Adam Blatner, M.D., TEP

These comments supplement a workshop titled: “Enhancing Practitioner Flexibility with Morenian Methods,” given at the annual conference of the Pedagogy & the Theatre of the Oppressed organization  ( ) held at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, June 6, 2010   (See also another view of this topic more recently re-visited elsewhere on this website.)

Here is further history, theory, and other information relevant to what is presented in the workshop. The presenter is a retired psychiatrist and the author of major books on psychodrama, Acting In (1996) and Foundations of Psychodrama (2000), as well as an edited anthology, Interactive & Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance (2007), which includes a chapter on Theatre of the Oppressed.

Morenian methods are those developed by Jacob L. Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974), the man who invented psychodrama, sociodrama, sociometry, a pioneer in role theory, improvisational theatre, group therapy, and the man who developed many other innovations. (More about Moreno’s contributions can be read about on an associate webpage.)

Psychodrama and the Theatre of the Oppressed have overlapped a bit over the years. About 18 years ago Augusto Boal gave a keynote talk at the International Association of Group Psychotherapy in Amsterdam, and dedicated his Rainbow of Desire 1994 book in part to Zerka Moreno (J. L. Moreno’s wife, born in 1917, still alive and teaching at the time of this writing) and also Dr. Greta Leutz—another psychodramatist who pioneered the method in Germany and throughout Europe. There’s overlap with drama therapy, too, and a chapter on TO practice was included in a recent textbook of current developments in drama therapy.

Psychodrama is best known as a type of group therapy, but really psychodrama applies to a much broader field, with applications in fields such as education, business, community building, and so forth. Psychodramatic methods, then, should be viewed as a complex of tools that don’t need to be combined in classical psychodrama, but rather the point is that most of these techniques—and concepts—can be used on their own or in various combinations in all sorts of settings (Blatner, 2008). In the aforementioned recently published anthology, I noted how action techniques are used in other fields such as Theatre in Education, Bibliodrama, Playback Theatre, sociodrama, drama therapy, and also TO. These approaches share in certain common features. Also, related to the spirit of T.O. it should be noted that Moreno wanted to apply what was being learned in psychiatry to the problems of society as a whole, not just to patients in the sick role. For this reason, he coined the term "sociatry," but what it really means is the study of applied social psychology, ecology, economics, politics, and the sorts of concerns that overlap with the problems of oppression. (For other papers on oppression on this website, also see Oppression 1;   and Oppression 2. as well as Examples of Subtle or Arguable Oppression)

Oppression: A Working Definition

I’ve contemplated the definitions of oppression given and think that a more useful and operational definition might be as follows. Oppression has two components:
 1. There is an unnecessary gradient of privilege. There are some necessary gradients, such as in not allowing young children to handle loaded guns or drive cars. However, other gradients of privilege seem arbitrary, based on traditions that are themselves the product of various kinds of oppressions and other flukes—but today these norms seem unnecessary. There can be arguments about what is and is not necessary in the distribution of privilege. I don’t claim to be the authority in resolving these, but anti-oppression work seeks to make such issues more conscious and explicit.

 2. The second component of oppression is the way that, at least in the last few hundred years, large sectors or even the great majority of the population didn’t see anything wrong with many practices now thought to be oppressive. They were just the way life is, the status quo. So part of anti-oppression work is to raise consciousness about the situation and---as emphasized in the workshop and more in this paper, to raise consciousness about the common psychological tendency to lapse into a slave-mentality, complacence, submission, unthinking-ness.

Raising Consciousness

Critical consciousness, conscientization, or conscientização (Portuguese), could also be viewed as the general idea of consciousness-raising. I want to note that it applies not only to a more engaged and explicit awareness of the system, the un-necessary nature of certain gradients of privilege, but also to the mentality of the people in the system, both oppressors and oppressed.

We should note that, regarding semantics of oppression: The word has broadened in what is covered: The term “oppression” used to refer to more gross examples, such as the tyranny of kings or the persecution of heretics and minorities; and then to slavery; and then it expanded to exploitation or unfair labor practices and also to include various grades and types of oppression of women. In the mid-20th centuries, both institutionalized and informal types of prejudice have become recognized as forms of oppression. In the last few decades, bullying at school has become considered a type of oppression. Yesterday I alluded to some more subtle and even arguable types of oppression, and these are noted on another paper on this website.

As a category expands, more subtle forms are included, and as more subtle forms are included, they also include other dynamics, such as, regarding bullying and other elements, those who are neither technically the oppressed nor the oppressors, but rather the onlookers, those who pass by and don’t do anything to intervene, those who think themselves neutral. This expansion of understanding of the dynamics of oppression so as to include that third category also expands the meaning of the term, “oppression” so that consciousness raising then becomes a concern for everyone.  Another dimension involves the common attitudes and ideas that support oppression, and these need to be analyzed and critiqued also.

Boal participated in this broadening of the concept of oppression more vividly when he expanded his work to include what he called the Rainbow of Desire, the elucidation of inner oppression. Frankly, in so doing, he generated an overlap with depth psychology, the way folks beat themselves up.

Recognizing the Dynamics of the "Underdog"

The oppressed are by no means entirely passive nor helpless victims. They participate in the process in some ways, because people will cope with stresses using a variety of maneuvers, some of which will be discussed further on. Freud early on emphasized the way the superego or internalized harsh parent could overdo their role—and Boal called it the cop-in-the-head. There was some focus in psychotherapy on analyzing the excessive or unrealistic demands of this "conscience" function. This super-ego or cop-in-the-head was the "top dog" in a little internal drama, playing opposite other parts of the psyche who took an "under-dog" role. In such systems the victim is by no means passive. He devises innumerable ways to get back, to sabotage, to undercut, to get around. The pioneer of Gestalt therapy, Fritz Perls, called this the top-dog / under-dog dynamic. The top dog or cop would get all angry and brutal, but the underdog would submit on one level and cower, but on another level—and this is crucial—this part of the psyche would remain active in sabotaging the system. Perls pointed out that many people would become so involved in being naughty and then beating themselves up as a cycle that the drama of this cops and robbers game substituted for genuine clarity and repair of the fundamental system.

