The following is the transcript for the talk I gave on my psychodramaturgy practice while at the LMDA Conference in June 2015 at Columbia University:

Today I’m going to talk about psychodramaturgy, which is a dramaturgical healing practice I have been explicitly working on for the past year, and implicitly for the 7 years working as a dramaturg prior to that. Psychodramaturgy adopts techniques from psychology and mysticism while operating on the basis that all art and life are a journey into our Greater Unconscious and an attempt to understand the Self and its interplay with day to day objective reality.

While we are all familiar with the healing power of art, my path led me to seek this healing not just in the final product, but in the development process. In my work as a healer, I look at the draft as a manuscript for the self (in the case of single-authored plays) and as a communal manuscript in the context of the ensemble. This manuscript at any stage is a complete universe—which speaks its strengths and traumas to me. When there is an inconsistency, an awkwardness, or an unincorporated/ignored element in the work that inhibits its effectiveness, this is a sign of unrecognized/unresolved pain and trauma (either chronic or acute).
During the development process, I may have premonitions based on my personal relationships with my collaborators or the art I see being created as to what the source of the unresolved issues may be, however I never propose these “answers”—rather I use different practices (both unstructured conversation and deliberate exercises) to lead artists to discover this for themselves, because the healing can only be successful through the internal work of the sufferer. Listening is the fundamental function of dramaturgs—as the answers are in the questions and the questions are always in the answers.

I was originally only going to talk about the psychology-related aspects of my practice today rather than the more mystical tools—fearing to be too “out there” for y’all, but I realized I could not talk about one without the other, for they are fundamentally the same in their functions as healing tools for the self and for activating our imaginative channels in art-making—so let’s go there!

In my psychodramaturgical practice, I draw from an ever expanding pool of healing techniques, which can generally-speaking be separated into techniques for exploration (discovering the repressed pain) and incorporation (recognizing and transforming that pain). I’ve passed out a super short handout with a bibliography at a glance for some of these techniques. Some techniques for exploration include Rorschach Tests, The Tarot, 24-Hour Lucid Dreaming, Holotropic Breathing, and Hypnosis. During the exploration stage it is important to configure your approach based on the presented identity of your collaborators—walking with them down a familiar road in order to build trust and make sure you don’t scare them off too early ;). For example, if my collaborators perceive themselves to be particularly secular and have an antagonist relationship with the spiritual world—I will use techniques that appear more like psychology before entering into the shared domain of psycho-mystical practices. On the other hand, if my collaborators strictly adhere to a singular religion, I will begin with the practices of that religion. As a dramaturg you function as a universal translator, so it is your responsibility to listen and respond in the ways that will be HEARD by your collaborators, not to project your own agenda onto them (though this will inevitably happen anyway). Fundamentally you are providing tools, not answers.

From the above list, the cornerstone of my practice is Arnold Mindell’s 24-Hour Lucid Dreaming, developed from Aboriginal Dreaming and its connections with quantum physics, psychology, and Buddhism. 24-hour lucid dreaming is rooted in the perspective that all life and reality derives from The Dreaming–the source of nighttime dreams and daytime consensus reality. This practice is about becoming lucid 24-hours a day, both while awake and asleep—empowering you to recognize the subtle dreaming network around you in order to make sense of your body and understand your “symptoms”. As Mindell says, “Symptoms are a route to enlightenment. They awaken you to the mystery creating your life as well as new aspects of your body’s chemistry and psychology you might otherwise never consider. The central question is: “What was the symptom before it became a symptom? Feel that world and live there.” Many of these exercises are simply rooted in contemplation where I guide my collaborator from consensus reality down to the Dreaming and back again in order to foster connections and gain knowledge and tools.

The above techniques also tend to double as techniques for incorporation, which is a much more loosely defined group that bleeds into the creation of the work. Some additional frameworks include meditation, zen koan, Psychomagic, Deep Listening, and individual/group rituals and ceremonies. The ultimate healing act is the creation of the work itself, and as such these tools for healing often incorporate themselves into the work at this stage in addition to being used for individual healing.

As the facilitator of the healing, I am of course not in any way exempt from the healing process (as made obvious by own path), in fact the opposite is true. I use my own life as a testing ground for all of these techniques. My own self is inevitably projected into the piece and into my collaborators—in fact, our roles dissolve altogether and it is no longer clear who is the dramaturg or the director or the writer or the actor. I work on the other, but at the same time, the work is done on me. It is the responsibility of the dramaturg to be very candid about this projection and to provide themselves as the base level of ultimate vulnerability in order to establish a setting of trust, risk taking, and extreme honesty.

Now that I have spewed a small slice of my methodology out to you guys, I really want to hear your thoughts, since I’ve developed this in a sort of incubator with myself and my non-dramaturg collaborators! Thank you!


Click here for a handout of resources for PSYCHODRAMATURGY: Psychodramaturgy Practices and Resources Handout