to be around right now.

I've posted this information on my blog first of all so my friends will know what's going on and second of all because part of the purpose of my blog is to make my artistic process transparent. Certainly a mood disorder like bipolar can't help but be a factor in your artistic process. The biggest question I have, and one no one can really answer for me is this: How much of my artistic identity is tied in with a mood disorder? I'm not afraid of lithium taking away my creativity per se, but the fact remains that the best work I've done, particularly recently, has definitely been heavily influenced by the boundless energy and running mind of an extended hypomanic episode. Intellectually, I believe this so-called "disorder" is in reality nothing of the kind; my bipolar design is part of what makes me Andrew and an artist. That, of course, doesn't make it any easier to figure out how to live with, but I'm not going to be ashamed of it or try to conceal it.

So where does that leave me? Well, I kind of have to put a lot of my personal questions and problems on the back burner while I figure out how much of them is purely a chemical imbalance in my brain. That's going to take a while. So forgive me if you're not getting the Andrew you saw in the catalog. In many ways, I'm re-learning how to be, and I'm doing it on the fly in the midst of a handful of personal crises that may or may not be the results of a disorder in the first place.

I'm not posting about this to get sympathy or pity or for anyone to feel like they have to treat me differently. But I want my friends to understand what's going on, and I want to take some steps toward advocacy for people (artists in particular) with mood disorders and mental illnesses.




Friday, May 23, 2008

Antwaan Randle El Versus a Bear

Quality NFL coverage. Look at the way Antwaan's eyebrow raises when they start talking about the ham.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's Summer Intensive

"Clown Intensive "
with Matthew Ellis
June 16 - 20, 2008, 6:00-9:30 PM

To accommodate the many parties who have expressed interest in this class but who could not make the daytime hours, we have moved the Clown Intensive into evenings. If you wanted to take this class but could not do it before, now is your chance!

Matthew Ellis, Professor of Movement at the University of Oklahoma and director of this summer's Richmond Shakespeare Festival production of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), will teach a five day Clowning Intensive for Richmond Shakespeare's Training Department.

Matt says: “The clown is not just a circus performer or a birthday party attraction. The clown is the part of us that lives in a simpler place. Our inner clown is rife with problems to solve, and he or she solves those problems in a variety of ‘creative’ ways.”

The classes will focus on the discovery of that inner clown through a process developed by world renowned teacher Jacques LeCoq, taught to Matthew by the world famous clown Avner Eisenberg and master teacher Jonathan Becker. “You won’t learn how to ride a unicycle or how to walk in big shoes. This is an acting class that develops strong awareness and a powerful presence on stage. This work will improve all aspects of your performance, not just the slapstick comedy.” The workshop will consist of technique training and sketch development, culminating in a short show for the public on the final day.

The class is open to actors of advanced high school age and up. Participants should, as always, bring a bottle of water, a lunch, and be prepared to move. Some scholarships are available for interested participants with financial needs, and actors who have worked with Richmond Shakespeare in he past year are eligible for discounted tuition.

Email or call him at 804-232-4000 for more information or to make a reservation.

Check out some images from Matthew's previous clown classes at the University of Oklahoma:

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Review: "Iron Man"

Iron Man
Starring: Rober Downey, Jr., Terence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Released by: Marvel Studios
Theatrical Release Date: 5/2/2008
Run Time: 126 min.
Rating: PG-13

It is truly a golden age for geeks right now.

Thanks mainly to the unreal successes of the Spider-Man, X-Men and Lord of the Rings film franchises, all the cool stuff I loved growing up and have rediscovered in my adult years has become mainstream Americana, loved by critics and public alike. It’s now just par for the course that the summer movie season would kick off with the screen adaptation of a B-plus-list superhero adventure.

But it’s not par for the course for me, not this time. Because this time it’s Iron Man, my favorite hero and my favorite fictional character of all time.