The use of the psychodramatic method of the double attends to subconscious thoughts and attitudes, and applied to considering the dynamics of oppression, it looks also at how people rebel against the rules of an oppressive system even as they seem to buy into it. (Roles and systems require complementarity: For example, it is impossible to "be" a king if no one buys that you are the king or that there even is a king. So oppression is fed as much in some systems by the buy-in of the oppressed as it is by the force of the oppressors. This ratio varies for different kinds of oppression.

“Doubling”  in Theatre of the Oppressed

In the consciousness-raising process of the Theatre of the Oppressed, the psychodramatic technique called "the double" can aid in helping people find the words that help them identify what’s wrong, and then to have the courage to express those words, to finding their voice. To find one's voice one need to be able to inwardly "hear" the words. Feelings can operate in the psyche without words---that's one way the image work in TO is so valuable. Images help to make a bridge to words. But even then the words don't always come naturally. Finding the words can be fostered by the technique of doubling. Most of the psychological dynamics that operate in oppression are experienced at a pre-verbal level. People haven’t heard these issues being talked about, and if they aren’t given language, they tend to swirl around in the mind as vague feelings. Psychology in general has only lightly penetrated our culture as a whole. People haven’t had modeling, good examples, haven’t had practice, support, encouragement, in identifying issues and discriminating their sub-variables. want you to learn to double, and especially double for avoidant maneuvers.

Part of the difficulty in unpacking oppressive situations is the fact that participants unconsciously avoid the feelings of shame, awkwardness and vulnerability that arise with having to deal directly with such situations. Oppression often is subtle, there are multiple dynamics going on, arguments and justifications on both sides, and in that way complex and difficult. In addition, it is important to realize that these feelings almost immediately evoke a number of avoidant maneuvers that are designed to ameliorate such feelings. However, the avoidant maneuvers not only relieve to some extent feelings of vulnerability, but often generate thoughts and behaviors that have as an unintended consequence some support for the justification of the oppressive behavior!  So, to restate, consider these five points:

1. Oppressive situations are often subtle, complex, and difficult; there are multiple points of view and often not only reasons for objecting to the oppression, but also some seemingly valid reasons for maintaining the status quo.

 2. Having to think clearly about such complex systems is difficult. Such thought also brings up feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anxiety and other types of vulnerability.

3. Many people when faced with such feeling often unconsciously begin to engage in a variety of avoidance maneuvers designed to protect the self from feelings of vulnerability

4. These avoidant maneuvers may in turn lower the sense of vulnerability but also have the unintended consequence of supporting the oppression.

5. Thus, it fosters practioners’ flexibility to be able to identify and counter this tendency to neutralize the avoidant maneuvers.

There are several steps in learning the skill of doubling:.

If there is no word for something it tends to subside into the amorphous blur of general impressions and fluctuating sensations of the animal-experiencing mind. So finding a word brings it from the ground into the figure (in a figure/ground sense of perception in psychology).

(The word, “oppression” is itself an example of labeling a situation as worthy of moral valuation and practical change. It has generated its own semantic associations, and, like words such as “role" or "evolution" and many other words. Words evolve thus as they gain wider acceptance, and words tend to expanded to include other phenomena.)

All this is by way of saying that it pays to help people find words, identify issues, become more explicitly aware of issues, attitudes, biases, facts, beliefs, feelings, and to develop the capacity to differentiate among these.  The best way to do this is for one person to reflect what is almost said, and for the other person to hear this and correct it. The feedback process gets closer and closer: “No, that’s not the right word, exactly. I’d say it was this way.” The encounter of empathy helps to bring consciousness forward.

Now this doesn't mean that the double is always right. This technique corrects a sublte oppressive tendency in early forms of therapy, techniques of "interpretation" that implied that trained professionals have the capacity to know what the patient really thinks. There is just a germ of truth in this, in the sense that someone who has heard a lot of stories tends to recognize certain themes more readily than someone who only knows one’s own story. However, it’s also true that everyone’s story is different in many ways, so it’s best not to presume to make interpretations, authority to patient, but rather to present such observations in the form of general questions that invite correction: "Might this be happening?" That is more friendly and tactful, less presumptuous.

The psychodramatic technique of the double works this way. It’s a non-technical way to do what in movies is called “voice over.” What is being thought but not said. What needs to be added here is that most people don’t think what they think inside their mind in clear terms—it’s often blurred, vague, mixed with conflicts and confused. Thus, the soliloquy or aside is blocked. People don’t yet know what they think. Here the double technique, when properly conducted, helps: The protagonist or person taking a role in an enactment is in a predicament. The double stands to the side and perhaps a little behind. The protagonist may say something or just feel stuck. The double speaks the thoughts or feelings that are not being expressed.

Now here’s what’s not sufficiently emphasized in many books on psychodrama: What the double says is frequently at least a little mistaken. It sometimes is quite close; it sometimes is half true; it sometimes misses the point. In any case, here’s the corrective dynamic. The protagonist is reassured to begin with and reminded during the process that it is okay, it is important, even, to correct the double. (The person taking the role of double is instructed to accept the feedback, to integrate the correction. It is vital that the double not presume to simply repeat his fantasy of what the other person is thinking or feeling even when that person disagrees! In drama this is the virtuous skill known as “taking direction.)

I have seen so-called psychodramas when the double insists he is right even when the protagonist says, "That's not what I'm thinking!" This is a terrible misuse of the technique!  It's oppressive rather than mutual. (See my paper on mutuality.)  The words offered by the double gives the protagonist a springboard or foundation off of which to reflect or compare, and that process allows for clarification, and for the finding of the right words. There is also explicit permission to take it over, to get closer, to find even better words. This happens all the time in the early parts of rehearsal for a drama. It’s expected that refinement of an idea involves some repetition and trial and error. To emphasize from another viewpoint: this double technique, properly applied, exemplifies the Freirian concept of collaboration rather than authoritarian domination.

