The Great God Pan & the 3rd Bruce Wine Memorial Conference

The Red Well Theater Group presented The Great God Pan at the 3rd Bruce Wine Memorial Conference, sponsored by the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy + Psychoanalysis (ICPP) on December 6, 2014 at the Georgetown Day School in NW Washington.
Our gratitude and thanks to our colleagues at ICPP, Roger Segalla, Maxine Arnsdorf, Joyce Lowenstein, Jen Sermoneta and Eleanor Howe of ICP+P for their invitation and support throughout the planning process. Thanks also to Vinita Ahuja, William Ley, and Dana Southerland at Georgetown Day School and Terrell Washington and Randy Martin of Access Audio and Video.
The January 2015 ICPP Newsletter included this summary of our program (reprinted with permission), authored by Maxine Arnsdorf and Jen Sermoneta.

Reflecting on our recent Bruce Wine Memorial Conference, a non-clinician attendee recalled feeling “dread” as she drove to the event. “I was prepared to find a quiet corner and disappear as silently as I had arrived. Entering a packed theater of accomplished psychiatrists and psychotherapists, I was greeted by a caring and comfortable environment and was able to focus on my reason for attending – further understanding of the lifelong effects of early childhood ‘asteroid strikes.'”
The program included Red Well Theater Group’s dramatic reading of Amy Herzog’s  The Great God Pan, dyadic and large group work, and comments by Christine Courtois, PhD. The play portrays a young man facing one of those “asteroid strikes” in the form of a revelation that he may have been sexually molested in youth, and opens windows into some of the possible repercussions the abuse and secrecy/implicit knowing had on his family and relationships. The play and discussions together explored complex issues of trauma and memory processes, the impact of childhood sexual abuse on adult intimate relationships, the destabilizing effects of family secrets, and the complex impact of truth-seeking.
Robert Schulte, MSW, Founding Director of Red Well Theater Group (RWTG), expertly guided the performance.  The group’s actors are also therapists who are united by a love of theater and a commitment to group psychotherapy training. The cast of The Great God Pan included Kavita Avula, PhD, Connor Dale, LPC, John Dluhy, MD, Mary Dluhy, MSW, Liz Marsh, MSW, Yavar Moghimi, MD, Rosemary Segalla, PhD and Rob Williams, MSW.  Music by Tom Teasley added yet another, non-verbal, dimension.
Immediately after the play reading, audience members had the opportunity to spend 15 minutes discussing their reactions with a neighbor. Then, after a brief break, Christine Courtois, PhD offered insightful commentary about the difficulties of working with individuals who have had traumatic experiences like the one depicted in the play. The conference concluded with a large group discussion facilitated by Joyce Lowenstein, PhD. An attendee remarked, “the opportunity for two-person and whole group discussion helped to bring further understanding of how traumatic experience relates to memory and relationships. It also showed the immense responsibility of the therapist in finding the delicate balance between jogging memory and suggesting ideas beyond what might have been real.”
Perhaps there is some comfort, and there is certainly good practice, in sharing awareness of the serious and delicate considerations involved in trauma work. It is never easy. One clinician commented on feeling that the afternoon was a “clarion call for us to continue our work with renewed empathy and energy… The program design so amplified the effects, I am still filled with singing echoes.”
This year’s conference was characterized by many of the values Bruce Wine embodied and modeled: intellectual curiosity and honesty, collaboration and co-creation of relationships, striving to perform our craft with excellence, and maintaining a warm ambiance for learning.  Joyce Lowenstein introduced the day and MaryAnn Dubner, PhD offered a touching personal tribute to Bruce, recalling her friendship and professional collaboration with him.
Bob Schulte summed the experience up nicely, “Our work at RWTG is premised on group principles, and our joint collaboration with you to present the 3rd Bruce Wine Memorial Conference honors those principles… Bruce would have been delighted.”


