Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Action Explorations: A New Category

Originally posted on December 12, 2012

I’m proposing a new category for thinking about and addressing collective challenges: “action explorations.” This term includes a variety of approaches that have in common the properties of enactment, improvisation, role, and story. One of the approaches within this category is psychodrama, but most dictionaries and many professionals think of this approach mainly as a form of therapy. Journalists often misunderstand even this, considering psychodrama to be any psychologically-infused and somewhat dramatic situation.

My background involves medicine (I’m and M.D., a physician); psychiatry; and then sub-sub-specializing to some degree in psychodrama. Now I’m expanding again beyond psychodrama in promoting all types of collaborative creativity. This would then include, for example,

  • – psychodrama and all its clinical and non-clinical applications
  • – drama in education (not theatre, but setting up a fictional situation and role playing the alternative responses, etc.) (Served by the International Drama in Education Association)
  • – sociodrama (using psychodramatic methods not focused on the person, but on a more general role)
  • – improv in business (many approaches, served by the Applied Improvisation Network)
  • – bibliodrama in spiritual contexts;
  • – spontaneity development (using theatre games or the Art of Play, or for recreation)
  • – role playing in education;
  • – simulations in politics,  military settings, or professional settings
  • – some aspects of the various other creative arts therapies
  • – some aspects of drama therapy (which, like psychodrama, has many applications beyond the “therapy” field.
  • – some mixtures with other “theatre” forms—Playback Theatre or Theatre of the Oppressed (for community building).

It may not be wise to try to fix the boundaries too tightly. Perhaps Flash mobs, multi-player computer games (especially wholesome ones), Live Action Role Playing, and other forms might fit this category too. In a sense, they may be viewed as modes of consciousness-raising. They share the activity that’s more than talking about, and through enactment, they also interact and experiment.

Please note that I am not abandoning psychodrama; it is a rich field with many philosophical and practical implications. I think psychodrama can be a useful approach in psychotherapy when applied with good judgment. But in placing psychodrama within a more encompassing category, I am noting that it is an important contribution and part of the  foundation of a broader vision: collaborative creativity!

This idea of collaboration draws on the best of group dynamics, mixed with a drama- and action-based approach to problem-solving. It’s the next step beyond the more word-based, “logocentric” phase of discourse. In the modern era we wrote and presented papers, gave lectures, debated, all in the service of dialogue. But what about the much larger sector of the populace who aren’t articulate—including children? They have feelings, intuitions, imaginings, sensitivities, body-knowing, craft and other gifts, but they can’t put these into the linear forms of discourse required by modernity.

Action explorations uses collaborative creativity to include this broader population. If you can’t find the words for a feeling, we use voice over (i.e., in psychodrama it’s called “doubling”) and other techniques for expressing yourself.  We work as a team, each committed to bringing forth, witnessing to, and appreciating the other. This counters the drift towards hyper-individualism that marked the modern era (from the mid-19th to the late 20th century, and perhaps extending before and after this period).

As noted, some of the aforementioned approaches have international organizations and their own histories of significant contributors. It’s time we recognized our commonality in sharing the creation of stories, roles, improvisations, and enactments.

Action exploration does not overlap at all with scripted and rehearsed theatre for outside audiences, although I respect that kind of theatre is a cultural institution that is often a constructive force in culture.

Recognizing the underlying common denominators of types of action explorations invites more cross-over and cross-fertilization among all these fields. Psychodrama stops being only for therapy and re-owns the multi-potentiality that Moreno wanted for this approach. There are other overlapping realms of application in psychiatry, group psychotherapy, energy healing, and other approaches.

Action explorations does offer a bit more emphasis on improvisation and enactment. Role is not meant to be held, but rather, by being named, is more open to change: Now let’s have you re-play the scene from the role of one who is (older, younger, the other person, stuck in this viewpoint, wiser, etc.) . Another way to think of this is as a vehicle for expanding our role repertoire, and by expansion, the breadth of our identifications. I become more interested in your “winning” too.

In summary, I’m calling to the practitioners in each of the afore-mentioned approaches—in psychodrama, in drama in education, in improv in business, etc.—to recognize this more encompassing category, the better then to learn from each other and create new syntheses.

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