(I don’t underestimate the potential for psychotherapists or psychiatrists to engage in unintentional oppression and domination of their patients because of their having learned styles of treatment that are more authoritarian, more related to a century ago rather than contemporary theories of egalitarianism and feedback.) In other words, it is impossible to be fully accurate regarding empathy. However, an attempt to be empathic, combined with an openness to being corrected, comes adequately close.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “Do not do unto others what you would have them do unto you. They may not have the same tastes.”  The impossibility of perfect empathy is thus illustrated. However, going to the opposite extreme isn’t justified either—i.e., behaving with no thought to how the other person might feel, rationalized by the idea that it is impossible to know how another person might feel. The truth is more in-between. We can empathize with some degree of accuracy, and then if we are open and invite feedback, we can increase that accuracy or correct inaccuracies.

The Double as Supporter and Advocate

One application of this technique is that people can be told that they may ask for help, ask for someone to double for them. (I'm reminded of those quiz shows that allow contestants to ask someone to help them.) The goal is for no group members to fear that they will be left to feel on the spot, on the hot seat. It's nice to know you can know that you can call on an ally and agree that if you ever want a double or advocate or ally, you can say, I need an ally. Now this generates a norm in the group. Even if we don’t agree with this or that person, we can help that person feel she has a right to be here, to be heard. It’s also a way of helping people to feel they have a voice. You become that lawyer, that advocate for the less articulate, or that counselor to talk with.

Forum Theatre

This core technique in TO had an similarly corresponding technique in role playing, used in education, professional training and business since the mid-1940s. A situation was set up, often chosen by the group at the time or ahead of time in planning with the people who set up the consultation: What was the predicament to be addressed. In a group, after a warm up, the director arranged for a few people to set up the scene. Then audience members were invited to solve the problem.

Indeed, something similar happened in 1921 when Moreno led an improv troupe—one which included the young Peter Lorre—and held a series of sessions of the Living Newspaper. In one, for example, on April Fool’s day, after the economy was collapsing in the wake of the First World War, the Great War, and Vienna was very economically stressed, Moreno as a sort of Joker----he really did play the role of the royal fool!---invited audience members to explore how they'd handle the situation if they were all-powerful, a king. He had set up a throne.

Back to role playing as rehearsal or exploration: In more contemporary situations, political candidates can rehearse for a debate their response to surprise questions or comments; astronauts can use simulators to rehearse for complex and unexpected problems; generals can use military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops and a great deal of materiel, all to check out their complex preparations and skills. In ordinary role playing, the techniques of cut, mirror, coaching from the audience, replay, and having someone else from the audience show how she would cope with the predicament.  So there are other efforts that support and resonate with Boal's insight.

Building Empathy Skills

My angle today is to foster your gaining the beginnings of skill in doubling, which is another way to talk about applied empathy. This same skill has applications in imagining what it’s like to be the other person, your teacher or student, friend or spouse, child or parent—even your opponent or antagonist. To do this in psychodrama is called role reversal, but really what we’re talking about is the skill of empathy.

You can't get people to empathize just by explaining why it's a good thing or even telling people to do it, because it's a skill that must be learned, like swimming, and it involves gaining a knack. Nor can you just command children to read or tell them why they should swim. You have to break it down into the components of the skill. I have found that the concept of role offers an excellent language and way to break this down. A role is any complex of behavior that can be enacted. There are not only social roles, but also roles inside you—you play many roles, and some of them conflict with each other. There are cultural roles and body-mind roles.

There are two keys to empathy: You need to guess what it’s like to be the other person, and you need to be willing to be corrected. In drama that’s sort of like the skill of knowing how to take direction from the director. Both of those skills are distorted in ordinary education, which imposes a number of subtle oppressions on youngsters. See my website for more complete discussions of this point. I don’t want to be too didactic.

There are some further tools that will help you guess what it’s like, but to begin with, in unlearning the way to think—and lest this be a little elementary for those who do this naturally, consider it also to be a more systematic, rational way to teach it to others—, the key is to learn how to use your imagination as well as your linear thinking skills. Or use your intuition and right-brain abilities instead of or as a major complement to your left-brain skills.

Let me explain this: Left brain, right brain.

  Now, About roles: Here’s a general system for learning and teaching role taking or empathy skills. We need a system so people who are not psychologically minded won’t become overloaded with anxiety. It helps to help them stay oriented, and talking about the roles they play and how they play them serves as a user-friendly language.  In the workshop, I introduced what I call the "Talk show host game."

Levels of Disclosure

Further, we take the process a level deeper: Three levels   There are three major levels of disclosure—more, but we won’t explore those other levels yet—. The first is what we admit out loud for others to hear. The second level is what we share in confidence with a therapist or a good friend, but discretion or timidity won’t allow people to be this frank openly most of the time. If you think about it, we all operate on several levels in all the important relationships in our lives—what we admit openly and what we tend not to admit, but clearly think to ourselves. And others have these levels in the way they relate to us.

The third level is interesting: It’s what registers briefly in our consciousness but we’d really rather not think about it. It’s not fully unconscious, but it’s uncomfortable. This is what we suppress, but if pressed we could admit it. We just don’t want to. This is the level of insight, of interpretation, in psychodrama, the level of doubling. If you’re a therapist you don’t want to dig deeper because people will just look at you blankly or get mad: what are you talking about? 

Now this also is operating all the time. The skill is developing a sensitivity to this third level. Again, we’ll do another exercise, the way we did before, this time to spend a few minutes exploring that third level as we experience it with some friends or family
What I’d say to you, not say, and crucial level three: What occurs to me but I hate to admit it even to myself
There are several layers to consciousness: First, What I admit openly. Second, what I think clearly to my self and perhaps confide in a good friend, relative, or therapist. Discretion guides me not to say this openly.

