The joy of theater grabbed hold of me at age 4. I was creating plays with neighborhood kids before I ever even saw 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 is 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 theater I performed in while at Boston University was a large sign that said “As T’wer to Hold a Mirror up to Nature”. Shakespeare. And this is the very 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 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.
As I embarked 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 to the study of it. 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. What keeps you doing theater? In response, she said to me, “What keeps you doing it?” It was at this moment I left traditional, professional theater and began to embark on creating theater that is healing.
While at Kripalu Center, a holistic retreat and education center, I would create plays with the staff, experimenting with my desire to bring healing to theater. In the course of one play we had created, we had the action of the play cease and the actors talk as themselves about what they were experiencing in that moment. It was like a wave of electricity went through the audience. Everyone became present and engaged. This was the beginning – to have people speaking as themselves about what is mattering to them.
In my years of acting and directing I have found over and over that the audience feels what the actor is feeling. 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 experience 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.
Embody Your Story; Become Enlivened