Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

How Action Expl0rations Work

Originally posted on March 14, 2012

I see action explorations as being a synthesis of all of the following:
1. The general principle of “Creativity” as a general goal—which contrasts with the 20th century goal of hoping to “get it right” (as if some authority knew what the right answer was). There’s a whole world-view here that shifts from the world as a relatively stable place to which we must  adapt, to a postmodern, actively and accelerating-ly changing, a co-evolution of mind, culture, and technology. It’s also a more positive goal, less suggestive of the subtly shaming sense that someone has done it wrong or didn’t do her homework enough.

2. There’s also a deep complex about the capacity of mind to access creative sources—a slightly mystical concept to those who don’t imagine the mind capable of “accessing new ideas.” Those who imagine the brain as only able to manufacture what it can imagine, of course, have never accounted for the creative imagination of Mozart or Beethoven, among others. It’s not mystical if the brain is imagined to be more of a transmitter than a generator—but that does bring up the metaphysical problem of considering that who and what we are is not what we seem on the surface. Though we’ve been this route before microscopes and finer methods of chemistry, we still assume that we are material beings who have spiritual experiences rather than being spiritual beings who in our space-time realm are having physical experiences.

Anyway, spontaneity (as the attitude and readiness of the mind) is the vehicle for improvisation (the activity), which then includes learning by doing, warming-up, and thus improvisation feeds back in the right circumstances to increase spontaneity which inspires further improvisation. Saying it another way, spontaneity-improvisation is a major way to promote creativity.

3. Action Exploration is a more general term but what I’m talking about is applying psychodramatic methods developed by Dr. J. L. Moreno (1889-1974) to all sorts of problems apart from—or in addition to—psychotherapy. Moreno realized that drama was a more holistic way of engaging in problems, compared to the more intellectualized processes of purely verbal discourse (which includes reading or writing articles or books, discussing, lectures, etc.). More specifically, Moreno’s adaptation of improvisational drama for exploration rather than performance, which differs a lot from what you might see in movie or television or stage dramas.

4. The dynamic of making the situation “pretend”—which is part of drama—is also making use of the play element in drama, the “this doesn’t really count” category of action that helps people feel open to experimenting rather than paralyzed by fear that a mistake will have overwhelming consequences. Play thus might be imagined as a lubricant of exploratory process, making it less weighty or intimidating.

5. The dramaturgical model—staging situations as if they were scenes in a play, and staging the larger process as if it were in a sense early in rehearsal, where the main actor—the protagonist— can also be in a sense a great part of the scriptwriter or playwright. Further, a director serves as facilitator of this endeavor. (All these are ways action explorations differ from traditional theatre.)

6. The group is not just a passive audience who await entertainment or even instruction, but in a sense they join in co-producing the event. They may be the source of the protagonist and supporting players, and later on, they may take the role of protagonist and others will then play other roles that complement their exploration. At the end, they share with the protagonist, and sometime the sharing can take as much or even more time than the action!  Group dynamics then are a source of support, encouragement, and role distribution so one person doesn’t need to do all the work (e.g., director, supporting players, audience).

7. An area or “stage” is designated as a space within which what happens is play, drama, not-count, just pretend, as-if. The action in fact moves between on- and off-stage, in which the person exploring a scene has a chance to reconsider what has happened and what might then be done next so that the situation can be explored even more effectively. In this sense, the stage is an area for experimentation, a laboratory.

8. Various psychodrama or action exploration techniques may be applied to promote reflection discussion, warming-up to another experiment. One category of technique manipulates time in the as-if-frame: Some scenes can be replayed, paused, changed, replayed, stopped, moved back and forth. Future scenes can be rehearsed, past scenes re-done more satisfactorily, and doing them in the present moment, the here-and-now, allows the protagonist to ground herself, recognize that she’s okay, has allies, and then venture back into the as-if scene.

9. Another group of technique explores ways one can look at a situation—includes other point of views. Role reversal is primary for this, but also the “mirror” technique lets the main player notice how she was behaving—tone of voice, expression of the face, other nonverbal variables.

10. A third group of techniques shifts levels of disclosure from what one announces to the world to what one speaks only in confidence; and then beyond that to the preconscious level, to include—with the help of doubles—what is sensed but not expressed. Bringing out multiple parts of self and having them dialogue helps.

11. Other psychodramatic techniques foster imagination and help people to bypass habitual defenses. Encounters with those who have died or those who haven’t been born yet, with spiritual entities that exist in imagination or have religious themes.

12. Dialog is used to negotiate and investigate, and this subtly builds up the role of mediator and choose, develops a master identity as self as more conscious chooser.Use of dialogue to negotiate rather than one part dominating; and also hearing and being compassionate but not obedient to every part.

All these and more I see as a bridge to a new level of thinking, communicating, and problem-solving, more inclusive of right brain emotionality, vulnerability, needs, social sensitivity, intuition, imagination. This is further and balancing with left brain language-ing, reasoning, constructing a more readily remembered schema or framework that can then be worked with (since pure right brain stuff is evanescent). More, this experience is grounded this with bodily action, with remembered experience rather than pure memory, and awareness that others (audience) further validate these discoveries.

Finally, it must be noted that combining these elements generates an extra-powerful synthesis. It’s not just using loose tools, it’s a symphony in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!

One Response to “How Action Expl0rations Work”

  • The longer I practice drama therapy, the less I am convinced of the exclusivity of its usages. I am fortunate to have had, as a part of my drama therapy experience, a psychodrama class where I spent an entire semester learning psychodrama technique and theory (in no small part due to your book, Dr. Blatner), and it maddens me to no end when I go to a conference where there is a need for a workshop seeking to argue the validity or one or the other or force connections between the two. In my mind, they are indelibly linked. I was listening to a story on NPR today on creativity and was fascinated by the neuro-science of the same. They mentioned the term “spiritual genius” which was something of a mix between “wisdom/intellectualism/creativity. You mentioned a right brained understanding of the work of action explorations, I am intersted in a whole brain understanding of it.


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