The third layer is the most juicy: This is where we need to develop some skill, some sensitivityto our inner thoughts. This is the essence of self-reflection and psychological mindedness. What do we sometimes think but then push that thought away because it is uncomfortable? This is the preconscious.

This layer is where most therapy operates. And this is where doubling is done.

If you’re going to be effective as a joker or practitioner or TO member, you want to have the skill of doubling as much as any other skill you’ve learned. It allows you to bring to the surface feelings that are just about to enter consciousness. You are able to explore why you don’t want them to be explicitly conscious—level 2. It’s very rich. It is the main target of consciousness raising.

For completeness, there are two other levels, the unconscious and the never-considered. But when you work at level 3 and loosen it up, then other ideas that are even more deeply buried have a chance to bubble up gradually. You can’t go deeper in interpretations, because people will unconsciously stop talking with you, walk away, shut down, and the like. They won’t know what you’re talking about. Ditto with level 5. Those have to emerge organically or naturally, never pushed.

Back to level three—where we do our work. The game is to become more sensitive to the way the mind works.

Critiquing Tradition Itself

I don't know if it should be considered a subtle type of oppression or another category, such as beliefs or tendencies that support oppression, but such a category should be recognized. One of the most obvious here is the tendency of people to allow tradition to have its own value, as if they shouldn't be questioned. Moreno gave the term "cultural conserve" to the category of that which has already been created, including our inherited traditions. He also noted that it is not this category that is the problem. There's nothing wrong with tradition in itself. Rather what causes problems is the  human tendency to rely on tradition, to give up their independent pr critical thinking, and to assume that what has been created is good enough. In contrast, to promote optimal creativity---a value Moreno believed in---it was necessary to re-evaluate whatever was created in light of the circumstances in the present moment.

In a sense, the authority of the past, and the authority of the written word, are subtle para-oppressions. The past or the written word are not in themselves oppressive but that people delegate responsibility to these idols is the problem. So in many ways, our collective tendencies towards laziness of mind tends to support all sorts of other oppressions.


Sociodrama tends to be a bit closer to most TO practice than psychodrama. While psychodrama deals with the particulars of the individual in relation to the particulars of other individuals in his or her  environment, sociodrama addresses the roles themselves. Any given social role has a great deal of depth. First, a role may involve sub-roles and even more finely divided components. It is important to analyze these in some detail, because the conflict or problelm in a role may only relate to certain aspects or role definitions while the other aspects are just fine. Another thing about roles is that there are often mixed feelings attending many roles, and these, too, need to be explicated. Some of those feelings involve childish or unrealistic expectations, but some feelings are realistic, and what is less realistic is the social or group definition or set of expectations for the role. (For example, some job stresses are based on what I call the "myth of efficiency.")

Another way to think about sociodrama is that it deals with categories of people, such as occupational (policement, students), gender, race, age, etc. One might explore the sociodramatic issues present between dating young adults, for example, or perhaps grandparents---divorced or widowed---who begin dating again. Of course, some of the issues that are part of people's psychodramas are in a sense also sociodramatic, because they reflect common themes associated with certain roles; and in turn, in most sociodramas there will be people for whom the issue has a particular meaning and plays itself out also with the overlapy of the unique qualities of the people involved.  While psychodramatists doing psychotherapy tend to drop in and out of some sociodramatic explorations, their role is to bring it back to the individual. On the other hand, people who work with general social-action or educational groups should make special efforts to prevent sociodramas from getting too involved in individual particulars, from letting the group issues be obscured by activities closer to psychotherapy! (People who get sucked into such mismanagement feel betrayed, because that's not the contract they felt was operating when they came to the group.)

Sociodramas might involve doctors and patients, teachers and students, ministers and congregants, the overlap of all sorts of categories. They can be very deep and address many ethical and social problems. Like TO, no clear solution may be discovered, but sometimes it is good just to appreciate the varieties of the problems involved. (Other Papers on Sociodrama)

Now the key to sociodrama—a theme we’ll come back to—is the bringing into explicit consciousness the underlying attitudes, the implicit expectations. These are voices, roles. A role is any psychological or social dynamic that can be illustrated through enactment. If you can demonstrate a situation through action, or image, as TO talks about—and in sociodrama it’s called an action sociogram or a family or group sculpture—then it’s a role. We’ll be working on ways to bring out that which tends not to be spoken. The theme of doubling mentioned above is especially helpful in this regard.

Some General Techniques:

Let's cover a few other psychodramatic methods that you may already know, but here are the words we use?

Cut:   You’re doing an enactment and the director calls “cut.” That means that you pause for reevaluation.

Freeze: Is like cut, but there’s an implication that only a small suggestion will be made and then you resume whatever you were saying or doing with the same momentum only with the slight adjustment.

Replay: You take over the scene from a designated point and play it forward, perhaps with a new approach or tactic.

Mirror Technique: This is really more like videoplayback. You step outside the scene; someone plays you as protagonist; you stand with the director or Joker, and watch how that person shows how you interacted with the antagonist or other players. The point is to consider any of the following variables:
     A. What can you notice about “your” voice tone, facial expression, gestures, position, or/and other nonverbal communications? Whether or not you agree, is this how you come across? You could ask the group is the person playing you—the auxiliary—is doing it the way you did or not.
    B. From a distance, can you imagine any other perspective or different approach? Might you want to try again with this new behavior?

Multiple Parts of Self

Also called the "multiple ego" technique, this reflects the fact that we play many roles, and this in part accounts for the complexity of the mind. The role concept, though, simplifies the analystic process by focusing on one facet or role at a time. The complexity of mind may be glimpsed in a general sense by recognizing that people play perhaps 20 major and 100 minor roles in life along with perhaps a thousand transient roles—this is by no means exact, but it gives a general sense of the number. Some major roles have numerous components, such as being a parent, a spouse, or in many jobs. We develop subtle and mixed role relationships with every acquaintance, and simpler ones with salespersons, neighbors, and so forth. In addition, we play roles that are composed of elements or influences that operate between the body and mind, among different parts of ourselves, in our interpersonal relationships, our dealings with various smaller and larger groups, our sub-culture and the more general culture—and there are roles operating between us and other species of life and even the transcendent realm. A role is any complex of attitudes and behaviors that can be portrayed dramatically.

