Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Why Action Explorations?

Originally posted on July 22, 2012

I have been viewing psychodrama from one abstract level higher, a category I call action  exploration, a name for a category that includes psychodrama, sociodrama, spontaneity training, warm-ups, bibliodrama, and also process drama in education, applied improvisation in business and organizations, and other activities.

Although it partakes of a few drama elements such as story and role and enactment, action explorationt differs markedly from theatre in that
– (1) there is no performance at the end for a passive and potentially critical audience;
– (2) nor is what ends up being enacted something that could be repeated on another occasion;
– (3) there is no scriptwriter, and the exploration is fully improvised;
– (4) there are no rehearsals; the process itself is the source of creativity or insight;
– (5) the participants are not actors, but rather ordinary people being helped to explore in action;
– (6) the audience is supportive, involved, and supplies not only supporting players in the enactment, but in later enactment, the anyone in the group may end up being the main player exploring another situation.
These are huge differences!

Action exploration adds activities such as psychodramatic techniques to the repertoire of skills for insight, communications and problem solving, and these skills can be used in turn in many settings not just therapy! but also all levels of education, professional training, coaching, spiritual guidance, personal development, group support, community building, political action, and so forth.

It begins with something familiar to most people in this field: Make creativity a value and a possibility, an expectation for people as they address their problems or challenges in life. It’s an invigorating myth, a sense of open-endedness that contrasts with the 20th century’s education model that life is mainly about knowing the “right” answers. (In that model, all that needs to be known is known and one is tested on whether or not one has memorized the facts or formulas adequately.)

That the great majority of life involves no “right” answers (already known to “authorities”) and often not even an answer so much as a peaceable accommodation—this is lost on the masses of people who still are locked in the 19th century.  How best to develop and amplify creativity? Make it safe to improvise. Allow for multiple tries and mistakes and the development of self-correcting sub-routines that allow for approximations and alternatives. Promote an interpersonal field that values improvisation and allows for exploratory and trial behavior, that is positive and encouraging, not competitive. In the realm of psycho-social issues, personal, interpersonal, group, social, political, religious, other contexts that have to do with relationships, a useful frame for exploring creative alternatives is dramatic-like enactment. This doesn’t involve scripts, memorizing parts, rehearsals, or talent, and certainly not performance for a passive audience it’s not at all like that kind of theatre.

Rather, dramatic-like enactment involves the setting up scenes and role playing them in different ways, finding out different aspects of the problem, attitudes, understandings, and trying out different alternatives. In this sense, drama is to the analysis of psycho-social issues what a laboratory with chemicals and test tubes is to the analysis of material issues. As we’ve become more aware of the complexity of life we realize that situations involve scores of variables:
– the intelligence of the different people involved, including different kinds of intelligence
– the nature of the communications in the field, including non-verbal communications
– the unconscious attitudes, expectations, beliefs of all the parties involved, and how subtle communications of these unconscious feelings can trigger counter-reactions (also unconscious) in the others
– the experience or adequacy of skill sets of all involved
– the blind spots, the reality that people often don’t know what they don’t know, and how some of these are more obvious to others
– the need to warm-up, to become more consciously engaged, interested, willing to be open, versus tendencies to tune out, shut down, close off, even a bit also partly unconsciously
– the need to try out approaches that fit one’s temperament. One size (approach, style) does not fit all.
For these and other reasons, mere intellectual discussion in the most ideal seminar cannot truly engage the issues most pressing in the world. First of all, intellectual discussion is logocentric, which means that it privileges those who are more articulate. (I realize I’m using some postmodern jargon, but these words are most relevant and need to come into more widespread use!) The less articulate are marginalized they remain silent (if they show up at all). But this latter group may constitute a goodly portion of who in the long run need to buy into the conclusions reached or not. Therefore, a mode of discourse that includes and helps the less articulate to be more articulate is vital for true group dynamic success. (The technique that achieves this is the use of the voice-over or double technique derived from psychodrama. One person volunteers to help the other express attitudes, makes guesses, and key here! invites and accepts correction.)

So drama, scene, role, and techniques that help each person be more self-disclosing help to analyze situations. Enacted exploratory drama or action exploration works in this way. Another technique that involves the value not only of creativity but also of compassion is that of role reversal, people imagining what it’s like to be in the position of one’s opponent. This is a kind of empathy in the service of conflict resolution. It should become an expected element in education in middle school: We need not agree, but we haven’t done enough as early adults if we haven’t made a serious effort at being empathic. It’s an ethical norm that doesn’t yet exist, but it could.

There are numerous other techniques for exploring problems creatively, and other papers discuss them most of the psychodramatic techniques have this purpose. I would like to see these techniques added to the repertoire of people who do applied improvisation. No doubt, some already have integrated some techniques, but understanding the theoretical foundations here might also be helpful. So that’s for starters. I welcome questions as an opportunity to deepen my own understanding.

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