THE SELF IN PERFORMANCE:
Autobiographical, Self-Revelatory, & Auto-Ethnographic Forms Of Therapeutic Theatre
Susana Pendzik, Renee Emunah, And David Johnson, Co-Editors
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance as Individual Therapy
by Armand Volkas
A woman reclaims her power and self-love in the face of an absent father, ‘taming the wolf’’ within her that threatens to devour her self-esteem.
A man born into enormous wealth makes peace with his privilege and a larger than life father.
A French woman uncovers a family secret about an ancestor—a Catholic priest who fathered a child with an African slave in Argentina. She moves into a deep exploration of the metaphor of enslavement by men and unshackles herself from the oppression of patriarchy.
These are some of the themes and plots of Autobiographical Therapeutic Performances that I have assisted my clients in giving birth to and directed. At the end of a performance, when the actor has bared her soul through the enactment of her story, she stands psychically naked onstage in a trance before her witnesses. She bows humbly, defiantly, triumphantly, dissociated, or with quiet disbelief that she has actually reached this moment of completion. The spell is broken by the audience’s applause, the standing ovation or the stunned silence of profound empathy for the performer and the courageous emotional risks that she took to reveal herself before those gathered to support her.
Months before the performance, at the beginning of the creation process, clients who choose to engage in an Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance meet with their director/therapist and decide on an intention, a therapeutic goal, a trauma, a mission, an image or an issue that they want to delve into. A therapeutic contract emerges over time. Through improvisational exploration, dreaming, journaling, writing scenes and monologues, the director/therapist guides the client towards the momentous performance date.
On this pivotal day, clients know that they may be forever changed. As in a Hero’s Journey (Campbell, 1972), performers go on a quest to heal themselves, fighting their inner demons and dragons, and entering into a no-man’s land where they are betwixt and between (Turner, 1967). This is the liminal state, the stripping away of what one has been, but not yet arrived at who one will become. In many ways, the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance is an initiation rite, a rite of passage marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society (Van Gennep, 1960). In a wider psychological sense, the performance signifies a transformation in which the initiate is reborn into a new role.
The process of psychotherapy itself often follows an initiation rite structure—embarking on a journey towards change, confronting the unknown and returning to a changed self. What is different in Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance is that the spiritual and emotional emergency, often necessary for therapeutic change to occur, is self-induced by the client, with the guidance of the therapist/director. This complex heightened internal drama takes place under the pressure of the impending performance. Go forward, embrace the change, or face the humiliation of failure in front of the tribal witnesses gathered to attest to your courage. In Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, the looming performance date creates the feeling of urgency essential for the client to completely commit to the creation process. The issues being worked on are elevated to a crisis that calls for transformation.
In the post-performance dénouement, the guests often stand in a queue, resembling a wedding receiving line, taking turns to share their congratulations and the impact the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance has had on them. A wedding is an apt metaphor for this event. However, the actor is not marrying another person, but symbolically marrying herself. Since the 1980s, when I first began performing and directing autobiographical performances, I have seen this rite of passage ritual play itself out in this manner hundreds of times. From 10-minute scenes as the culmination of a course on drama therapy to the graduation ritual that it has become for many drama therapy programs throughout the world, to hour-long theatre pieces created in the context of a private practice and performed for the public, I have witnessed the transformative effects of this form. In this chapter, I review my method of accompanying clients in individual therapy through this process, using the main theoretical frameworks that inform my practice of Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance: The Hero’s Journey, the Rite of Passage, and Transactional Analysis.
The Hero’s Journey
The archetypal image of the hero’s journey, found in stories and myths, is widely recognized around the world. It has a useful prototypical story structure that may also serve as a powerful metaphor for the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance journey, and has been outlined by mythologist, Joseph Campbell (1972) as follows: An adventurer hears a call to discovery and separates from the everyday world, setting out on a journey filled with dangers. The hero experiences many difficult challenges and tests, each rich with learning. Ultimately, the hero confronts a seemingly insurmountable challenge—a supreme test that cannot be overcome with physical capacities alone. To be successful, the hero must reach beyond his ego into a spiritual realm in which he awakens to a new and more soulful relationship with himself, with other people, and with the universe. With this spiritual initiation, the hero then makes a journey of return, bringing these gifts of insight back to the larger community.
The Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance process often taps into the classic hero’s journey archetypal pattern: The client embarks on a journey of self-discovery and change, is tested by internal or external forces and, almost always, returns triumphant. This therapeutic narrative perhaps helps to explain why ‘the return from an Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance’ process often holds so much meaning and power for those embarking on it, as the journey entails a metaphorical voyage into intra-psychic levels, along with artistic disclosure in front of an audience.
My own ‘calling’ for working in this way comes out of my own personal journey: In 1975, in response to my historical inheritance as a child of resistance fighters and survivors of Auschwitz, I brought together a group of children of Holocaust survivors in their 20’s to create a theatre piece on the legacy of the Holocaust. This was at a time when Holocaust survivors were just beginning to reveal their traumatic experiences to the world at large. At the same time, these survivors’ descendants were discovering the ways in which their experiences paralleled each other (Epstein, 1979). Exploring the trans-generational nature of the trauma, Survivors premiered in Los Angeles in 1976. It had a long run followed by an extensive college tour. This autobiographical theatre piece was self-revelatory in nature and emerged out of the personal lives and research of the actors, with me functioning as director, editor and dramaturge.
In 1987, I created a solo full-length Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, after being hired by a public defender as a drama therapist to work with a defendant before his high- profile death penalty trial. He had been convicted of murdering a man, woman and an 18 month-old child, with a knife. For over one year before his trial and conviction, I had repeated drama therapy sessions with this man in a holding cell, which was continually patrolled by prison guards. These encounters ultimately stirred up complex feelings within me. Working with him triggered my countertransference as the son of Holocaust survivors and provoked deep investigations of the role of perpetrator and my own capacity for extreme cruelty. I also struggled with an ethical question. Was it ethical to use the tools of drama therapy to aid a murderer? If the defendant had been a Mafioso instead of a very emotionally wounded young man, could I have still taken on this case? Interviewed by the press after the trial, the jury revealed that my humanizing testimony during the penalty phase apparently contributed to the defendant receiving life imprisonment, instead of death by lethal injection. In the aftermath of this experience, filled with difficult emotions and intense existential and spiritual questions, I felt the need to explore my own feelings further by shaping them into an Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance. By sharing my story, working through my secondary trauma and countertransference through theatre, the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance process allowed me to heal myself and continue with my research in understanding the impact of direct and inherited trauma. The Murderer Within was first performed at the NADT Conference in Los Angeles in 1988 with my drama therapy colleagues as witnesses.
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance as a Rite of Passage
A rite of passage is a transition ritual that helps an individual to move from one social state to another–from adolescence to adulthood, from student to graduate, from apprentice to full member of a profession, from being single to being married. It transforms both the society’s definition of the individual and the individual’s self-perception. Such rituals of social transition mark socially recognized stages of life and assist the individual and group to adjust to the new status and its implications for behavior and social relations (Turner 1969, Van Gennep, 1960).
Though not a socially recognized rite of passage, Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance processes can provide a path through which therapeutic change can occur. With the breakdown in modern societies of meaningful rituals that help people through life transitions, Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance offers a drama therapeutic structure for clients to move from one state of being to another–from grief and loss to embracing life again, from rage at an absent parent to making peace with the limitations of the parent that they had, from a state of fear to finding courage and standing up for their own emotional rights.
According to Van Gennep (1960) and Turner (1969), rites of passage generally have three principal phases:
- Separating the individuals involved from their preceding social state.
- A period of transition or initiation in which they are neither one thing nor the other.
- A reintegration phase during which, through various rites of incorporation, they are absorbed into their new social state.
The most prominent feature of all rites of passage is its transitional nature. Rites of passage always involve what Victor Turner (1969) has called liminality, the stage of being neither here nor there–no longer part of the old and not yet part of the new. One of the chief characteristics of this liminal period in any rite of passage is the gradual psychological ‘opening’ of the initiates to their profound interior changes. In many initiation rites involving major transitions into new social roles, this openness is achieved through rituals designed to break down the initiate’s belief system—the internal mental structures of concepts and categories through which they perceive and interpret the world and their relationship to it (Floyd, 2003).
Similar feelings of psychological opening and the breakdown of old belief systems are reported by many Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance clients, as they describe their experience of personal transformation.