So, as Shakespeare said, All the world’s a stage and we play many parts, but where he was wrong was that we are not merely players: We can learn to participate more consciously and take some responsibility as the co-playwrights and co-directors. That’s what applied theater is about.

A Brief Summary of the Rationale of Psychodrama and Sociodrama

Here's what seems to me to be a logical sequence for presenting Moreno’s ideas:

1.  His goal was first of all, to promote creativity in the individual and the social system.

2. He found that the best way to be creative is through promoting improvisation, getting out there and trying things out. It turns out that this step involves the development of what Moreno and others call spontaneity, the mental alertness, openness to intuitive inspiration, and a readiness to improvise. Spontaneity in turn has several components:

2a: First, you have to be physically energized. Bodily inertia tends to increase a certain kind of inertia of the mind. Movement engages.

2b. Second, you need to feel safe. There’s a certain amount of physical safety that needs to be addressed, but mainly the safety involves the interpersonal field. You need to know that if you make a mistake your playmates won’t get too angry at you and hold grudges, get back at you, or gossip.

2c. Building a sense of safety, trust, requires building a sense of general group cohesion. In turn, one way to build group cohesion is through promoting gradual self-disclosure of everyone to about the same level.

2d.  Another factor is making the process playful. That defines it as tentative and that what goes on in play doesn’t count. The activities exhibited here is provisional, tentative, open to correction, and they shouldn’t be taken as final. The actions shouldn’t “count.”

All these maneuvers support the emergence of spontaneity, which is the mental attitude of readiness, curiosity, being warmed-up to improvising. Many people much of the time are far less than adequately spontaneous. They are not warmed-up, they remain somewhat complacent, inert, unable to access their creative inspirational source.

Play is the lubricant. It need not be frivolous. It’s more just a context in which it is agreed upon that there is leeway in exploring possible issues.

These principles can be powerful tools in themselves. For example, it is very helpful to present creativity as a goal rather than, say, feeling vindicated (proven "right') or in other ways staying stuck in the win-lose paradigm. This also contrasts with another tradition in many social institutions that subtly or not-so-subtly value obedience and submission. They may give lip service to "empowerment," "inititative," and "critical thinking," but these qualities are not actually validated. More the opposite. So promoting creativity in ways that really implement this goal represent a paradigm shift, because in fact most of what has to be dealt with life doesn’t require knowing right answers so much as improvising. So it helps to talk about creativity, to emphasize it as a value.

The need for warming-up also has practical implications: People are permitted to warm up, instead of feeling that they have to be able to will it and do it immediately on command. Spontaneity grows naturally, cannot be willed, but when you know how to warm yourself up, or warm up a group, that helps. Warming up invites people to give themselves permission to get involved with others, focus on the topic, become engaged, play a bit, and to do so gradually, in contrast to the common experience of feeling on the “hot seat” and pressed to say or do things when in fact wise response haven’t percolated yet into consciousness.  Also, these two elements are common denominators in both TO and psychodrama.

Of course, the idea of dramatically enacting a situation rather than just having an intellectual discussion or passionate argument about it is also a common feature of both TO and psychodrama. Although the Theatre of the Oppressed is in some ways a bit scripted, it is also improvisational and strongly interactive, and it shares these features—improvisation and interactivity—with psychodrama.

Applied drama, interactive work, is not just for the entertainment of a passive audience. Rather, it is a context for exploration of an issue. No right answer, no single correct way is known from the outset. Different individuals and groups need to figure out their best responses. Nor are these liable to be free of any downsides or problems. Someone once pointed out that politics is often a choice between the bad and the dreadful.

So I view psychodrama and perhaps TO as laboratories for psycho-social problems. Instead of test tubes and hardware, the instruments are techniques and methods. All are able to be modified depending on the group or the situation: the goal is exploration, the method is improvisation.

Nor does drama need to be emotionally dramatic or cathartic. Sometimes that happens, just as exercise can work up a sweat. But sweat isn’t the goal, it’s the exercise. In this situation, the goal isn’t histrionics, it’s exploration, discovery, experimentation, understanding. So drama in the sense of big emotional drama isn’t the point—it’s more drama in the sense of enacting rather than just talking about it. Getting the whole body involved, in doing.

The Elements of Psychodrama

There are five major elements, plus techniques. These elements have similar correspondences with Forum work in the Theatre of the Oppressed.

The Protagonist. This is not as fixed in psychodrama as it has sometimes been thought to be. The whole group can be the protagonist—then it’s role playing or sociodrama. An individual doesn’t have to be identified as sick, or even as having a problem. In role playing explorations as well as Forum Theatre an individual may be chosen to begin the exploration of a situation, but then other people in the audience—spect-actors—change roles, become the protagonist, show how they might handle the situation. This technique was established in role playing more than twenty years before TO adapted a similar technique. I don’t know how much Boal got from psychodrama— there was a lot of it going around Brazil and Argentina in the 60s and 1970s, and how much he made up independently, and that’s not a concern to me. The point is that psychodrama can learn some from TO and vice versa. Techniques continue to evolve, be refined, and that’s fine.

The Director This is close to the role of the Joker. He or she organizes the general framework of the action, assigns the major roles, interfaces with the audience (spect-actors).

Supporting Players: These are the people who help present the scene, those chosen to play the protagonist’s employer, friend, spouse, and so forth. [Moreno used the term “auxiliary egos” or even just “auxiliary” for short. The term was meant to suggest that in producing a story, the term refers to the role of helping the protagonist’s “ego” by serving as an auxiliary. The point is that the way the role is played is significantly determined by the protagonist rather than the person bringing his own imagination to the role, as he might do if he were an actor embodying a role in a scripted play. In fact, though, there are times when the auxiliary is encouraged to respond spontaneously, and at other times only to respond as the protagonists imagines the response would be.]

