Healing through Theatre
Professor Herb Propper
Theatre has long been used as psychotherapy in the west. These days psychiatrists and theatre experts in the west are using many experimental theatre forms such as psychodrama, sociometry and playback theatre to heal mental unease and frustration, since theatre forms stimulate spontaneity and release of emotion, thereby reducing mental pressures. Healing mental distress through such experimental theatre performances have a wide application in hospitals, clinics, private offices, and in educational institutes. Such practices also nurture the creative imagination of the individuals, since the participants of such performances have to improvise. At the same time such performances make one more spontaneous and confident to face a potentially stressful or uncomfortable situation.
In Bangladesh, a Chittagong based development theatre organisation named Unite Theatre for Social Action (UTSA) has been practicing such therapeutic theatre forms for the last 12 years for a certain section of the society to grow confidence amongst the participants through psychodrama, sociometry and playback theatre forms.
UTSA has organised a series of workshops at different organisations in Dhaka and Chittagong that continued from January 1 to January 23. The reason behind arranging the workshops at different organisations explains Mostafa Kamal Jatra, executive director of UTSA, is to develop expertise on the experimental theatre forms to be used as psychotherapy. It was the seventh arrangement of its kind organised by UTSA.
Participants learnt about the forms and applications of three therapeutic theatre forms-- psychodrama, sociometry and playback theatre -- at the workshops conducted by Professor Herb Propper, a psychotherapist, and Jennie Kristel, a playback theatre director, from the US.
Professor Herb Propper informs that legendary psychiatrist, theorist and educator Dr. Jacob Levy Moreno (1889- 1974) was the founder of psychodrama, sociometry and the foremost pioneer of group psychotherapy. According to Professor Propper, through dramatic action a psychodrama explores the problems, issues, concerns, dreams and highest aspirations of people, groups, systems and organisations. Each person in the group can become a therapeutic agent for each other in the group in a psychodrama.
Professor Propper says that psychodrama attempts to create an internal restructuring of dysfunctional mindsets with other people, and it challenges the participants to discover new answers to some situations and become more spontaneous and independent.
Professor Propper says, “The experimental theatre form offers a powerful approach to teaching and learning, as well as to training interrelationship skills. The action techniques of psychodrama also offer a means of discovering and communicating information concerning events and situations in which the communicator has been involved.”
Psychodrama can heal disturbed minds.
“Psychodrama focuses principally on a single participant, known as the protagonist, while a few members of the group act as audience. The spectator of such performances is called a witness who also has an active role in the performance. As part of the improvised production the witnesses share their views with the protagonist. Protagonists examine their relationships by interacting with the other actors and the leader, known as the director. The director helps the group perform spontaneously in an unscripted play. May be it starts with somebody's emotional conflict, but everybody is ultimately benefited from the performance”, says Professor Propper.
On the quality of the director for such a performance Professor Propper informs, “The director must have many qualities, of a therapist, artistic designer, stage manager and most importantly a person of great creative imagination. In fact, she/he creates a lively performance exploring a problem and guides the whole performance to heal the mental instability of the participants.”
While psychodrama deals with the problems of individuals, Sociometry, another experimental form was also developed by Moreno, is a quantitative method for measuring social relationships, informs Professor Propper. “Moreno defined sociometry as the inquiry into the evolution and organisation of groups and the position of individuals within them. The aim of sociometry is that individuals would be more spontaneous, and organisations and groups structures would become fresh, clear and lively. In fact, sociometry is action research with groups exploring the socio-emotional networks of relationships using specified criteria. Applied sociometrists utilise a range of methods to assist people and groups review, expand and develop their existing psycho-social networks of relationships.”
Professor Propper informs that another experimental therapeutic theatre form 'playback theatre' is a more polished one than the above-mentioned methods. According to him a playback theatre is an original form of improvisational theatre in which audience or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them being enacted on the spot.
“In a playback event, someone in the audience narrates a moment or story from their life, and a group of professional actors enact the different roles, and present watch the enactment, as the story 'comes to life' with artistic shape and nuance. The re-creation of stories is often non-naturalistic; actors often use metaphor, narration, chorus, genre, movement and song.”
“The director of such performance is called as conductor. The conductor interviews one audience and a group of professional actors create an improvised performance on the spot with hints of overcoming the problem of the individual. Apparently the role of conductor seems to be relatively easy since all she or he does is be involved in conversing with the audience as a group or individually and generally does not act. However it is the most difficult role to make the performance interesting and successful.” he says.
What motivated you to work on this form of experimental theatre? “After completing my PhD on theatre I joined as a faculty at a university. And I'm fond of experimental productions. While working on experimental works I came across psychodrama production and found it so interesting that I focused only on psychodrama and sociemetry, continues Professor Propper replies, “Nowadays I'm a professional psychotherapist.”
Professor Herb Propper informs that he has been using such methods for 30 years in many countries of America, Asia and Europe and has achieved tremendous results. In Bangladesh this was his seventh visit. His visit to Bangladesh has always been interesting to him, especially working with young people, Propps says. Professor Propps hopes to stay here for a longer period to conduct workshops during the last quarter of this year.
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