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

The Leading Edge of Creativity

RWTG was the Invited Panel of Section VIII, (Couple and Family Therapy & Psychoanalysis), at the Spring Meeting of Division 39 (Psychoanalysis) of the American Psychological Association held in Santa Fe, New Mexico last April 15-21, 2012. The Meeting was titled, “The Leading Edge of Creativity”.

Members of RWTG presented a dramatic reading of the play God of Carnage, by Yasmina Reza, followed by an audience discussion. The presentation was titled, “When Diplomacy Fails and Couples Go Ballistic: A Theatrical Case Study”.

The acting ensemble included John Dluhy, Mary Dluhy, Molly Donovan and Barry Wepman. The reading was directed by Bob Schulte. Joyce Lowenstein, current President of Section VIII, was the discussion moderator.

The presentation offered this perspective on the use of theater to illustrate principles of couples and family therapy: “Presenting a theatrical case study has certain advantages. The ‘as if’ of the theater allows us to become emotionally engaged and intellectually curious, but without the burden of an actual therapeutic mandate. The discussion segment… invites the observer to contemplate what it might be like to encounter parents/spouses like those portrayed in the play, in an actual therapeutic situation. We aspire to discover something new with you–about our clinical work, our subjectivities and the cultures we co-create.”

We’re grateful to Section VIII Board of Directors and Joyce Lowenstein for the invitation and a terrific time in Santa Fe!

Robert Schulte

Hello Again New York!

RWTG presented a play reading with post-performance discussion at the APA Division 39 Section VIII (Couple and Family Therapy and Psychoanalysis) on April Saturday, April 16, 2011 in New York City. The workshop was entitled, “Complicated Grief: Exploring Couple and Family Dynamics in the Wake of the Death of a Young Child Through a Reading of the play Rabbit Hole. The RWTG actors included John and Mary Dluhy, Hallie Lovett, Rosemary Segalla, Rob Williams. Bob Schulte directed the play presentation portion of the program. The discussants were Molly Donovan and Bob Schulte. Joyce Lowenstein, PhD, President-Elect of Section VIII, served as discussion facilitator.

Bob Schulte