Bob Schulte (Director)

bobUpon returning from our Open Session presentation at the 2014 American Group Psychotherapy Association Annual Meeting, the actors were scheduled to begin reflective writing about the process of preparing their roles for The Great God Pan. Looking back, I remember when I originally introduced the task to the actors they were decidedly cool to the idea. I initially accepted that reaction as normative for actor types who prefer the spoken, rather than the written, word. But their collective ambivalence continued, with no postings submitted for the blog by the agreed upon timeline. Hmm…

In the spring issue of the AGPA Group Circle Newsletter I wrote an article about our creative process, stating that a “unique feature of the rehearsal process is the inevitability that the drama will get under our skin—and inside our hearts and minds and even our souls. We unconsciously start feeling, thinking and relating to each other in ways that resemble the characters and their torment.”

…View the rest of this post

AGPA 2014 and The Great God Pan: Conducting Rehearsals from a Group Therapeutic Perspective

Rehearsal Challenges
Similar to most therapy group schedules, we rehearse just one time each week. This past Sunday’s rehearsal posed a number of challenges.  Three actors were absent—illness, out of the area, and meeting an editor’s deadline, respectively.  The musician was joining us to begin the process of cueing the music segments.  Most notably, we were in an alternative rehearsal space for the first time.  Our regular rehearsal space was unavailable.
Group therapists are skilled at managing disruptions to emotionally complex group processes. Specifically we know how to work empathically to understand their meaning and recognize their impact on the group’s members and their collaborative work.Preparing a play for presentation poses the extra theatrical challenge of understanding how the disruption may also be linked to the dramatic action of the play.
Location Change
Group therapists know that a location change has impact.  If a group member so much as chooses to sit in a chair different from the one typically chosen, the domino effect on everyone else can cause quite a stir.  Themes such as competition, sibling rivalry, privilege, past losses, accountability, entitlement, seeking new perspectives, aversion to change, thrill seeking and sexual attraction may emerge in the process of exploring the group members’ experience of such a ‘small’ occurrence.  The impact of moving to a whole new group room could take months to fully comprehend! Ideally, the process of reflective thought and introspection has the potential of leading to a deeper understanding of relational and small group dynamics.
So I took seriously the possibility of negative consequences resulting from my decision to conduct the second-to-last rehearsal in a new and foreign space.In an effort to ameliorate the impact of the disruption, I gave weeks of notice to the one-time location change, offered reminders along the way, provided directions and my cellphone number for late-arrival access, had the room set up in advance, brought bottled water, and stood guard at the door on the lookout for arriving actors.  But still… every move was nonetheless unfamiliar—and uncomfortable. “Where is the bathroom?  The room is too small.  Oh, shit, I forgot to bring coffee. What, no coffee cake? There are three entrances to the building!Which one will people use? Did we just get locked out?  I don’t have a key, do you?  Where are the others? Where do I sit?” 
Group members understandably felt some increased level of anxiety and thus an increased dependence on the leadership to create safety and familiarity.  We were ‘forced to make’ countless micro-recalculations, consciously and unconsciously, all of which took precious brain and heart power that we did not really have to spare, on a snowy, cold Sunday morning.
Name the Beast/Stay Positive
 Once all the actors were finally in place, I offered, “Last week we had a very organized, planned, scene-by-scene rehearsal—with coffee and cake provided.  I am making an effort to repeat that approach again this week, but I can already tell we’re going to have to improvise our way through much of this morning, as best as we can manage. Without coffee.” Name the beast. Stay positive.I hoped that would be enough. But I wished I had brought coffee!!
Three Group Dynamic Adjustments
Firstly, I found myself involving the actors more actively in giving feedback to the musician about what worked best from their perspective, which I supported whenever possible.  I also found myself soliciting the actors’ guidance in how to proceed with the scene study. “I have some new thoughts about this scene since our rehearsal last week, I’m sure you do too.  Would you like to share first, or would you like to hear from me first?” “Are you ready to try the scene again?” While these are not untypical statements for a director to make, in retrospect, I think I felt a stronger need than usual to keep the actors involved and focused on the immediacy of the task.  The task was a dependable source of familiarity and comfort.  I similarly gave the musician ‘center stage’, sitting next to him, extending as much encouragement and space as I could to allow him to take the lead in cueing the music. He is a gifted professional, but human like the rest of us.  His skill and familiarity with the collaborative process of working with actors helped put us all at ease.