The role of the oppressor or anyone imagined to have negative qualities is often better portrayed by someone with a fair amount of experience in role taking, perhaps someone who works with the director in a troupe. In psychodrama, such people are called “trained auxiliaries.”

The Group: These are the spect-actors.
A session may have several protagonists emerge and do scenes in the course of a larger session. In psychodrama, often the protagonist emerges from the group as the person whose story best reflects a concern of the group’s. Sometimes there are several people who are prepared to “work” as protagonist and the group demonstrates its preference by getting up and putting a hand on the shoulder of the one whose drama most reflects an interest or concern of the group member; the one with most hands on the shoulder then leads off as protagonist. Also from the group are picked others to play supporting player or auxiliary roles. The group also serves as audience, giving feedback, sharing at the end, and, by their presence, keeping the action framed as a performance, a play, an experiment or exploration.

It should be noted that Moreno was a major pioneer of the whole field of group psychotherapy—indeed, he coined the term in 1931—and supported all forms, even analytic group therapy. TO also works with group dynamics. One of the principles in group work is that creativity is released as spontaneity emerges, and that happens in proportion to the level of group cohesion, which in turn means acquaintanceship and trust.

The Stage: This might be a special psychodrama stage, which is in some ways like a theatre stage but also not—it is lower, for one thing; easier to go up onto and come off of; the proscenium arch is more porous. Also, for many groups, there is no actual stage, but rather a space designated as such at one end of the room. Through gestures and words it becomes established that what goes on within its arena is tentative, and the people’s actions are “in role.” When they leave this arena they are to de-role, become the person, not the role, and this is to be understood by all present. The stage, then, is a way of making the context of play more explicit, to indicate what is and is not to be taken relatively seriously. On stage people can express emotions that may not represent their own feelings out of role or as “themselves, really.”

The Techniques: In addition to these elements, psychodramatists, sociodramatists, and others use a variety of techniques, many of which are familiar to people in making movies, directing theatrical rehearsals, or exploring revisions. Some examples include:
   Cut the Scene    Freeze in the Action    Reverse Roles        Empty Chair
    Replay the Scene    Behind-the-Back    Sharing        Doubling, ... etc.
    Multiple Parts (of the self)
There are scores of these techniques: We’ll demonstrate some that may be less familiar to TO practitioners.
Now let’s talk about some of the elements of psychodrama and how TO might be helped by psychodrama.

Avoidant Maneuvers

The mind will engage in a wide variety of maneuvers to avoid uncomfortable feelings of shame, disorientation, challenges to deeply held assumptions or beliefs, guilt, anxiety, anger, and/or other emotions or thoughts that are judged by the conscience or other self-programs to be "unacceptable. Freud called these "defense mechanisms."  Some of these are described further on a related website on self-awareness.

In the workshop, in the spirit of Freire, I tried to make this description more collaborative. (A full explication of all the maneuvers and illustration with examples played out dramatically could easily fill a semester course.) Your role is to warm up to the complexes that sabotage anti-oppression work, the complexes that generate what psychotherapists might call “resistances” – though fewer are using that old psychoanalytic term any more. But the point is that in complex systems it’s not as simple as bad-guy oppressors and innocent-victim oppressed. People will find all sorts of ways to prey on this system, to bypass it, to gain personal power in it.

Almost all demagogues sold the idea that their particular constituency was the victim somehow of the “other.” If the other were a minority, then they were undermining or depleting the system. If the other were a majority, then a local power base could be established.

The key is to recognize that as you’re working with groups, there is a strong tendency to avoid responsibility and risk, and to undercut efforts to “help” because they threaten just those elements. This is mostly unconscious—few will admit to this—though the existentialist philosopher called it “bad faith.”

As you do forum or any kind of group work, the key is to notice the temptations to retreat to less conscious, engaged types of thinking, using the sorts of maneuvers that Freud and his followers called “defense mechanisms.” I’ve found that it’s quite possible to frame these as characters on the inner stage who seduce, threaten, and otherwise distract or disempower. A few are fairly clear residue introjects of harsh superego, or inner parent roles—those are easier to notice. What’s tricky are all the games played by what I call the “inner brat.” People do create for themselves a raft of ways of avoiding, disguising, undercutting, and preserving their childish illusions at the expense of mature adjustment. I’ve been startled at how successful they can be in this subtle regressive task.

At this point, since we’re dealing with consciousness-raising, it pays to consider that consciousness doesn’t just blossom with the fertilizer of good ideas. It is also significantly inhibited by a variety of forces. A good flower garden needs pruning and weeding, and even in healthy soil, a neglected garden will soon become overgrown.

I’m not talking about neurotics, here, but also perfectly normal people, bright people. What Freud was really about was not the treatment of the mentally mildly ill, but rather the way normal people are also inclined to self-deception. Since Freud’s time many researchers have also confirmed not the core of Freud’s pet theories, but yes, the tendencies of normal people to fool themselves.

I mentioned before the levels of self-disclosure, and the point to get at is that it’s useful to bring out these types of self-deception, sort of what Freud talked about as being the defense mechanisms—though in fact there are many others. Also, these attitudes and ideas operate not only within the minds of the individual, but also interpersonally, as themes for manipulation, and as phony norms in groups, or misleading twists. Deception can be found in advertising, political propaganda, the logical fallacies in rhetoric, and the many associated ideas that support various types of oppression

What I’ve realized is that these are like little voices. It’s as if you’ve hired them to be part of your entourage, your hangers-on, and they tempt you, seduce you, give you misleading or phony reassurance—and the key point is to be able to hear them more clearly, even play those roles. The more you can identify their voices the more you can answer them, because you recognize more vividly what game they’re playing, what implicit values they’re alluding too.