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance as a Form of Individual Drama Therapy
Renee Emunah has applied Self-Revelatory Performances with psychiatric and ex- psychiatric patients since 1979 (Emunah, 1994; Emunah and Johnson, 1983). However, in the last two decades, the Self-Revelatory model has continued to develop, primarily, in the context of drama therapy programs, as a culmination of the student’s training (Rubin, 2007; Emunah, Raucher & Ramirez, 2014). Emunah (2015) has articulated Self-Revelatory Performance as a form of theatre and drama therapy, with a strong emphasis on the aesthetic quality for people who are already trained actors and/or drama therapists. Yet, my view of the format has evolved in a different direction, as I have been using Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance in the context of private practice as a psychotherapist and as Clinical Director of The Living Arts Counseling Center. In these contexts, aesthetics and acting skills are acquired as part of the therapeutic process. In addition, the setting for the work (including production-related issues, payment for hours extending beyond the usual psychotherapy meetings, etc.), are negotiated and addressed as therapeutic material, and the witnesses of the performance are carefully chosen by the clients, as part of the therapeutic process.
In a field as young as drama therapy, terminology of various forms and approaches are still evolving as evidenced by the multiple names used by the authors in this book to describe their methods. I pay homage to my colleague Renee Emunah, pioneer in the field of drama therapy and the powerful form she was the first to articulate (Emunah, 1994). However, the term ’Self-Revelatory Theatre’ has always felt inadequate to me as a description of what I do as a psychotherapist and drama therapist. Being directly involved in presenting the approach to the public and in acquainting potential clients with the transformative power of drama therapy, I find the word ‘therapeutic’ a crucial one to communicate what is at the heart of this form. Finally, the word ‘performance’ is used, as opposed to ‘theatre.’ Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance focuses on the act of performing, which, for me is the essential therapeutic act.
I believe that Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance is not just a form for drama therapy students and actors, but has great potential as a form of individual drama therapy for any client, seeking personal growth and change, who has enough ego strength to withstand the intensity of and commitment to such a journey. Here are three examples of contexts in which I have used Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance. My focus in the rest of this chapter will be on the 3rd type:
- Cyclical performances by members of an ongoing drama therapy For example,
three times per year each participant creates a theatre piece reflecting their current issue and invites safe audience members to witness their growth.
- A time-limited group specifically organized to support each member’s creation and performance of their own Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, which I call ‘Acts of Witness.’ Developed in collaboration with psychotherapist and drama therapist Jennifer Stuckert, Acts of Witness combines the weekly support of a community of clients all on the same creative journey. I co-lead the weekly group explorations and the clients receive the additional attention of a designated drama therapist/director who guides the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance actor/client in weekly rehearsals leading to a public performance.
- Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance performances created in the context of individual therapy. Weekly sessions ultimately lead to a performance in a theatre, which brings a therapeutic process to a new stage. A typical Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance process can range from three to five months; weekly sessions start at 1.5 hours and increase in length and intensity as the performance date draws nearer.
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance in the Context of Transactional Analysis
Having been trained in Transactional Analysis, some of the core concepts of this form of psychotherapy have influenced my approach to Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance.
Transactional Analysis (TA) is based on the premise that each human being has three observable ego stages or roles: parent, adult and child. The goal in TA is to ensure clients regain autonomy over their lives. Creator of TA, Eric Berne (1961), defined this process as the recovery of three vital human capacities – spontaneity, awareness and intimacy. TA is a widely recognized form of psychotherapy that involves a set of tools designed to promote personal growth and change.
Tools from TA that have a bearing on Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance include therapeutic contracts, life scripts and re-decision.
One of the most important aspects of my approach to Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance is the idea of the therapeutic contract. Borrowed from TA, the contract is a mutual agreement entered into by client and therapist to pursue specific changes that the client desires. The contract contains statements of objectives that the client will attain and the criteria to determine when these goals have been effectively met.
When applied to Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, the contract is flexible and can be refined as we go along. The first iteration of the contract can be simply to experiment with images and improvisations in order to reveal what clients want or need to change in their lives. Refining and clarifying the contract is an ongoing process. Within the first phases of the exploration, clients may work through several possible ideas for what their piece is going to be about. The therapist/director continually redirects them to focus on the statements they want to make to their witnesses. This contract becomes the compass that guides clients on their journey.