The second noteworthy dynamic emerged in the debriefing segment. The demands of the rehearsal left us with only 15 minutes to check in with each other about the mornings’ work.Barely minutes into the debriefing, I found myself reactively protesting a facilitator comment that I felt went beyond the boundary of his role and function, and, I felt, ran the risk of shutting down the lead actor emotionally.  On another day I may have let the comment pass, (and have), but today the myriad of other disruptions activated me to take a more protective stance. My gut reaction to openly challenge the facilitator in front of the actors was risky business, but saying nothing felt ever more fraught. The experience left me unsettled for the rest of the day, and it was not until the next morning, after a night of frenzied dreaming, that I realized the parallel to the “dangers” dramatized in the play, The Great God Pan. I felt some relief, and frankly a bit of vindication, by making the connection between our experience and the play.
Parallel Processes
In one of the scenes we rehearsed on Sunday, Doug, the father of adult son Jamie, confesses a family secret to his son.  When Jamie was 4, his parents (Doug and Cathy) had sent him to stay for two weeks in the home of Dennis Lawrence, an acquaintance who was the father of a 4 year-old playmate of Jamie’s.  As the play opens, grown-up Jamie learns from his childhood playmate, (now grown up Frank), that Mr. Lawrence is, and has been since their childhood, an alleged child molester.  Frank was a victim. Jamie may have been a victim too. 
The parallel of sending the actor playing Jamie (and the rest of us!) to an unfamiliar ‘home’ to rehearse put me squarely in the symbolic position of Doug. I had made the decision to send us to this strange place, and it was a risky one.When the facilitator ‘took liberties’ by making comments that I felt were ‘out of bounds’, I reacted by protesting. As I reported in an earlier blog posting, the play inevitably ‘gets inside us’, and begins to emerge as we react to the contingencies of rehearsal.  This was one such occasion when the trauma of the play and the contingencies of the rehearsal converged.
Group Therapeutic Goals
Making these kinds of connections between the play and our small group dynamics is a central part of our work together as an ensemble, uncomfortable as it might be at times.  One of our primary learning goals is to understand the dynamics of the play through the emergent “parallel processes”arising out of the dynamics of the acting ensemble.  Today we furthered both the theatrical goal of preparing a quality performance and the educational goal of recognizing the links between the play and our work.  It was a good day.
Unfinished Business
The third noteworthy dynamic has yet to be recognized and fully explored.  I will meet with the consultant/process observer (John Dluhy) Friday, when we will have a first chance to compare notes about the rehearsal in our weekly consultation. Bearing witness to these kinds of group processes is very demanding work, emotionally and intellectually.  Without an acting part or directorial responsibilities to discharge some of his own activated emotional response to the rehearsal experience, the consultant is left ‘sitting with the experience’, and at some emotional risk.  Our weekly consultations provide each of us with a chance to ventilate, expand our clinical and theatrical perspective and offer support and guidance.  John’s vast experience and gifts as both a group therapist and an actor makes him uniquely suited for this demanding assignment.  I am grateful for his perseverance and commitment to our project.
Upon further reflection, one other interesting—even disturbing—feature of Sunday’s rehearsal now stands out in my mind.  One of the actors brought his camera, fitted with a telescopic lens, to take pictures of the rehearsal, some of which are included in this blog posting.  The request to take pictures was made a few weeks ago and seemed ‘innocent enough’ at the time. But in the small, windowless, unfamiliar rehearsal room that we don’t usually ‘reside in’, and having some guy silently, but intently taking pictures ‘from the shadows’, felt a little creepy.  But it didn’t quite register at the conscious level at the time, so I didn’t think to say anything.  Looking back, I feel differently. When I associate to the camera’s intimate relationship with child pornography, I get chills. My empathy deepens for the parental characters Doug, Cathy and nanny Polly. The awesome responsibility of real life parents for noticing what dangers lurk around their children, often visible before their very eyes, is humbling to consider.
A Telephone Rehearsal
The next day, Monday, I conducted a telephone rehearsal with the actors playing Jamie (YavarMoghimi) and his mother Cathy (Barbara Keezell).  The scene they share is actually played ‘on the phone’, so the cellphone conference call format was eerily “in vivo”.  Still sensitive from the day before, we spent most of the time facilitating a shared discussion about the scene.  Their one reading of the actual scene brought us all to tears.  Poignantly, we each had to ‘admit’ this to one another, as the opaqueness of the telephone allowed us the option of keeping this emotional fact to ourselves, if we chose.
So much transpires in so many different and interesting ways through this experience of preparing a play for performance.  My respect, admiration and gratitude for the talent and sensitivity of the playwright, Amy Herzog, the actors and our consultant grow week to week.
Next week we have our final dress rehearsal before heading off to Boston.

