The Hudson Valley Psychodrama Institute Summer Intensive

A young Moreno in Vienna, recently made a doctor.

Jacob Levy Moreno was Romanian Jew transplanted to Vienna in the early 20th century. He was a smart and inquisitive young man at just the right time, when Vienna was exploding with new ideas in the teens and 20s. First a follower, then a critic of Freud, Moreno famously said “I picked up where Freud left off.” He is the father of a range of group psychotherapy techniques, the most well known of which has come to be called (with all the attendant irony) psychodrama.

Developing a basic idea called The Encounter, Moreno then created a series of exercises and guided scenarios in which patients enact encounters with people, events or memories which trouble them. At the helm of these encounters is a therapist called (continuing the theatrical borrowing) The Director. The goal is to create a safe and structured environment where participants not only work on themselves, but assist others in working on their unique issues. In this way, empathy, play and creativity are activated – not to mention the body and the voice – and dramatic (sorry) healing can occur.

Moreno later in life . . .

As an actor, and a producer at the head of an organization “dedicated to transforming people’s lives through performance creativity”, it’s no surprise that I’m interested in this. Add to that my recent commitment to improvisation as the center of my acting work, then add that I have written about Psychodrama in my first book The Actor’s Way, THEN add that I wrote a play called Psycho Drama . . . an one wonders why it has taken me so long to finally begin to train in this creative/theraputic technique. Short answer – life happened. But anyway, here I am at Boughton Place, the summer home of J.L. Moreno (as he is universally known) and the location of the only theater in the world designed specifically for psychodramatic exploration. This intensive is led by Rebecca Walters and Judy Swallow, both of whom studied with Moreno and his wife, and so represent the direct lineage for this work, which has now branched out and is being taught in graduate and medical schools around the world. The intensive is bering offered by The Hudson Valley Psychodrama Institute, which Judy and Rebecca work for. It offers training in Psychodrama and Sociometry year round. I have a feeling I may be back.

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My play, presented at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1995, Edinburgh, Scotland.

These are dispatches from Boughton Place where our training is happening – but the only names I will use will be mine and those of the trainers. I am here with 13 other adult students. I have only met three – the intensive begins tomorrow and I arrived the night before, as I had to drive up from Philly. When I arrived, one of them exclaimed “Look! We got a man!” – somehow implying that this work is done for the most part by women. I believe that of the 14 of us, there are four men. Not sure what that means, if anything . . . Two of the three have backgrounds in counseling, and the third is also a therapist but has a deep knowledge of Boal’s work on The Theatre of the Oppressed, which has a connection in spirit to psychodrama. Moreno himself viewed his work as ultimately global. From Wikipedia:

In his monograph entitled, “The Future of Man’s World”, he describes how he developed these sciences to counteract “the economic materialism of Marx, the psychological materialism of Freud, and the technological materialism” of our modern industrial age.[7]

His autobiography describes his position as “threefold:

  1. Spontaneity and creativity are the propelling forces in human progress, beyond and independent of libido and socioeconomic motives [that] are frequently interwoven with spontaneity-creativity, but [this proposition] does deny that spontaneity and creativity are merely a function and derivative of libido or socioeconomic motives.
  2. Love and mutual sharing are powerful, indispensable working principles in group life. Therefore, it is imperative that we have faith in our fellow man’s intentions, a faith which transcends mere obedience arising from physical or legalistic coercion.
  3. That a super dynamic community based on these principles can be brought to realization through new techniques…”
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My little bedroom in Boughton Place.

It was that section that sent me into my “now or never” spasm last January which has led me here. I love his unabashed championing of spontaneity and creativity, his declaration about love and sharing, and how he couches these ideas as responses to economic, psychological and technological materialism. In his words I sense a man that had a mission – a mission I think I may be inspired by . . . more later.

The original psychodrama theater at Boughton Place, Highland NY.