Below is a reflection paper that I wrote after a 10-day interactive course by The Color of Grey Cells– a centre for Creative Arts Psychotherapy in New Delhi, India. This module was for practitioners to explore and develop the self in mental health through theory and practice. Usually all my blogs have been about Theatre of the Oppressed and applied theatre methodologies, but a huge realization over the past year for me has been how structures of TO are closely linked to patterns of personal conditioning. I have seen so many frustrated spect-actors during Forum Theatre interventions claim “but this oppression is never going to change, this is just who the oppressor is, there is nothing I can do to change someone who is so stuck!” While these complaints motivate some spect-actors to recognize the reality of the forum and keep improvising interventions, it can make others also feel quite helpless. Sitting with myself for long periods of time during the pandemic made me curious – what are patterns that are deeply conditioned in me? What am I not seeing? Where am I stuck? And can there be anything I can do about it?
Needless to say, that writing this paper brought me significant doses of discomfort but by the end of it – I realized something pretty cool about TO and about my own relationship with the practice. So here you go 🙂
In lockdown I have been spending a lot more time cooking with my mother. While preparing a chocolate mousse one Sunday afternoon with her, I realized some surprising aspects about myself.
On the first day of class, we learned that for the self to be revealed to the consciousness, it needs the ‘other’. While cooking with my mother, she functioned as the ‘other,’ (m-other?) revealing to me parts of myself which I have either repressed or left underdeveloped or am too fixed upon. More specifically, I began to notice parallels between my behaviour in these moments and therapeutic underpinnings of Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre and Jungian’s exploration of Individuation.
Moment 1: “Read through the entire recipe and process before starting. It can be very complicated, and we should know exactly what the next steps are. I don’t want us to make any mistakes.”
It has been a while since I have cooked with my mother and this start took me by surprise. I felt my shoulders tense up. One part of me knew she was right but another part of me just felt like arguing back because this comment felt so condescending. Why can’t we play it by ear? Why can’t we just start the process and see where that goes? In that moment I gave in to the voice of my inner and outer parent and read through the entire process once. It did help me feel more confident on what to do next…
Moment 2: “No! The sugar must be measured exactly till the 1/4th cup mark. You’ve filled it a bit too much. Measure it again.”
As we continued cooking and my mom began to scold me for not meticulously measuring the ingredients, my initial rebel became even louder and more apparent against my inner and outer parent. Enough was enough. I was enjoying myself so how did it matter if the sugar was a little over the 1/4th cup mark??
Moment 3: “The cream is curdling! We’ve messed it up! So stupid, how could we do this?”
My mother often has this habit of scolding herself but hearing her I realized – I talk to myself the same way! Hearing her call herself ‘stupid’ amplified just how harsh I can often be to myself. I patted her on the back, it’s okay mama, we’ll just have parts of the mousse that are a little flakey. No big deal. I am sure it will still be delicious. She smiled back at me.
In Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy and Activism, author Daniel Feldhendler talks about the mirror in a Forum Theatre performance. When a spect-actor (audience member) replaces the protagonist on stage, in that moment, he/she can see himself or herself as that character in the Forum play. The protagonist functions as a kind of mirror for the audience which stimulates the spect-actor to come and take on that role in the aesthetic space of the Forum. In the role-playing process, the spect-actor discovers who s/he and is not and also imagines what s/he could be. When there is a recognition of the self in the other, then there is a desire for a change.
Now in moment #1, when my mother was telling me to be careful while reading the recipe and the measurement, I realized that it made me uncomfortable because she was embodying my inner parent. Infact when I walk into unfamiliar territory, my inner parent always tells me to be extra careful, to make sure I have thoroughly prepared, and it warns me against making any mistakes. Hearing it out loud from my mother made me confront this part of myself, which I might have repressed somewhere in my unconscious. I recognized it – much like the spect-actor of a Forum play. It made me even want to play that role – which I did by reading through the instructions and visualizing the next step – as my mother told me to do. But once I was in that role, I also realized which parts of this character I didn’t want to be. I like being spontaneous and allowing things to unfold in-the-moment. That is why in moment#2 when my mother was instructing me to re-measure the sugar, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. I was enjoying the process of creating, and her obsession over the minute details were taking away from that enjoyment. I am a perfectionist and an improviser. I could feel these two parts of myself debating with each other in this moment.
In Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy and Activism, Feldhendler talks about Boal’s theory of Telemicroscopy through which human actions become observable as if under a magnifying glass – what was far becomes close, what was small becomes large, or as Jung says – when we individuate, the invisible becomes visible. In moment #3 when my mother was scolding herself, her inner parent became so recognizable to me. This is something I do too but I don’t want to be so harsh. That’s why I chose to forgive her and comfort her with kindness- an action that I too hope I can practice in moments when I talk down to myself. I have seen this desire for change play out in a Forum theatre performance when a spect-actor suggests an alternative action for the protagonist because it’s an intervention he/she wants to make in their own lives. Just like how Forum provides an aesthetic space for audiences to rehearse their actions, this moment in the kitchen with my mother, allowed me to practice compassion with her. I hope I am able to repeat the same with myself in the future.
While Boal points to Telemicroscopy as a reason for change – i.e: the spectator chooses to change the actions of the original protagonist because it is so apparent to them, in Jung’s Individuation, there is an integration of the material that lies in the unconscious as part of a new and expanded sense of self. In many ways, this Sunday in the kitchen functioned as a symbol, allowing my shadows to sufficiently make themselves available to my consciousness because they had not been symbolized as efficiently before. Interacting with the ‘m-other’ in such close quarters allowed for this symbolism to occur. In each of the above moments, I felt parts of me loosen, dissolve and be discovered. I realized that I have a strong identity of the inner parent that is telling me to be careful and scolding me when I make mistakes. But this identity can often get tired of being fixed in this role and so it likes to loosen a bit, spill some sugar and have fun. This part can easily also shape-shift and coagulate into a self that is compassionate and understanding when these mistakes and spillages do happen. While of course I see similarities between Boal’s explanation of catharsis thorough Forum Theatre and Jung’s Individuation, I find myself after this class leaning towards Jung’s ideology that doesn’t just stop at the possibility of changing the self, but moreover towards accepting all parts of the self as an ever-changing, shape-shifting, fluid body. Much like a chocolate mousse! (before it freezes).
So if the self is ever-changing – then so is the oppressor in a Forum play, right? How can this thought be an opportunity for the spect-actor to then intervene? Where is the psychological coagulating into the political? (and vice-versa)
Cohen-Cruz, J., & Schutzman, M. (Eds.). (2002). Playing Boal. Routledge.94.
Minulescu, M. (2016). Approaching Trans-generational Trauma in Analytical Psychotherapy. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 1112-1117.