On Monday afternoon I conducted an individual therapy session with a successful lawyer and businessman with whom I’ve been working for a few months.  Late in the session, he paused, and then abruptly revealed that on a shopping trip to a local mall with his ten-year-old son over the weekend, they had both witnessed a mother kick her small child in anger. Hard. She was with her husband and two other children.  “Did you see that Dad?” asked the son. “Just keep walking”, the father protectively replied, upset by what he saw, but not wanting to get involved.  When the two got home, the son told his older sister and mother what happened, clearly upset.  The father overheard their conversation, but said nothing.  In our ‘unpacking’ of the experience, the father told me, “I didn’t want to confront the woman. And I looked at her husband. That could escalate into a mess.  But frankly I really wanted to do something.  The woman assaulted her child, and nobody did anything”. 
We explored other options, most notably calling security or the police, and remaining available as a witness.  I was surprised that this option was both a relief and “a novel idea” to the father.  Upon reflection I understand that his fight-flight response had overtaken him, leaving only a risky confrontation with a stranger or a “just keeping walking” escape. When I suggested he could also revisit the situation with his son, he was again relieved and surprised. It hadn’t occurred to him.  I told him he could share with his son what they might have done differently. He could invite his son to talk about his thoughts and feelings about the incident, and then just listen.  “Maybe I should wait until he brings it up”, suggested his father.  “That’s a very thoughtful idea, and often a good strategy”, I replied. “But in this case you already know from his conversation with his sister that the incident is on his mind. Your “keep on walking” might have sent him a message you don’t want to talk about it. You did feel a need to talk about it today. He might too”.  “Good point”, he acknowledged.

