AGPA 2014 & The Great God Pan: Musically representing the Drama Triangle

Developing a directorial vision for our presentation of The Great God Pan is a creative and collaborative process. The opportunities to dialogue with the actors, the consultant, musician and discussant are invaluable—variously in the study group or rehearsal hall, in private consultation and even in my fantasies and dreams.  Each collaborator brings a unique perspective, and it’s my job to metabolize their contributions such that a coherent directorial interpretation emerges. Solitude and reflection are key to my personal style and process. I strategically take time out to exercise on an elliptical exercise machine I keep in a spare bedroom at home.  (Imagine cross country skiing, without the snow or cold.)  The rhythms and quiet are well suited to my creative process of thinking and metabolizing.  And yes, I just got off the elliptical…
After meeting with the musician, Tom Teasley, this morning, I have a much clearer vision of how music and sound will fit into the presentation.  Three instruments will, together, form a ‘basic group’ of sound and music sources.  The instruments we selected include are a flute, a frame drum and a hang drum. A few other ‘environmental sounds’ will be created by additional instruments and we hope the actors might be involved in the performing of some of those effects.
Here are links to hear the instruments, as used by Tom in performance of poetry and storytelling. The first is a remarkable ‘Tale of Two Wolves’, featuring the frame drum and the flute:

Next is a beautiful rendition of a Traditional Apache Prayer, accompanied by Tom playing only the Native American flute:
And here is a rendition of ‘Haikus for the Seasons’, accompanied by Tom playing the hang drum.
These three distinctive sounds—the frame drum, hang drum and flute—are well suited to our play. The next step is for Tom to use his own creative process to explore their potential with the script in mind, and in rehearsal with the actors.  We will eventually make artistic choices together with the actors about what works where, based on our shared sensibilities.  It is an exciting process. Music and sound are indescribable contributions to the transcendent experience of the lived theatrical moment.
These three instruments are well matched to the concept of the ‘drama triangle’.  As a reminder, the drama triangle is a term coined to signify the victim/perpetrator/rescuer dynamics that routinely emerge in human interactions. From my perspective the flute is linked to victim position. The frame drum is linked to the perpetrator position. (Listen to the Tale of Two Wolvesto hear this duality.) The hang drum is linked to the rescuer position. The person bearing witness (therapists, audience, therapy group members) can also be thought of as a variation on the rescuer role. Representing the victim/perpetrator/rescuer dynamics of the play musically is our goal.  I think we have made a good start and I look forward to bringing the music into our rehearsal process.
Bob Schulte

AGPA & ‘The Great God Pan’: Timing, Triangles and Trauma

Today’s rehearsal marked the end of our ‘play reading study group’ format whereby we combined play reading with a free associative discussion of the actors’subjective experience of the characters.Imagine us in a group therapists’ upscale private office, sitting comfortably in a circle of fashionable furnishings and original art, coffee in hand, and no immediate pressure to perform for an audience bigger than ourselves—private, protected and intimate.This necessary luxury helped create an emotional climate where trust could develop.
Now we are moving into a more traditional theater rehearsal phase. The new venue is a large conference room with fluorescent lights, mismatched hardback chairs and officewindows looking out onto a barren rooftop.  But the actors will get to be up on their feet, using their whole bodies and voices to connect with the power of the play and with each other. It’s a shock to the system at first, but the freedom to ‘let it rip’ without worry about disturbing the neighbors will outweigh the loss of creature comforts we so enjoyed in our study group phase.

The triangle is a meaningful metaphor in psychology and group work, especially with trauma survivors. One noteworthy concept, useful for our examining the dramatic action and characters of The Great God Pan, is the drama triangle.The DT was made popular 40 years ago by noted psychiatrist Stephen Karman who specialized in Transactional Analysis. His drama triangle conceptualizes what he believed were universal victim/perpetrator/rescuer dynamics operating within and between human beings. Damsel-in-distress, villain & hero is a popular interpersonal translation of this concept. 

The TA therapist sees dysfunction as motives, relational styles, behaviors and belief systems that reflect conscious and unconscious efforts to avoid true, authentic living.  This tripartite model can be applied both to the individual (as an internalized capacity to fluidly shift from position to position, rather than being permanently fixed in one role) and to interpersonal relations, whereby individuals can induce certain complementary behaviors in another in the service of ‘getting their way’. While we have many different clinical lenses through which to observe, reflect and interpret, the drama triangle is a particularly interesting one.  Imagining the characters of Pan as struggling to take responsibility for their lives, in an authentic and courageous way, seems intuitively right to me.  This is the struggle I also see the actors taking up in good faith as they work to empathically access corresponding parts of themselves, in the service of understanding their character.

In her book, The Body Remembers, trauma specialist Babette Rothschild, MSW states “the consequences of trauma … vary greatly depending on the age of the victim, the nature of the trauma, the response to the trauma, and the support to the victim in the aftermath… [Victims] may alternate periods of over-activity with periods of exhaustion as their bodies suffer the effects of traumatic hyper-arousal of the ANS [autonomic nervous system].  Reminders of the trauma they suffered may appear suddenly, causing instant panic. They become fearful, not only of the trauma itself, but also of their own reactions to the trauma. The body’s signals that once provided essential information become dangerous” (p. 13, 14).  The mind may or may not be capable of conscious memory of trauma’s origins. But the body remembers.