A good example of a therapeutic contract in Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance is one that was entered into with a client of German descent who wanted to explore her blocks to intimacy. She had been in a series of failed relationships and committed to unearthing her unconscious patterns that could be affecting the way she relates to men. The guiding question in our explorations became, ‘what is preventing her from opening up her heart and getting close?’
Ultimately, her improvisational investigations led to the image of a chest of secrets being ferociously guarded by a paranoid alter ego. This character emerged from a suggestion I made about using the box as a metaphor for her closing off her emotions and vulnerability and was loosely based on her psychotic aunt who had inherited the belongings of her Nazi father after WWII. Her aunt kept her father’s medals from Hitler, as well as other documents, hidden in a box. In the unfolding of the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance piece, this alter ego slowly reveals her grandfather’s imagined acts of perpetration. Also revealed are her mother’s wounding and abandonment by her father, who was removed from the family after the war, and the client’s own role as a parentified child caretaker. As we delved into the client’s relationship history and childhood wounding in action, as well as historical trauma, it became clear to me that the theatre piece could be about several of the themes that appeared through her improvisational explorations: a specific man who had broken her heart, her mother’s confusing messages about love, or owning her power and sensuality as a woman.
These were all compelling issues to address. However, under the time pressure of a scheduled performance date, I reminded my client that although she wanted to put everything into her piece, she needed to choose the images and scenes that most powerfully depicted her struggle with intimacy. One of my roles as her drama therapist/director was to use the therapeutic contract to help keep her focused on her goal. The contract then became the litmus test for what images or scenes stayed in the piece and which ones ended up on the cutting room floor.
Towards the end of her performance she speaks to an imaginary future lover, ‘Here I am in all my naked ugliness. Can you love me? Do you see me? Can you love all of this?’
The client’s defenses stripped away in front of the audience, her vulnerability and desire to be seen powerfully revealed and her deep yearning to be loved unconditionally displayed, it was clear that she had taken a courageous step towards opening her heart to the possibility of loving again. I believe that this could be traced back to the central guiding therapeutic contract at the beginning of the process.
Coming up with the initial contract is akin to the hero embarking on the Journey. Clients set out on their creative and therapeutic quests with a sense of direction as they travel into uncharted emotional territory. The stating, restating, and the ongoing clarification and refining of the therapeutic objectives represent the series of challenges the hero faces along the way.
Uncovering Unconscious Life Scripts
Transactional Analysis proposes that dysfunctional behavior is the result of self-limiting decisions made in childhood, in the interest of survival. Such decisions culminate in what Berne(1961) and Steiner (1974) called the ‘life script’ – the unconscious life plan that governs the way life is lived out. Uncovering and changing the life script is one of the central aims of TA psychotherapy.
Through drama therapy, theatre transformations and psychodramatic exercises, spoken and unspoken parental and societal messages and injunctions such as, ‘Don’t be separate from me’, ‘Don’t grow up’, ‘Don’t need’, ‘Don’t trust’, or ‘Don’t get close’ are uncovered. These injunctions reveal the dysfunctional life script that the client is living.
A client, who I will call Victoria, provides a good example of the unveiling of a sabotaging life script and the creation of a new hopeful narrative. She created and performed two separate, but related, solo Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance pieces over a period of ten months. A summary of her transformative process follows:
Raised by a mother who had absorbed and transmitted the misogynistic messages towards women in her society, Victoria, a South American immigrant, sought therapy for her depression. After a childhood characterized by emotional neglect and physical abuse by her mother and abandonment by her father, Victoria tried to escape her fate and her suicidal life script. ‘Don’t be powerful’, ‘Don’t be successful’, ‘Don’t think’, ‘Don’t need’, ‘Don’t be,’ were some of the debilitating messages that she received from her family. At the same time, however, Victoria also held enormous strength and resilience in the face of her life’s circumstances.
Victoria entered into a therapeutic contract to grieve her deep losses, and transform her life script filled with victimization into an empowered and life-affirming narrative. In her first Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, Victoria revealed her story of abuse and neglect through monologues and scenes: Throughout the piece, she is pursued by a vicious and
punishing inner tormentor –a force that takes the form of a Swordsman. Running in place to symbolize her flight from hopelessness, she tries to escape her reality:
I’m not going back, I won’t go back. I’m leaving this prison.
