What Rules Y/Our World?

The XVIII Congress of the International Association for Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes (IAGP) was held in Cartagena, Columbia from July 16-21, 2012.  The theme “Between Worlds and Cultures: Social Transformation” recognized the dynamic interplay of many cultures in the social transformations of the 21stcentury. Cartagena de Indias, one of the oldest cities in the Western Hemisphere, is also known as the Heroic City and the Pearl of the Caribbean. The city is a symbol of diversity and multi-cultural influence.

                                                                                                                                                 

The Red Well Theater Group was pleased to present a dramatic reading of God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. An audience discussion followed. The cast included John Dluhy, Mary Dluhy, Rosemary Segalla and Rob Williams. Bob Schulte directed the reading.

Our introduction to the workshop quoted from an article in the current issue of GROUP, titled Philosophy of Life: J.L. Moreno’s Revolutionary Philosophical Underpinnings of Psychodrama and Group Therapy by Peter Howie:

“Moreno believed that spontaneity and creativity are the propelling forces in human progress… that love and mutual sharing are powerful, indispensible working principles in group life.  It is imperative to have faith in our fellow man’s intentions, a faith that transcends mere obedience arising from physical and legalistic coercion… and that a super-dynamic community based upon these two principles can be brought to realization through mutual encounter and engagement.”
Moreno’s ideals are put to the test in God of Carnage, a dark comedy about two families struggling to balance self-interest with concern-for-the-other.  The play dramatizes a meeting between two couples that have come together to address an act of violence that has occurred between their eleven-year-old sons.  From a geopolitical perspective, the play might also be viewed as a parable about nations responding to an act of “armed” aggression with a diplomatic overture in hopes of a peaceful resolution.

Our workshop was presented just hours after the Aurora, Colorado shootings had occurred back in America.  Scores were also killed and wounded on the streets of Damascus, Syria that day. These shocking headlines gave painful immediacy to the intersubjective question, “What rules y/our world?”

The audience was appreciative of the actors’ passionate portrayals of the characters and the discussion was engaging and insightful.  The dramatic tension between retaliatory aggression and empathy as alternative pathways to conflict resolution emerged quickly as a central theme.  The difficulty of being understood and recognized when the atmosphere is one of mistrust and fear was thoughtfully explored as relevant to both our clinical work and broader efforts of reconciliation and community building around the world.
Upon returning home, we all took a moment to reflect on our experiences in Cartagena.
Something Old, Something New…
 “My trip to Cartagena started with me feeling anxious anticipation. Upon arrival, and beginning with a wild taxi ride to the hotel, this quickly turned into curiosity and pleasure. The old of Cartagena is magnificently represented by a walled city dating back to the sixteen hundreds.  The new is represented by an enormous development of high rises on the beach, much like Florida. I felt drawn into the past by the old city and pushed into the future by the rapidly evolving new city. I imagine the slaves building the great wall and I imagine the newly rich inhabiting the sparkling highrises. Meeting up with fellow group therapists, particularly colleagues from AGPA, was delightful. Being with Macario Giraldo in his native land was a special joy. The play was well received and I was rewarded with many compliments, especially about my capacity to accurately portray Annette’s vomiting. This was definitely a new acting challenge for me!
—Rosemary

The Actor Prepares…

 “The first and second time I read the part of Michael Novak, (at previous conferences this year) I felt dysphoric at the curtain.  In Cartagena I spent more leisure time with the cast in what I call informal rehearsal, with me staying “in character” throughout.  The week of touring, the heat and the humidity, combined with meeting old friends—and at least one old enemy—all led the way to a deeper and more complex performance experience …I see this immersion experience as a new way of preparing for future performances.  I was glad to have spent the week in this foreign land in such an intimate way with my other cast members.  It was a singular adventure.”
—John  
  
Too Much Reality

 “In the week leading up to the performance, I was enjoying the life that my character, Alan, a high powered international attorney might have led. I spent the week on vacation at an exotic Caribbean location, learning to scuba dive.  I was rested, relaxed, and ready to go. However, my own God of Carnage intervened with a severe case of traveler’s diarrhea or perhaps food poisoning. While Rosemary was acting like she was vomiting, I was doing the real thing in my hotel room….a little too much reality. I am happy to have fully recovered, but have a real sense of loss in missing the workshop and not being there with my fellow actors. I look forward to the next workshop, when I can step into the role of Alan and bring him alive again.”