Of course, for every Spider-Man 2 there's a Punisher, for every Batman Begins there's an Elektra, for every X-Men 2 there's an X-Men 3. So I tend to go into these things with extremely low expectations; I assumed Transformers was going to be a glorious train wreck and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the screenplay, the acting, and the storytelling.

But for Iron Man, I can't help myself. Tony Stark is, in my opinion, the most complex and interesting character in all of mainstream comics (only Batman is comparable), and the material is far more big-screen-friendly than even Spider-Man or X-Men. The last time I was this excited about a movie was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s not just that I really wanted Fellowship to be good, it’s that I knew it could and should be far beyond just "good." With source material and a director of this quality, it should be one of the great films of all time.

Just as with all three LotR films, Iron Man has met my high expectations and hopes and surpassed them. This isn't just a great superhero movie, the best since Spider-Man 2, it's just a great movie by any measure, with masterful acting, a fantastic screenplay, great twists and turns, and a plenty of BTUs (units of Blowing Things Up).

As with Spider-Man's Tobey Maguire, Iron Man is powered by its lead actor, Robert Downey, Jr. Downey surprised me in his portrayal of billionaire genius industrialist Tony Stark; I have always envisioned him as a more hard-edged, intense and direct individual than Downey and director Jon Favreau portray. It's a good thing they made this movie and not me. Downey's Stark is so brilliant he can be casual and sarcastic about it, which not only sets his moments of intensity in great contrast but makes for perhaps the funniest superhero we've yet seen. All of Stark's facets are on display in Downey's performance: his intelligence, his capriciousness, his addictive and obsessive nature, his reckless need for speed, and all of his self-loathing.

And Downey's might not even be the best performance of the bunch. When your supporting cast--for a superhero movie, mind you--involves Oscar nominees and winners like Jeff Bridges, Terence Howard, and Gwyneth Paltrow, you know this is a special project. Bridges stands out in particular; the film's portrayal of Obadiah Stane is not at all what I was expecting, and I barely recognized the bald, bearded Bridges in the part. Howard and Paltrow simply refuse to allow their characters to vanish into the background, and both cast Stark in sharp relief where he would be much less clear alone. It's great news that these actors have apparently signed on for the sequel, and I'm hoping to see other memorable Stark Industries employees like Bambi Arbogast, Abe Zimmer, and Marcy Pearson show up, as well.

There are great shout-outs to Iron Man fanboys like myself: the Ten Rings, Happy Hogan (played by Favreau, who I hope will make a longer appearance in IM2), Tony's Pacific mansion looking like his late-80s comic book digs (from the era when I was first reading the book), and a Stark-against-the-man vibe reminiscent of the seminal Armor Wars storyline of the same time period. Like the great tiny details in the other successful fanboy franchises we've seen succeed, these tell the discriminating geek audience member, "Yes, I love this as much as you do. If I cut something you love, I loved it too, and it hurt me too. trust me, your favorite hero is safe in my hands."

Iron Man also manages the difficult task of making social commentary without being preachy or coming down hard on one side of the political spectrum. Favreau wisely recognizes that we can pretty much all get behind the ideas that collateral damage, double-dealing, and war profiteering are bad things, and Stark's conversion from soulless arms dealer to defender of innocents is portrayed as a deeply personal one, not a political one.

Last week on Doctor Who, David Tennant's Doctor said something that has stuck with me ever since: "Not easy, is it? Being clever. You look at the world and you connect things, random things, and think, 'Why can’t anyone else see it?' The rest of the world is so slow. You’re on your own." In Downey and Favreau's Tony Stark, we see a man with vision so clear and intense that it hurts him; he has to dull it with alcohol, feed it with sexual and expensive thrills, and finally assuage it with actions so big they can only be described as superheroic. Like Batman, Iron Man is chased by personal demons he can never completely escape, but he can't live without perpetually striving against them. Iron Man is a lot more fun to come along for the ride with than Batman, though.

Do NOT leave the theater until after the closing credits. Best. Bonus scene. Ever.

EDIT: Saw it again last night. Still awesome. I'll see it another time or two before it's gone.

Labels: , ,