In a metaphorical dance, Victoria misguidedly tries to escape and find solace in drugs, alcohol and sex, but the Swordsman finally catches up with her. In a venomous and vicious rant, the Swordsman (also played by Victoria) attacks her competence, her attempts to better herself, her sadness and her aging:
‘You’ll end up old, poor, powerless and alone. What’s the point!’ he concludes. On all fours, Victoria exposes her neck to the Swordsman:
‘Go ahead, do it! CUT IT OFF! CUT IT OFF!’ she says to him.
In slow motion, the Swordsman cuts off her head. Victoria falls to the floor and, in a transition, moves deeply into her grief:
I mourn for the family I never had
I grieve for the cruelty inflicted upon me
I mourn for all my hopes and dreams that never came true
As Victoria stops crying, the scene transforms into a dream world. She sees a mountain and climbs to the top. Before her, she sees a chasm and walks closer to the edge and looks down.
I see a bottomless chasm. Below, I see my annihilation.
She looks across the abyss. On the other side she sees a Beckoner. The Beckoner, also played by Victoria, extends her hand and calls for her. She implores Victoria to jump across:
Don’t look down at the chasm. Just jump! Come on! I’ll catch you!’
Victoria hesitates. She demands a guarantee from the Beckoner who responds:
‘No guarantees, but yes, on this side you have the power to do everything you possibly can to choose and create meaning in your life. Come on! Jump! I’ll catch you!
Victoria takes a moment to consider her choices. She slowly takes a step back and in a slow motion run, jumps across the chasm. But, the lights fade out before the audience knows whether she made it to the other side or not.
Although not actively suicidal, Victoria’s deep hopelessness and tragic life script were exposed by the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance process. Having lived her life trying to escape her difficult circumstances and battling her brutal inner critic, she viewed her life as a failure. Victoria faced a decision in both her life and in the script she was writing. As the performance drew near, we struggled to find an ending to the piece in rehearsals. Her drama refused to be wrapped up neatly in a nice bow. As her therapist/director, I proposed the metaphor of approaching two cliffs separated by a chasm; we spent several sessions working psychodramatically and metaphorically, standing at the precipice facing the Beckoner who represented her fragile hope for a meaningful life. Victoria could not decide whether she would take the perilous jump and was not yet ready to find out. I, as therapist, felt torn between challenging her and respecting her process; both of us seemed caught in liminal space. Leaving Victoria in the middle of a crisis on the existential stage was the authentic place to end the piece. She felt at peace with this decision. The outcome would need to be decided in a future Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance. When she performed this piece for an invited audience, their response to this uncertain ending was a stunned awe.
Transforming the Life Script
A few months later, after several post-performance follow-up therapy sessions, Victoria decided she wanted to do a second Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, which would begin at the moment where the last piece ended. In sessions, Victoria explored the images, metaphors and themes that bubbled up from the depths of her unconscious, including the historical trauma of the subjugation of her ancestors, the South American indigenous people that live within her, as well as her identity as a mestiza.
Her second Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance began with her jump across the abyss. This time she makes it to the other side. However, Victoria finds herself in a jungle and the Beckoner is nowhere to be found. She had taken the risk to hope and now feels betrayed. The ‘law of the jungle’ becomes a metaphor for her precarious life. She finds herself in a dream- like world, full of Amazonian cannibals, panthers, and Spanish conquistadors, left to make her way on her own without support. She hunts and forages and learns how to survive in the jungle, becoming one with nature. She finds a mate. One day, Victoria is shot by both a gun and an arrow and faints. She wakes up to find herself being nurtured by the Beckoner who has transformed into the role of a Nurturer. As the woman stirs an imaginary cauldron of soup, she adds pinches of spices to the nourishing mixture describing their properties, such as:
‘Determination: to overcome your demons so you can stay engaged in the living of life.’ ‘Love: to be able to love yourself so you can accept and celebrate your strengths and have empathy for your weaknesses.’
‘Compassion: to keep your heart open in the face of hate and rage.’
After adding other strengths to the soup, the Nurturer begins to feed Victoria saying,
‘You’ve been through a lot. All the pain and isolation, all the anguish and deep loneliness, but I’m here for you now and I love you and I will continue to love you until the day you die.’