—Rob

Hamsters Unite…

“When Rob got sick and I had to fill in at the last minute as lawyer Alan, I was filled with a curious mix of dread and excitement.  My experience helped me better understand a subplot of the play, one that concerns a pet hamster that is let out of its cage, abandoned curbside to fend for him self. Not quite sure if the hamster will be able navigate this unexpected, newfound freedom, the characters speculate wildly on the fate of the never-likely-to-be-heard-from-again hamster.  I could identify! Let out of my directors’ cage, I quickly joined with the other hamsters (actors, are after all, hams at heart!) and soon I felt the comfort and protection of our natural habitat, the stage. We ham-sters lived the truism, ‘the show must go on’, and I feel the wiser for it… I was relieved when Rob recovered quickly and I will be glad to see him back on the stage for the next performance of God of Carnage.”
—Bob

Poetry in Emotion…

The heat and beauty of Cartagena …
Heat in our performance
Heat in the global issues
Heat on the beach and on the pavement
Beauty in the vibrant colors
Beauty in the people
Beauty in the music
And beauty and heat in the walled old city
Loved being in and with the heat and beauty of our group
—Mary 
Our next performance of God of Carnage will be Thursday morning, October 18, 2012 at the 35th Annual International Conference on the Psychology of the Self in Washington, D.C.  The conference theme, ‘Is Self an Illusion’ will be an interesting new vantage point from which to consider the characters and action of the play.  We hope you’ll consider joining us there.  To learn more about the conference, go to www.iapsp.org.
Rob, John, Mary, Rosemary and Bob


Our Roman Holiday

RWTG presented a dramatic reading of Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, by Frank McGuinness, in Rome, Italy on August 27, 2009 at the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes (IAGP) Conference. The production featured John Dluhy, Barry Wepman and Rob Williams as three Westerners held political hostage in Lebanon, circa 1985. John, Barry and Rob each gave nuanced and emotionally resonant performances. They collectively brought the ‘as if’ of the play powerfully and convincingly to life for everyone.

An audience discussion with the actors and director followed the presentation and was skillfully facilitated by Molly Donovan, Maryetta Andrews-Sachs and Mary Dluhy. Bob Schulte directed the reading.

In the performance program, dramaturge Molly Donovan commented, “The action of the drama takes place in a cell…where three Westerners are held captors. Halfway through our second rehearsal it struck the cast members they could be playing Muslims in Guantanamo, with Westerners holding the guns… The power of this play lies in its ability to engage nationality and politics and yet move beyond that engagement to become a reflection on relationship as an essential element of our humanity”—and by implication, of our survival.

The emergence of centuries-old nationalistic and political sentiments within the dynamics of the men’s efforts to relate served as a powerful reminder that no one is immune from the disruptive effect on relatedness of reactivated traumas, whether familial, cultural, or situational in origin.

Performing for an international audience of group therapists was a unique opportunity to explore these themes in depth. The audience discussion segment that followed the reading was rich with sophisticated and authentic reactions from an audience that hailed from all corners of the globe. We felt grateful and honored for the opportunity to share with them our collective and individual experiences of the play. The audience members’ courage to identify with both the hostages and the hostage takers created a safe space to consider the complex individual, group, national and global implications of the play’s themes. Good guy/bad pitfalls were thoughtfully navigated.

A future blog posting later this month will include reflections from the Red Well actors and discussion facilitators about their experiences of both the presentation and discussion. We’ll include more pictures of our time in Rome as well.

The genesis of the idea to present Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me has an interesting back-story of its own. Back in August 2008 I was traveling in Ireland to the 14th European Symposium of Group Analysis and had a transformative experience on the streets of Dublin. Curiously, this occured on the same day that Molly Donovan emailed me a script recommendation that we consider Someone Who’ll Watch Over me as our next production. I was so moved by the synchrony of the two events that it seemed the script choice was made by some larger unseen force. I wrote an article about my experience in Dublin for the Eastern Group Psychotherapy Society Newsletter. It is reprinted below with permission.