Life imitating art…  Art imitating life…
Bob Schulte

AGPA 2014 & The Great God Pan: The Art of Pairing

Wilfred Bion

Bion  &  Basic Assumptions
The group concept of ‘pairing’comes from Wilfred Bion, a British psychoanalyst who studied how groups develop and why members act as they do, especially in the service of dual goals: task accomplishment and psychic survival. Bion became interested in understanding the impact of small and large group processes from his psychiatric work with wounded soldiers during and after WWII.  He observed survival-inspired strategies (basic assumptions of dependency, fight/flight and pairing) employedby group members to feel safe and protectedwhen faced with the rough-and-tumble demands of task completion within group life. Pairing with another person in an exclusive (Bion thought, ‘sexual’) bond is one such strategy. He imagined the group was colluding with the couple to do the group’s work by (pro)creating a magical solution. The concept is particularly relevant to our thinking about the underlying psychological processes of The Great God Pan.  The play has many pairings, recognizable as couples, pals and parent/child and therapist/patient dyads. All feature intimate relating, but with varying degrees of attunement, attachment, stress and distress—and purpose. While we never actually see the ‘group’ all together on stage, the characters can be thought of as a distressed/regressed basic assumption group. The ensemble of actors playing the characters is more recognizable as a work group. Bion would say all groups have qualities of both a work group and basic assumption group. The group goal is to be enough of both to survive and thrive.
Character Pairs
In the ten scenes of the play there are only a few moments where three characters are on stage together. I interpret this strategy as an effort to avoid group-wide knowledge and painful exposure. This exclusive reliance on pairing is a compelling feature of the dramatic structure of The Great God Pan. Whether intuitive or intentional, the playwright sends a powerful message about survival with her use of dyadic structure.
Jamie and Paige, as an intimate couple, are faced with the prospect of becoming a family group.  Paige is pregnant, and this is experienced as a threat to the couple’s exclusiveness.It might be said that Jamie’s inability to pair with the fetus threatens its very existence.
Jamie and Frank were exclusive playmates as children, and may have been harmed by an exploitative parent.  The arrival of Frank, with explosive news, threatens Jamie’s internal sense of wellbeing, and by extension his relationship with Paige, and potentially his wider circle of familial relationships.
Frank and Dennis (offstage character) are paired as son and father.  Their traumatic attachment bond leaves Frank in the “impossible” position of being harmed by the very person to whom he would otherwise turn to for protection.
Jamie and Cathy are paired as son and mother.  His efforts to please his mother and her desire for him to “just be happy” are often in conflict. Jamie’s reaching out for an empathic and informational response from her, in light of his visit with Frank, is frustrated by her dissociative inability to recall something that happened “so long ago”.
Jamie and Doug ‘act the parts’ of father and son, awkwardly.  Their pairing seems to producemore longing than comfort for either of them.The play offers them a redemptive opportunity to risk more authentically ‘living their parts’.
Dennis Lawrence and his wife (both offstage characters) are paired as a highly distressed marital couple. Her inability or unwillingness to respond with outrage or instrumental action to the harm being done to her son is “complicated”, as acknowledged by Frank.
Paige and Joelle are a therapeutic dyad.  The wounded healer and the healing wounded, mirror each other in comforting and confounding ways.  I imagine this will be painfully familiar to therapist audience members who work with trauma victims.
Jamie and Polly were paired as youngster and nanny. The remembering of Polly “as the best babysitter” captures the protective power of what we call in dynamic therapy, an idealized positive transference. The desire to recreate that kind of protective bond in future relationships throughout life is ubiquitous.
A Question of ‘What If?’
This structural choiceof theatrically dramatizing twosomes generates for me the clinical question: What would it be like for Jamie, or any of the characters, to be in group therapy?  To be faced with the emotional risks of telling their story in the presence of others could feel quite threatening.  Destabilizing. Painful. Redemptive.  Liberating. Relieving. Devastating. The emotional possibilities are complex and many.
Our ensemble of therapist/actors have an opportunity to explore this ‘what if’ clinical question through theirown experience of preparing to dramatically read The Great God Pan for an audience.  Their depth exploration of the characters of the play is intimately linked to their own corresponding, very particular, internal emotional terrain, making the theatrical work ultimately, therapeutic as well. This experience occurs first through the ensemble experience of preparation, second, through their performance for an audience and third, through post-performance process group discussions and written reflections.
Actor and Director Collaboration
Today was our first effort at focusing exclusively on scene study and character development. We established a sequence of scenes to work on and a basic working contract between the actors and the director.  This would be primarily a theatrical rehearsal, with group process explorations deferred until the very end of the rehearsal. Instead we began the process of collaboratively integrating the director’s interpretation of the dramatic action of the scenes with the actor’s interpretation of the characters motives, relationships and modes of expression.
My intent in establishing a clear demarcation between the director’s responsibility for interpreting the play, and the actor’s responsibility for interpreting the character was for many reasons.  But foremost, I want to empower the actors to be the final arbiter of their artistic choices.  My goal is to help clarify the action of the scene—what we call the “here-and-now” in group therapy—and allow the actors to consider how their character would ‘act’ under the circumstances.  We are consultants and collaborators to and with each other: they assist me in better understanding the action from their character’s perspective, and I assist them, in better understanding their character from an action perspective.
Looking Within
In the processing segment following the theater rehearsal, the emotional nature of some of our own pairings operating within the ensemble and leadership team emerged.  Various pairs, (notably the director and consultant,and two actors who work together in a clinic setting), identified interpersonal conflicts related to the convergence of their designated roles and tasks, the emotional impact of the play, their collegial relationships as ensemble members, and their professional roles beyond our theater enterprise.  Whew!
As an ensemble, the actors are able to do theirexploratory work of revealing to each other theirsubjective experiences—of the play and of each other—in a ‘safe-enough’ group context.  Everyone is privy to hear what isgoing on between pairs (and subgroups and the group-as-a-whole), to bear witness, and to offer reactions, commentaryand support. This takes dedicated time, effort, courage, talent, tenacity, clinical skill, empathy, compassion, timing and more than a sprinkle of love and luck.