For example: Let’s work here as a group. The first technique is something we all use: Let’s not think about it. If we know we’re doing it, it’s called “suppression.” But some folks are determined not to think about certain things, they even use unconscious leverage, sweeping things under the carpet, as they say, or putting it into the closet.  What’s interesting is that sometimes this maneuver is done shamelessly, as if to generate an attitude of entitlement: I don’t have to think about things.

Now here’s the key: In almost all these dynamics, there’s at least a germ of truth, or something plausible that can argue for it. The trouble is that these occasions when it does apply then get applied to many other occasions where it’s foolish.

Back to Moreno’s creativity and spontaneity. The game is to deal with what’s up now, to face it clearly and creatively. There’s no guarantee that you know what to do right, or that there must be a right answer, a correct way. The game is to do your best to guess. What’s almost sure not to work, though, is simply clinging to the old way, the way it’s always been done in the past, because most of the time what has been created in the past doesn’t apply to certain elements that emerge in the present situation.

So the call is to become more alert, to raise consciousness, to think critically. They talk about critical thinking and critiquing, but they rarely teach young people how to critically think, to challenge and to question. That borders on impudence, remember.

Let’s dig a little deeper: There are lots of ways to cop out. One of these is to think in generalities and imagine that the words mean the same thing to different people; instead, we must learn a bit about semantics, how the same word may evoke all sorts of emotional reactions. There are people who throw around words like, say, racist, or opressor, without stopping and asking whether those words are accurate.

So not thinking and thinking crudely are two approaches that can be seductive. Like, duh, why not? We thought this way as teenagers and we felt ourselves to be pretty smart.

The third most common set of defense mechanisms and avoidances had to do with putting cotton in the brains to shield the vulnerable sense of self and pride from humiliation. Compartmentalization—making compartments, splitting, is very common. That’s there, and this is here, and they don’t cross over. Well, in fact, in the mind things are not really or fully compartmentalized.
    Here are a couple of games people play with their heads:

This isn’t happening. That’s denial.  It isn’t so. Nope. Never happened. If you tell a lie loud enough and often enough, as Hitler said, people will begin to believe you.

Another variant is repression. That’s like suppression, but you give it an extra charge, emphasis, double whammy. You not only deny thinking or feeling certain things, but you deny ever having denied it. That extra twist makes those thoughts pretty unreachable, which is where the lower consciousness wants them. The wiser self wants access to the whole range of ideas, so they can be cosidered when they are needed, but repression prevents this. Short term comfort trumps longer term mental flexibility, creativity, adaptivity.

Another type of compartmentalization is to deny the reality of things—which can be played in various ways. De-realization, just to tell yourself it isn’t really happening, it’s just a dream. This can be whispered so you don’t know you’re thinking it, and drugs and alcohol can help too. Since it isn’t really happening, there’s no problem.

A variation of that is to de-realize yourself—I’m not even here. Not the real me. They can do what they want to this body, but it doesn’t touch me. That’s a sort of dissociation. It’s more flagrant in post-traumatic disorders, but it operates a bit far more than people think.

It should be recognized that these techniques can run something like programs running on your computer and draining your RAM, rapid-access-memory, and making it go real slow. These techniques can interfere with clear thinking and creativity, being alert and effective. So it pays to neutralize them.

Let’s imagine some other roles inside the head.

The rainbow of desire is good, it notes the different obvious desires that can conflict. That’s sort of like doing a kind of role analysis. But we need to add to that rainbow all sorts of in-between colors, like paint colors can do. In this case, the in-between are the desires to pretend that there are no desires, the cop-outs, excuses, believable excuses that justify our giving into temptations to think like a child but not recognize that this is going on.

Rationalization is another game: You can rationalize doing the most nasty things. Know that your mind is far smarter than you are and will spontaneously come up with the most plausible and reasons for doing what you want, for justifying your oppression, or your passive aggressive response to what feels like oppression. Anything but facing it and talking about it clearly, which might involve some vulnerability.

The truth here is that we are tempted. These voices push our buttons of false pride, fear of shame, fear of being rejected, stuff that teenagers learn to cover over and pretend aren’t going on. This also carries into levels of self-management that are uncomfortable. Authenticity requires that people encounter at this more vulnerable level, though, and part of that is to actively take responsibility to stop using phony cop-outs and defensive maneuvers.

Pluralistic Model of Personality

People play many parts—that’s the plurality. And yet, hardly anyone is really fragmented or dissociated because one of those parts—the meta-role or choosing self—serves to be a kind of inner manager, coordinator, and interestingly, more closely associated in most cases with the most authentic sense of “I” and “Self.” This meta-role is the point of contact for the treatment alliance. The goal is greater integration, greater self-management—and in a sense, this is what is meant by greater “consciousness.” The meta-role is the part that takes responsibility.

(In multiple personality disorder, as it used to be called—MPD—or before that, “split personality”—but now called “Dissociated Identity Disorder,” what’s wrong is not the presence of a variety of roles—everyone has those—but the relative abdication of the integrating meta-role function. The treatment is not aimed at getting rid of trouble-making roles, but rather supporting a re-identification with this choosing-self, empowering that role as the core identity, and then learning to manage the other roles so that different aspects and feelings can be enjoyed and expressed, each in their own proper context.)

People get scattered, caught up in whatever role is most demanding by others or most resonant with the person’s needs at the moment. They “identify” with these roles, begin to think of themselves as that role, and have trouble dis-identifying, stepping back, and questioning whether this is really the role they really should be playing at this time. Maturity and good self-management requires a greater level of skill at this dis-identification. You can’t do any critical thinking if you’re too wedded to a given position.

I sometimes say: Don’t think everything you feel; don’t feel everything you think; don’t believe everything you think or feel, and don’t feel you have to act on everything you feel or believe. What’s important is the capacity to pull away from all these “grab-you” functions and hold off, re-evaluate. You can always decide, after some review, that you do want to go with this or that thought, action, decision, belief—but you’re not just doing it out of blind habit or cultural conditioning. You’ve had a chance to re-think it, perhaps bounce it off some trusted others. And in a way, that’s what therapy or psychodrama or sociodrama or TO offers—a context for self-observation, review, and re-decision.

