Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Vitality Enhancement

Originally posted on September 29, 2013

I am concerned with the gradual growth and seductiveness of an increasing number of media that make it easier to “veg out” as a “couch potato” spectator. To challenge that, I want to remind people of a category of “folk art” activities that can happen in neighborhoods and communities of all types. This may include song fests, simple types of dancing, and improvisational theatre games.

I work at the edge of drama therapy and therapeutic role playing, but these fields naturally expand beyond their capacity to help people in the sick role to note that they can also help people who are pretty healthy to enhance their vitality. These functions might also revise the idea of lifelong education so that in includes developing a broader role repertoire for recreation.

There is a kind of fun in kicking back and watching others do an impressive variety of activities in sports, drama, or the arts; but it’s a different kind of fun when you’re actually participating, when you feel your body-mind engaged in the do-ing! I want to say to those who watch too much, “Get a life!” Doing stuff means that you have gotten a life.

To those in the arts: The availability of mass media of national events have led to more commercialization—and more competition. This leaves those who don’t make the “top cut”—which is most folks with talent—wondering what to do with their talents. There’s good news! The world needs you! The middle group of ordinary folks needs help in being empowered to do stuff without having to worry all that much as to whether they are “really” good. Indeed, folks need permission to make mistakes, relax, let it flow. I’ve found that folk singing, folk dancing, creative writing, certain kinds of art, can be done in ways that don’t require perfection because they’re not performed for a large, passive, outside audience; they’re done because it’s fun to actually do them.

I want to acknowledge that there is a fair segment of any population who doesn’t like to do this or that activity. They have little talent in certain ways. So it’s not “You’ve gotta do this” kind of thing. More, it’s “Find what you like to do!” Some people do through gardening or fix-it jobs or community service, and so forth. I’m just noting that the arts need to be recognized as being both something that can be watched—performed impressively—, but also done, experienced in the process itself.

About drama and spontaneity development, since this is a field of special interest. The key is to break the addiction to showing off talent to a large impassive audience. We can perform for a few family members and admit that we may not be all that good. Even a little showing off can be fun in a family. The problem of formal theatre is that with television and other larger efforts, actors are in a giant production team filled with people who help with clever script-writing, lighting, make-up, stage construction, scene changing, and so forth. There is more time for rehearsal. There is more competition for roles.

My point here, though, is that in their aggregate, the arts as productions for passive audiences has the effect on the masses  of making it seems presumptuous to dare to enact anything. I fear that it gives two hypnotic suggestions: Don’t try this at home. Don’t think you’re good enough to do this. So you might slide into something that seems as good as doing it, and that’s watching it. In other words, just enjoy, live it vicariously, become a couch potato. The illusion is that living it vicariously is as good as actually doing it.

In the olden days when there was less access to national media, there had to be more activities in the neighborhood, which made for more utilization of local talent—however mediocre it might seem. A corollary is that more folks might have felt, "I can do that, or at least participate."

My own interest is to see people get a life, engage more vitally, to  participate in types of singing where the songs are sing-able (not too  complex); the types of dances that can be learned more easily (not dancing  with the stars routines); to draw and feel the fun of creating something  and having it good enough to share with a few appreciative friends without  having to worry about it being good enough for a studio presentation  commercially. In short, I advocate a folk arts revival.

Spontaneity and improv classes can draw from techniques used in drama therapy, drama in education, a whole mess of “warm-up” exercises. I think these methods and the act of  expressiveness is so vitality enhancing. For example, I envision these  approaches modified and applied in elder-care communities and also in  recreation programs and community colleges. I envision the motto being "Get  a life? Yes you can!"

People with less than supreme talent can perform and be enjoyed in small groups where  folks take turns. It’s the participation that keeps up the interest. But  this isn’t for performance for larger audiences. There, mediocre-performing  people are boring. For less-involved larger audiences, talent and  theatrical production techniques are needed.   That is to say, I honor theatre curricula; there’s a place for it! But I  just want to remind the community that there’s a real need, a crying,  pressing need, to re-vitalize the expressive arts as part of the heritage  of everyone. And for those on the competitive ladder, if you don’t make the  "cut"—as 95% do not—know there’s a real need for people who may serve  to catalyze the creative seeds in the aforementioned middle group who are  hungry to be encouraged to re-discover and express their many parts.

A friend who is a leader in the drama therapy community, Dr. Sue Jennings, agreed, adding, “Let’s get back to ‘neighborhood arts’—our more immediate community—where local groups get together as part of their neighborhood, especially with singing, dancing, storytelling and of course dramatizing! What is drama after all but stories in action!?”

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