Then the Nurturer brings Victoria’s attention to the witnesses in the audience, saying:
Look at all these wonderful people who came to support you. Some of them know you well and some are only beginning to know you, but they’re all here to support you. So go ahead, you can feel proud of the courage it took to reach in and reach out and expose yourself this way– go ahead take your bow. I’ll be standing right here next to you.
Victoria bows to the audience.
The brutal Swordsman of her previous Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance was replaced by the Beckoner, a nurturing and protective parental figure who had begun to grow inside of Victoria. In TA, the idea of re-parenting yourself is a central concept and part of transforming one’s life script (James, 1981). Inviting trustworthy friends to witness and support transformation creates external emotional resourcing along with the internal resourcing of self re- parenting.
This term refers to an individual’s capacity to re-decide and alter certain decisions made as a child, which stem from unconscious scripts (Goulding & Goulding, 1979). ‘Re-decision’ reflects the assumption in TA therapy that individuals have the potential to lead their lives as they choose.
In my approach to Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, the hero’s journey is, in essence, a journey of re-decision. Most Autobiographical Therapeutic Performances that I have seen follow this structure. For example, a client goes on a quest to rescue their inner child; they fight their inner demons in some form, and then become the hero of their own story. They decide to prevail. Here is an example of a moment of re-decision in an Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance I directed:
In the throes of hopelessness, the grandson of Auschwitz survivors asks God,
Why does my mother hate me so much? What have I done to deserve this? I must have done something terrible. I see the hate in her eyes. She despises me. I am the reason for all of her unhappiness. I’m damaged beyond repair. She wants me to disappear. I must erase myself. I must kill the resilient spirit within me that she despises so much.
In a theatrical physicalization of his struggle with his impulse to annihilate himself, the moment of re-decision and transformation occurs:
Enough! Stop! I must stop the abuse. I will not transmit this abuse. The abuse must stop here! The abuse stops here.
Before his gathered witnesses, he goes on to reclaim his emotional rights, violated by the domino effect of historical trauma
I have the right to breathe. I have the right to take up space in the world. I have the right to feel–to be part of humanity. I have the right to walk through this world without self- hate. I have the right to be wanted. To be loved. I have a right to my curiosity. I have a right to have a body and for this body not to be violated, I have a right to set boundaries and to protect myself. I have a right to need and have needs. I have a right to live without fear of annihilation…I have the right to exist!
The actor then transforms into an American soldier who liberates the child from Auschwitz, adopts him and promises to re-parent him.
In many contexts in which Autobiographical Therapeutic Performances are presented, the performances are open to the general public. The performer/client has no control over who will witness her deeply personal piece. Some verbal guidelines are given to audience members about how to approach the performers after their presentation, as they are often in a vulnerable state. My approach to Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance includes the distinct role of what I call the ‘reparative witness’. In Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance, ‘witnessing’ should not be a passive act, but an integral component of the therapeutic process. Witnessing provides a reparative holding and mirroring experience for the client. In the context of individual psychotherapy work, it is particularly important that clients be able to invite their witnesses based on trust: they constitute the client’s support system, which will ultimately function as the healing family and help the client maintain the therapeutic change. As performing an Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance is such a public act and often leaves clients in an exposed and altered state, I believe more care needs to be taken in helping the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance performer bridge the therapeutic process with the worlds to which they are returning.
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance provides clients seeking personal growth and change the opportunity to give aesthetic form to the wounding experiences and negative messages that have shaped them. It can transform and re-integrate their traumas into a new life- affirming sense of self and an emotionally generative life script. Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance organically follows a rite of passage and hero’s journey structure, which can be useful metaphors in guiding both the development of the theatre piece and the therapeutic process. Furthermore, Transactional Analysis concepts can be used as a therapeutic template, integrating and adapting ideas such as the therapeutic contract, life script and re-decision to the
Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance process, as well as adding a special emphasis on the role of reparative witness.
Because the Autobiographical Therapeutic Performance process aligns with the timelessness of the archetypal hero’s journey, it gets to the source of the actor’s primal wounding and fuels the fires of their creativity. It taps into the actor’s desire to be seen and elevates their story to mythic proportions. It paints their individual struggles with a collective brush, connecting to the existential and universal dilemmas we all face.
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