Siouxland Observer


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Creative Drama, Above All Else

If all you're worried about is how do I look, how do I sound, (how) will I remember all the hard words (or), am I saying this exactly the right way, then you're not really communicating.  …You're in your own head—“ Alan Alda, The Flame Challenge, PBS Newshour, July 2, 2012. 

On the PBS Newshour, Alan Alda defended a science teacher training program where teachers threw invisible balls to one another, and played tug-of-war without a rope.  The reporter, Miles O'Brien, asked how passing invisible balls around helped teachers teach better science.  According to Alda, the answer was simple.  They were communicating.  

(Invisible stuff, 4:10 minutes in.)  Click Alda's gray hair. 

The PBS Newshour report also showed students working on science projects.  The Flame Challenge asked students "What is a Flame?"  Many put projects together, and a winning YouTube video is shared on the PBS website.  But the bizarre behavior of the teachers seen earlier in the report went unexplored.  Just what kind of communication was happening here anyway?  What were the teachers doing?
In the Omaha World-Herald, September 8, 2012, a headline read: EASTWOOD TALKS ABOUT HIS CONVENTION CHAT WITH CHAIR, and readers in Nebraska and western Iowa learned how Eastwood believed his talk “unusual,” but affective.  “A spur-of-the-moment decision,” Eastwood said. 

But again, what was going on?

The publisher who wrote the original story for the Carmel Pine Cone, Paul Miller (the source for much of the information in the Associated Press, World-Herald story published September 8, 2012), did not ask.  His story, originally published by the Carmel Pine Cone, said nothing about how an older man, albeit, a famous one, might do something as bizarre as talk to an empty chair. 

Where did Eastwood get such an idea?

Eastwood didn’t explain his actions either, although he most certainly knew what his “conversation with a chair” was all about.  The practice, common in education, is used as a teaching tool for actors.  What Alda’s science teachers, and Eastwood, did is called creative drama.  It is a staple in acting classes everywhere.  But even more surprisingly, for many educators creative drama goes far beyond acting and theater.  Creative drama is concerned with the development of people.1

Few journalists take drama in college, of course, but some did recognize an actor practicing his craft when they reported on Eastwood.  Michael Barbaro and Michael D. Shear, of The New York Times, critiqued him as an actor doing what actors do, “he improvised.”

Stuart Stevens, a Romney writer who helped Eastwood with his “talking points,” told the The New York Times that Mr. Romney was backstage during Eastwood's remarks.  And Stevens said Eastwood ‘‘…spoke from the heart with a classic improv sketch which everyone at the convention loved.''   

The Carmel Pine Cone also reported support, noting Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, came backstage to thank him.

Eastwood's creative high jinks worked, although creative drama went ignored.

An editorial cartoon by Jeff Koterba in the September 2, 2012, Omaha World-Herald, took a look at the absurd hyperbole of "debates," and the exaggerated importance of meaningless campaign rhetoric.  Perhaps this is what our country needs: a conversation with self about the psychosis dividing us as a people. 


It's a great editorial, but Eastwood didn’t bring us theater, or even a debate.  For theater, as well as debate, is all about communication between actors, politicians and an audience.  Eastwood almost seemed to be exploring his own fear  a fear of public speaking.

Simply, creative drama is primarily concerned with the experience of participants, irrespective of any function of communication to, or with, an audience. 2  Participates explore understanding of the world, and others, through creative drama within themselves.  But there is no right or wrong way of doing this.  For many Eastwood’s performance was misguided.  Much to the delight of Democrats, and their theme of “shared sacrifice.”

"20 years ago I wanted Clint Eastwood to make my day,” Nancy Lee Grahn, a "General Hospital" actress, said on Twitter.  “Now I just want him to take his pills and be grateful he doesn't need Medicare."

Did Eastwood give thought to Winifred Ward, a pioneer in the development of creative drama?  Or to a teaching curricula that included creative drama as a means to help teachers teach better science?  Probably not, but what a fun question to ask: "Where did you learn, Mr. Eastwood, talking to an empty chair is not a problem?”

Interestingly, talking to an empty chair is also championed in the field of psychology, and is standard practice for many psychologists.  The New York Times, in an oped, reported that Eastwood did much more than tickle his muse, or explore his fear of public speaking.  He may have tamed demons.   

“Many found Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention odd,” Jonathan D. Moreno said in the oped, “but I found it oddly familiar. When Mr. Eastwood set up a chair next to the podium and used it in an imaginary dialogue with the president, I recognized it as a technique from psychodrama — the psychotherapy my father, the psychiatrist J.L. Morneo, started developing nearly 100 years ago.

Therapists often use the ‘empty chair’ as a way of orienting a patient to a particular relationship. ‘Here’s your mom,’ they might say. ‘What would you say to her if she were here, right now?’  The empty chair can be a very powerful warm-up to a problematic situation, a way of concretizing dormant, suppressed or abstract emotions in an important or troubling relationship.  Used properly, it can lead to insight.

It’s doubtful Eastwood will ever be another Fritz Perls, but he certainly put President Obama in the “hot seat.”

"What you do you want me to tell Romney?” Eastwood said to the chair.  “I can't tell him to do that.  He can't do that to himself. You're absolutely crazy….”

According to Victor Daniels, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Sonoma State University, a unique aspect of the psychology of  Perls is that he had an unerring nose for (“garbage”), and according to Daniels, an ability to take what was correct and valuable in each of the perspectives from which he drew and let the rest fall by the wayside.  He didn't spent a lot of time refuting what he found useless, but simply ignored it....

Eastwood is known for this too, and has forcefully expressed his opinion on more than one occasion.  One example, Eastwood (while running for mayor of Carmel), told the campaign manager of a rival candidate to "shut your face."  Eastwood intervened, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, when the mayor's campaign manager interrupted Clyde Sturges, a Carmel Innkeeper, when he asked a question.

"Just shut you face, and let her talk," Eastwood told Robert Irvine, Mayor Charlotte Townsend's campaign manager.  "The least you can do is let your client talk."

Eastwood has used this phrase before, according to the Huffington Post, when Spike Lee complained about the racial make-up of Eastwood's films. And now, much like Perls himself (holding Court as the boldest students sat before him in the “hot seat”), Eastwood is calling President Obama to task for what he has been doing wrong in his Administration — and what he must do to correct it.

“What do you want me to do?” Eastwood said to the chair, “I can’t do that to myself….”

It’s perhaps silly to be focusing on Republican improvs (reportedly from a libertarians of few words), but it rang true.  If we worry about how the country looks (or how the country "sounds"), what are we saying about our heritage?  We listen, but far too many of us are in another world.  And just in case you forget how that translates..., well, "Just shut your face." 

Editor’s Note: Please visit The New York Times.  Not much was said about creative drama in the press.  Their spot-on reporting is invaluable. 

1,2 Way, B. (1967).  Development through dramaAtlantic Highlands, N.J. Humanities Press.