In The Great God Pan, the character Frank Lawrence has tentatively confirmed some basic facts of his childhood sexual abuse, using a mixture of partial cognitive recall, awareness of his body’s distressed cues and a confession of uncertain reliability by his perpetrator.  Therapeutic interventions have also helped him in his process of recovery. But he is not the only character in Pan with trauma history. Joelle, Cathy and Jamie are likely candidates. And if we consider the impact of vicarious trauma, a consequence of the bearing witness of another person’s trauma (an occupational hazard for therapists and caregivers), then everyone in Pan is suffering to some degree from the effects of traumatic stress.  And we/you as the audience risk being traumatized in the act of bearing witness to the characters’ bearing witness of trauma. No one escapes. Playwright Amy Herzog’s general interest in memory as a dramatic theme is subtly woven into the fabric of her play, ranging from benign forgetfulness to more traumatic responses of dissociation and denial and to aging-related dementia.
Last night, prior to today’s rehearsal, I had a ‘bad dream’. In my dream I was back working in the domestic violence clinic where I started my social work career, while simultaneously maintaining my private practice. My boss in the clinic of my dream is a Catholic nun whom I fear.  In the dream I thought, “What am I doing here! I should quit and just work in my private practice. This is too stressful”. When I woke and recalled the dream I thought, “What am I doing directing this play! I should quit and just work in my private practice. This is too stressful!” After the rehearsal I felt differently.  The courageous and creative work of my colleagues and the opportunity to share in an experience of learning, healing and growth with them makes the effort worthwhile.
The creative process takes a toll. Writing about the week-to-week experience of our work together feels like worthwhile resilience building.

Bob Schulte

AGPA 2014 Update: Discovering the dramatic core of ‘Pan’

We have completed our three months of pre-rehearsal exploration of the play, The Great God Pan. The group now begins rehearsals to prepare their assigned roles for performance.
These past few months have given us an invaluable head start in developing a shared perspective on the play.  I, as the director, understand the play in surprising new ways and I personally have a deeper appreciation for the complexities of the person-as-actor-in-character situation that play reading creates. I also continue to be impressed by the depth of clinical insight, theatrical sensibility and personal courage the ensemble members bring to our project.
A unique aspect of play reading is the experience of the play ‘getting inside us’. As an ensemble, we start feeling, thinking and even behaving in ways that reflect the heart and soul of the play.  The Great God Pan has a potent victim-perpetrator-rescuer dynamic built in, reflective of its trauma-related circumstances.
I am determined to be vigilant in my efforts to track this dynamic, knowing it will eventually emerge from within our ensemble and potentially reeking havoc.  I got a glimpse of this process at the end of the first reading, when we turned our attention to the actor’s debriefing/discussion segment.  Some of the actors later reported feeling intruded upon—not quite violated—by our very direct inquiry of their experience.  I came to understand that the boundary crossing we might normally feel free to make in asking exploratory questions felt more like a boundary violation, signaling to me that the parallel process of victim-perpetrator-rescuer had begun to emerge. 
By openly discussing this with the actors, we all agree that a more free associative, non-directive approach to the debriefing segment would better respect the vulnerable nature of the actors’ task of getting in touch with, and revealing their subjective experience. Allowing the actors more control over the pace and degree to which they shared their experience of the play has been one of the early adjustments we’ve made in our work thus far, with good effect.

Good fortune seems to follow our project.  I received an email in December from Tom Teasley, a professional musician, composer and sound healer with an international following.  We had the good fortune to collaborate with Tom during our presentation of Off the Map at AGPA in 2008. Tom’s interpretive style of creating and using music for both theatrical and healing purposes is ready made for our projects. So when Tom reached out in hopes of collaborating again, it felt as if the gods themselves had intervened on our behalf.  Tom will join our rehearsals and accompany our play reading of The Great God Pan with an original musical interpretation in Boston.You can hear a sampling of Tom’s musical genius, by clicking here

Rob Williams did some web-based researching and found two interviews with the playwright, Amy Herzog, discussing her approach to writing The Great God Pan.  I found her keen interest in the nature of remembering clinically very relevant.  The neuroscientists understand the normative processes of encoding and retrieving memories of past experience, the disruptive impact of trauma on that process, and the vicissitudes of memory in the aging brain.  Herzog has translated those sensibilities with such skill and artistry into her characters of Pan. We’re fortunate to be working with a play—and playwright—that has such exquisite clinical attunement.
You can experience the interviews with Ms. Herzog at:
Part of the actor assignment is to narratively track their rehearsal experience that will eventually be posted as blog accounts for all to read, after our first performance date has come and gone (AGPA, March 8).  The actors’ unique vantage point will make very interesting reading. Look for their blog postings after March 8.
In the meantime, I will continue to post some of my directorial process.  This will both help me in gaining clarity as I move through the final decision making process for a number of artistic and process related decisions, and hopefully will be of interest to both the actors and prospective audience members!
One directorial decision that has arrived is the choice of an image for the program cover.  This is the image we have selected:

Food for thought…I’m looking forward with confidence to the formal rehearsal process that begins January 12.

Bob Schulte