Role and Rainbow of Desire

We desire many things—often even contradictory things! We want fame but don’t want to be bothered by paparazzi. We want power but don’t want to be blamed. Our desires, our wants, can form a rainbow of many colors. Saying this differently, we play many parts. Further, we have within our minds our sense of the parts played by others, our parents, friends, employers, co-workers, etc. These parts are caricatures, they aren’t real. It’s not really your mother saying those things you imagine your mother saying to you—it’s you imagining what she says—and that image in your mind, played in your psychodrama, is more like a hand puppet enacted by your hand. The point being made here is that people select out certain qualities and statements from other people and over-emphasize them, ignoring other characteristics that don’t fit your image. The point is to empower you to take more responsibility for how much you in turn delegate the responsibility for your actions (i.e., blame) to these images—your mother, the police, the authorities, “them,” etc.

So, as Shakespeare said, All the world’s a stage and we play many parts, but where he was wrong was that we are not merely players: We can learn to participate more consciously and take some responsibility as the co-playwrights and co-directors. That’s what applied theater is about.

Another way to say this: We play many roles; when we become more sharply aware that we do this, we can begin to play with the way we play those roles. There are two senses of the word play operating here. We play with (as experimentation) the way we play (as performance) a role. We become increasingly creative in how we try out variations, and even may come to a point of questioning the social definition of a role. For example, a man might say,  “I don’t care if ‘men don’t do dishes.’ I love my wife, she hates doing dishes, I don’t mind, so I’m happy doing the dishes!”  Role taking is just sort of imitating how we see a role being enacted—kids do this when they play policeman or fireman. Role playing introduces a degree of exploration, some variation. Role creativity takes it a step further and begins to try out some new definitions of that role.

The Theatre of the Oppressed is about re-evaluating social, political, and socio-economic roles. Although on the whole it is less interested in personal psychodynamics, there is an area in which there is an overlap: People tend to hold attitudes that support personal status needs and also support unconscious childish aversion to thinking about things in a complex way. What I’m getting at are the personal tendencies that tend to support simplistic and often scapegoating attitudes that in turn support oppression. Interestingly, often the oppressed participate in these immature thinking patterns as much as the oppressors.

I submit that effective anti-oppression work needs to address this source of resistance. We’re talking about consciousness-raising, empowerment, the capacity for critical thinking, and the courage to engage in intelligent social action—all of which in turn depend on a mixture of maturity and skills in certain areas.

For example, teenagers rarely appreciate the necessity for negotiation and diplomacy, tact and a measure of wise surrender, that is a given in many adult roles—such as, for example, marriage or the parenting of children beyond middle childhood. From the immature mind, this more flexible interpersonal approach may seem like weakness or wishy-washy-ness. (Alas, many in politics seem to believe in the virtue of aggressive rigidity that pretends to be “strength.”)

But the clue is the aforementioned “difficult-ator” concept: Boal recognized that situations are complex and that various parties often had conflicting but not unrealistic interests. Politics and life is in fact more complex than people like to admit. The childish mind not only wants simplicity, but more, believes simplicity is possible, if only the mean old parents (or teachers or other authority figures) were’t so fill-in-the-negative-quality.

I’m suggesting that TO workers need to appreciate the way individuals and groups tend to be foolish, and by identifying these patterns, they can be more effectively countered. The mid-part of the workshop explored how the various defense mechanisms work and may be expressed as characters.

Techniques for Clarifying Group Procss

The Spectrogram  is a technique that group leaders can use to help give the group members and the group leader feedback about what the make-up of the group is about or how people are feeling regarding a given issue. (Action techniques make explicit what would otherwise be implicit in group dynamics and there are other techniques that can further amplify other issues.) The spectrogram offers a kind of action diagraming—using action instead of paper-and-pencil—to help the group give itself feedback about the range of responses to any question. The point is that things are most often not clearly this or that extreme, but often somewhere in the middle or along a gradient.

The director indicates an imaginary line from one wall to the other near the front of the group room. He names a criterion and suggests that people who consider themselves more to one side of that criterion stand in one direction of the line, while  while those who are more aligned with the other side stand on the opposite end of the line. The criteria are innumerable, including, for example, levels of experience, stances pro and con on any issue, degrees of confidence in a skill, ranking as to your sense of your popularity in school, degrees of freedom you feel in some way, etc. Sometimes in introducing the technique fairly innocuous themes may be selected, such as whether you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice cream. In the case of the workshop today, let’s do a spectrogram about who is here in the room, with the criterion being: How much experience have you had with psychodrama or related role playing method?

So those who are quite experienced with psychodrama move to this side of the room and on the opposite side of this imaginary line, those who know little about such techniques. (Note the line is in fact curved inward so that people on either end can see each other.) Positioning yourself hus gives you a chance not only to get up and move around, but also to talk with those near you: Check out with each other: Are you perhaps a bit more than they or less regarding the criterion?

Miscellaneous Comments

Applied drama, interactive work, is not just for the entertainment of a passive audience. Rather, it is a context for exploration of an issue. No right answer, no single correct way is known from the outset. Different individuals and groups need to figure out their best responses. Nor are these liable to be free of any downsides or problems. Someone once pointed out that politics is often a choice between the bad and the dreadful.

So I view psychodrama and perhaps TO as laboratories for psycho-social problems. Instead of test tubes and hardware, the instruments are techniques and methods. All are able to be modified depending on the group or the situation: the goal is exploration, the method is improvisation.

Nor does drama need to be emotionally dramatic or cathartic. Sometimes that happens, just as exercise can work up a sweat. But sweat isn’t the goal, it’s the exercise. In this situation, the goal isn’t histrionics, it’s exploration, discovery, experimentation, understanding. So drama in the sense of big emotional drama isn’t the point—it’s more drama in the sense of enacting rather than just talking about it. Getting the whole body involved, in doing.

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