Bob Schulte

Theater and Group Therapy—Kindred Spirits

I was born into theater. Being one of seven children, the most mundane of events were inevitably a ‘production’, perpetually informed by sibling group dynamics. My first professional career was as a stage director and my second is as a group therapist. Surprise. Surprise. It turns out I needed the schooling of both disciplines on a side street in Dublin, Ireland this past August while attending the 14th European Symposium of Group Analysis at Trinity College. Paul Woodruff, author of The Necessity of Theater, would call my encounter an example of theater in the extreme—a public event such as a wedding, soccer game or lynching—with everyday citizens playing dual roles of audience and actors.

The back-story: I’m traveling alone and arrive two days early. The effects of jetlag lurk but I am determined to stay awake according to the Irish Summer Time. I find a health club and manage a modest workout. It’s 5 p.m.

The scene: As I come down the stairs from the locker room I can see out a side window two young men sitting on the curb, one in the lap of the other. Think two on a motorcycle seat. It’s an ambiguous picture—a not-quite-primal scene. I see no vigorous struggle and folks are going about their business. I come out onto the street where I find myself directly in front of the two men.

The main characters: A young Irish street ruffian, shaved head, broken teeth, white tee shirt, torn jeans. A young English chap, long blond curly hair, thin, casual dress, with all his teeth.

The action: The Irish lad has the English chap in a bear hug, trying to wrest away the English chap’s bag and a pack of cigarettes. I stand five paces away. Transfixed. People stop. Hesitate. Stutter step away. A young man, a local, finally approaches the two, playfully slaps the Irish lad’s face a couple of times, urging him to give it up but with no success. A street kid compatriot of the Irishman is nearby and tries to verbally lure his friend away to no avail.

After what seems an eternity a young black man comes out of the club. Stops. Observes. I meet his gaze—clear, cool, beautiful eyes. His arrival has a transformative impact on me. I realize I am no longer alone. I suggest, “two of us together could do something to help this situation. Why don’t we go over and see what we can manage”. He nods.

We approach the hapless duo. I speak to the Irishman firmly but not threateningly. “You’ve had your fun. It’s time to stop now. This has gone on long enough.” No response. His friend hollers, “Come on, let’s get out of here”. No effect. I speak to his friend. “I appreciate your effort to get your friend to move along. I think you should keep trying.” I keep talking. “I don’t know what has gone on here, but it’s time to stop. There are three of us now. And we’re not leaving until this is over.” “There are three of us now” is a bit of a gamble but it gets his attention. The lad let’s go his prey and they stand up. No one moves. All four of us are within arm’s reach of one another. Think small elevator. “You’re from the United States, aren’t you”, leaning towards me threateningly. ‘Did I overplay my hand?’ I feel my legs shaking. “Well, I admit I’m not from here, but I’m actually half Irish.” I repeat, “There are three of us now, and that changes things. I’m sure you’re stronger than any of us. But there are three of us now. It’s different.” I neither pander nor threaten. I offer a simple truth. The English chap and black man remain silent. The Irish lad leaves with predictable face-saving trash talk in his wake.

The denouement: Extending his hand our newly liberated chap erupts with “Thank you! Thank you so much!” When he shakes my hand I feel a surge that electrifies me, almost literally. It is a sweet moment of raw gratitude between two men. I ask him what had happened. “The guy asked for a cigarette and I offered him one, and then he tried to take the whole pack. I wouldn’t give it to him”. I realize in that simple statement that he was not defending his belongings so much as his dignity. Dignity stolen is a bigger crime. He had not been afraid to fight his own battle but our joining him left an inedible mark. Our brief drama ended, we three go our separate ways. I discreetly stand guard at the corner until I see both young men departing in the other direction. The rush of adrenaline receding I feel suddenly bereft. I cross the street to find my way back to Trinity College. Trinity. “There’s three of us now”. I smile. It’s 5:11 p.m.

Epilogue: I witnessed an eerily parallel scene at the Symposium’s Large Group later that week. A participant’s efforts to ‘save’ a seat prior to the start of the session was challenged by another, in full view of the group. No one initially said anything but when anger erupted into confrontation the group turned its attention to the issue and worked with skill and compassion. My encounters on the streets of Dublin and in the Large Group reinforce my belief that theater and group therapy have the most essential elements in common—enactments, bearing witness and reflective thought in the service of moving from isolation to community.