It is only because the conflict of the drama infects the ensemble and the leadership team—slowly, insidiously, inevitably—that we can experientially learn about group therapy through the parallel process of play reading.  Our way of working is thus part theatrical, part therapeutic, part educational, and part relational.  These multi-dimensions of a play reading process allow us to learn about dynamic group processes thatare relevant to our work as group therapists.
Bob Schulte

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

AGPA 2014 & The Great God Pan

The Process Begins…

Preparing an ensemble of group therapist/actors to present a stage play for an audience of group therapist colleagues, in the service of their mutual professional development, is a complex process. The interplay of artistic sensibilities, small group dynamics, personal meanings, learning goals and performance anxieties requires a highly collaborative approach.

Following a summer of readings and discussions between the actors and myself, and weekly meetings the project’s consultant, I devised a process-centered approach to our preparation and eventual performance.  I share the basic elements of our plan in the service of transparency, collaboration, reflection and refinement. 
Script Selection

Last year at AGPA we presented Becky Shaw by Gina Gionfriddo. This Pulitzer Prize-nominated comedy explores the self-protective strategies of keeping secrets to save face, telling lies to protect others, and justifying fraud for personal gain —think ‘paranoid/schizoid position’.  The audience discussion, however, let us know that while the performances were felt to be compelling, and the play fascinating and funny, too many questions remained.

The playwright’s sometimes-facile approach to early traumatic loss (foremost the unexplained death of Max’s mother and the unrevealed true nature of the relationship between Max’s and Suzanna’s parents) and a too-tidy resolution of unconscious enactments (foremost the sexual encounter between Max and Suzanna) did not satisfy the sophisticated audience of psychotherapists. Their ‘something is still not right here’ reactions matched my own directorial sense that something more sinister and trauma-based was actually driving the action of the play. My impression at the end of the play was a sense of mystery that fell somewhere between ‘Chekhovian fog’ and comedic expediency.

Enter The Great God Pan

With karmic-like timing, I first encountered The Great God Pan, by Amy Herzog, during the later stages of rehearsal for Becky Shaw. Colleague Joyce Lowenstein asked us to consider the play for a future presentation at a Division 39 Conference.  Ironically, The Great God Pan begins with a traumatic secret courageously revealed in the service of psychic healing.
“Jamie’s life in Brooklyn seems just fine—a beautiful girlfriend, a budding journalism career, and parents who live just far enough away. But when the possibility that he might be the victim of a childhood trauma, chaos ensues” (Dramatist Play Service).
Unsettling and deeply compassionate, The Great God Pan explores the impact of childhood sexual abuse on intimate relationships, the destabilizing effect of secrets on a couples’ capacity for intimacy, the enduring influence of the internalized parental couple on attachment relationships and the power of group process to activate healing. 
In stark contrast to Becky Shaw, Herzog’s Pan relentlessly pursues truth telling, employing empathy and authentic confrontation to approach memories of traumatic loss and to facilitate reconciliation—think ‘depressive position’.  We take up the task of presenting The Great God Pan in hopes of a corrective emotional experience to our complicated and unresolved experience with Becky Shaw.  The two plays are so powerfully linked in my mind that I am approaching The Great God Pan as a spin-off from, or sequel to, Becky Shaw.

