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Rule Breaking, 10/9/15

We are at the stage in our playbuilding of Rule Breaking where some of our ensemble are ambivalent, some are disappointed, some are controlling and most are anxious.

As a director and a drama therapist, I know this stage well. It is the “planned crisis” that David Johnson and Renee Emunah refer to in their discussion of therapeutic theatre process. It is the part of the process where the ensemble’s symbiotic oneness is broken. Individuations, separations, traumas and violations threaten the cohesion of the ensemble. These ruptures emerge as we close in on the product, the birth of our co-creation.

In professional theatre, there are stringent protocols for managing this stage. Professionalism rules and role hierarchy is employed to enforce rules and order.

In therapeutic theatre, the protocol is more complicated. It is the stage in treatment where our vulnerabilities as an ensemble are evoked. It is the stage in therapeutic theatre where the hard work of healing takes place.

Therapeutic theatre does adhere to general theatre rules, order and structure. As in the theatre we have deadlines. We have audiences to please. But we also understand development. We know that the fractures and the frustrations are a part of creation. We have the tricky job of allowing our ensemble members to reject us, leave us, feel hurt by us and rage at us.

For the drama therapist managing this stage is a challenge, and a huge responsibility.

We are holding the process that is the projective.

We have to hold firm and at the same time be flexible. We have to be fluid with the goals, bounds, and most of all our expectations, in order to let our ensemble members express themselves and find themselves through the process.

This part of growth is very challenging, especially when the show must go on.

And the show must always go on.

Sometimes we lose members because they need more time or space before the production is birthed. In these times we call on understudies. And we call on grace.

Grace, not coercion, is the salve for this stage of therapeutic theatre.

Even though it feels like coercion makes more sense.


Coercion, in all of its disguises, especially the, “I know what’s good for you” disguise, is a theme in Rule Breaking, the play and the process.

And it is here that I am learning the most.

Letting go of needing others to do it my way, or the way it is supposed to be, has proven to be a challenge for me. Even writing this startles me, (I actually do consider my way the way it is supposed to be).

I play Mother in the play. In my first scene I cringe as I watch my son, David (played by my actual son, Bernardo) offer a well-dressed man on a subway platform a bagged lunch. I am anxious, I feel embarrassed, and of course, I grab his arm with all the sureness that he is wrong and I am right. Mother is too self involved to really observe him and listen to him. Mother is afraid to let him be who he will be. She can’t step aside with her assumptions and let him create his own world with his own impressions and contributions.

Before we practice the scene we all do warm ups. I cringe with judgment when my son looks stiff and self-conscious. “Why can’t he do this?”

I see my son see me cringe.

Later he says he maybe doesn’t want to do the show.

I start to persuade him and make threats.

And then I think of Developmental Transformations (DvT), a method of drama therapy that I practice and teach. Throughout our process, DvT is one of the methods that we use for our living inquiry research. In DvT we play with each other, it is improvisational and without preconceived plot or form.

In thinking about DvT theory, I remember that development is varied and that I need to meet my son where he is at and play there.

Join him first, then let myself notice, feel, animate and express from where he lives in this moment. It’s the fundamental lesson in DvT and in play. We call it the recursive process. The recursive process illustrates the way to be with and respond to one another.

We enter in what is, even if it is not our practiced way of being.

David Johnson asserts:

“{one must} accept a greater sense of mutuality and permeability in relationship with others. These traits require a tolerance of unpreferred elements of expression.”

I didn’t realize what a bully I am.

In my next scene, I play Mother and my son has now transitioned to a woman. Mother is defensive, frightened, angry, disappointed and sad. She is struggling with her expectations. He was supposed to be one way. It is supposed to be like this. Mother is not in a recursive process with her son because she cannot enter his space and observe him for who he is becoming. She wants him to reflect her preconceived decision of who he is and how he should be.

Our project examines disability and relationships.

We explore the reality that we live in a system that determines who has the disability and how he/she with the disability must conform, change and evolve.

What I feel, what I am learning, is that I am imbued with this very system. And because of this, I assume that my reality is right.

And when we assume, we are not really present. When we are being right we are not really participating.

Critics of therapeutic theatre always ask “who is the therapy for?’’

And most would assume that the therapy must be for the individuals who are challenged or outside the norm. But I am declaring that the therapy here (and perhaps in all of my therapeutic theatre productions) has been and is for me.

I have needed to change.

And I will continuously need to change in order to truly be with and serve others.


Joe Norris asserts that

playbuilding {is} transformative research not to “cure” pathology {mine} but to provide opportunities through which people can create meanings that better serve them and their relationships with others and the world.”

I am grateful to the ensemble members of Rule Breaking.

Thank-you for making our being-together both difficult and simple.

Thank you for showing me that I need more practice in being present, open and flexible with myself. Thank you for teaching me that I have more to learn about myself in relation to others.

I knew that. Now I really know it. And I will have to know it again.

Whatever happens to our play when it comes time to play it, the journey has been a fruitful one for me.


How do we engage with one another?

How does community agree enough to bring a play into existence in the moment of its performance?

These are the issues that really matter and what theatre does by putting these questions into the forefront.

Anne Bogart

and then you act