Find Vitality and Your Voice within a Story

The joy of theater grabbed hold of me at age 4.  I was creating plays with neighborhood kids before I had never even seen one! 

Finally, at age 6 my mother took me to see a play.  It was about Raggedy Ann and Andy, whom I  loved because they had red hair like me and they also had red hearts drawn on their chests.  In the play, a bad wolf was after the Raggedies.  I was enjoying the play until something unexpected happen. Andy came running off the stage and into the audience.  My eyes widened; it was as if he had jumped out of a television screen.  Then to my amazement, the wolf came next!  In shock, I immediately hid under my seat.  The next thing I remember was my Mother had brought me backstage and I was standing in front of the wolf.  The actor was taking the mask head off and putting it back on, again and again, until I realized it was a man playing a wolf.  Amazing.

Theater is magical.  Over the arch of the stage where I performed while at Boston University was a large sign that read “As T’wer to Hold a Mirror up to Nature” ~ a quote from Shakespeare. This is the essence of what I have found in the 50 years I have been engaged in theater.  We all come to it and see ourselves in the reflection of what transpires onstage.

While studying theater at Boston University and then later with Shakespeare & Co in Lenox, MA, I discovered that theatre is the study of being human.  Working with my voice, my body, my intentions, with relationships, with all the matters of life, the process fostered profound self-awareness.  Life material surfaced to be processed.  Seeing life through the eyes of a character, my understanding of humanity and myself expanded.  I reveled in the transformative and healing qualities that are inherent in theater.   Being witnessed by an audience brought enormous focus to an experience, a moment that I was portraying and intensified my awareness and the experience of now, of what was present.

During this time, I learned that the words theology, therapy and theater all have the same root “the” which means God in Greek.  Theology translates as The Study of God, Therapy as the Discovery of God and Theater as the Revealing of God.  Theater became a spiritual practice.  A way to be embodied.  A way to be Present.

Embarking on a career in theater, I moved to New York City and worked with a number of regional and Off Broadway theaters.  But the business of theater was very different than the craft of creating a story.  It all became about the ‘performance’, the reviews, the agents.  It was about the product and much less about the process.  I yearned for the transformational experience of doing theatre and thought there must be a way to have this translate within the performance experience for the actors and the audience.

While working with Shakespeare and Co, Tina Packer the artistic director was talking one evening about how theater at its core is essentially healing.  She expounded on how this was so in theater throughout history and prehistory.  At one point I said "The rehearsal process with you is healing but it doesn’t seem to translate into the performance experience. The performances are not markedly different from what other theaters are producing. What keeps you doing theater?"  In response, she said to me, “What keeps you doing it?”  After the talk ended and everyone had left the room, I remained seated onthe window ledge where I had been for the talk, unable to answer the question sufficiently.  Though I didn't know it at the time, it was at this moment I left traditional, professional theater and began to embark on creating theater that is healing.

At Kripalu Center, a holistic retreat and education center, I created plays with the staff, experimenting with my desire to bring healing to theater.  In the course of one play we had created, it was designed so that the action of the play ceased for several minutes and the actors talked as themselves about what they were experiencing in that moment. Each night they did this, it was like a wave of electricity went through the audience.  Everyone became fully present and engaged. This was the beginning of Healing Theatre – to have people speaking as themselves about what was mattering to them.

In my years of acting and directing I have found over and over that the audience feels what the actor feels.  An actor can be yelling and redfaced, but the audience feels nothing if the actor is pretending or doing something on automatic.  If the actor is feeling angry, even if they do not have an outward expression of anger, the audience will feel it.  By the same token, if the actor is on their edge, the audience will be as well.  If the actor is in the midst of a transformational experience, the audience enters a transformational journey of their own. This is what Healing Theatre creates:  a safe container for all present to encounter ourselves and discover our shared humanity.

Healing Theatre began in 1990.  Since 25 original plays have been developed and performed with the people on stage re-enacting their own life journey. 


June 2016

Olivia's Journey into Healing Theatre