The reading will be followed by a formal discussant response, an audience discussion and an actor debriefing segment to allow attendees an opportunity to explore their experience of the play and discuss clinical issues relevant to their practice of group therapy.

Cast & Leadership Team
Typically we open up the process of casting to all Red Well Theater Group members.  But the spin-off concept created the option of using the same ensemble from the 2013 Open Session.  This would allow those of us who participated in Becky Shaw to share in the ‘corrective emotional experience’. I was also reminded of the AGPA Institute’s popular variation of offering a multi-year PGE experience.  These associations boosted my confidence that we would benefit from a two-year journey.
These panelist/actors from last year are included in the 2014 cast: Kavita Avula, Liz Marsh, Yavar Moghimi, Rosemary Segalla and Rob Williams. Last year’s understudy Barbara Keezell and first time guest artist, Connor Dale complete the cast. Eleanor Counselman from Boston will be the discussant and facilitator of the audience discussion.  John Dluhy, who was the co-director for Becky Shaw is now in a consultant role to the director and rehearsal debriefing facilitator. I will again work as the producer/director.
Presentation Style
The format is simple.  The play will be read by group therapist/actors who are assigned a character and given a script, a music stand and a chair.  The actors will be arranged so they can visually interact with one another from their stationary position, giving the visual appearance for the audience of a cross between a radio play and a traditional theater rehearsal.  We stage our readings ‘in-the-round’. A musician will provide incidental music between the play’s ten scenes to amplify the feelings that flow throughout.  The hang drum, with its ethereal tonal quality, feels just right.
Since we don’t have costumes, sets or props, we research visual images that can be used during the rehearsal process to inspire our theatrical sensibilities. As the rehearsal process unfolds, one of the images will be selected to grace the cover of the printed program.
Rehearsal Approach
For the first time we are using a formalized, two-step approach to preparing the actors to present the play. 
This fall we are conducting three, once-a-month readings, whereby the actors will have the opportunity to read a variety of roles from the play. This psychodrama-inspired approach gives the actor an opportunity to develop a deeper play-as-a-whole understanding, to bear witness to other actors interpreting a variety of characters, and to develop deeper empathy for the actor/character relationship.  Each of these pre-rehearsal readings will include an hour-long process session following the play reading.
In January and Februrary we shift to a more traditional theater approach with weekly scene and character study, whereby the actors will rehearse as their assigned character. We will continue to debrief the rehearsal experience each week, as part of the ongoing process of discovery. The last scheduled meeting before traveling to Boston for the AGPA 2014 Annual Meeting is a dress rehearsal with an audience of friends and colleagues.
Clinical Relevance    
Our educational goal of relating the play reading process to our understanding of group therapy processes is enhanced by studying journal articles that elaborate the clinically relevant material found in the play.  We have posted two journal articles on a confidential blog site for the actors to reference throughout the rehearsal period:
The Impact of Child Sexual Abuse on Adult Interpersonal Functioning: A Review and Synthesis of the Empirical Literature (Davis, Petretic-Jackson, 2000)
Beyond Doer and Done to: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness (Benjamin, 2004)
The RWTG Blog
The actors participating in Becky Shaw last year posted blog entries that revealed an impressive depth of understanding about their characters, the play-as-a-whole and the dynamic process of preparation and performance. 
The actors will again post descriptions of their subjective experience. The actor’s first installment will be in early January 2014, reflecting on their experience of reading the play multiple times together, each time in the role of a different character.  The second installment will be after April 1, 2014, with reflections on their depth experience of preparing their assigned character role for performance. 

The actor’s blog postings will serve as a foundation for a journal article that we plan to write as a team.  Rob Williams and Liz Marsh, as the writing team coordinators, will help us navigate that process.
Join Us
I hope you will follow along as we move through this process of discovery.  For those of you planning to attend the 2014 AGPA Annual Meeting in Boston, we will be presenting The Great God Pan on Saturday morning, March 8. If you would like to attend our dress rehearsal in Washington, D.C., please contact me at
Stay tuned for the actor’s blog postings early next year.
Bob Schulte