The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Sandra Katz. Sandra is a Drama Teacher with the Ontario Peel Board of Education. She asked me to be a subject for her thesis entitled, "The Double Mirror"
Copyright 2000 Sandra Katz
The interview is seventeen pages long so I have placed shortcuts so that you can surf through the interview for points of interest.
STEPHEN LA FRENIE
Stephen La Frenie is the artistic director of Graphic Mime Theatre. His forte is mime and physical theatre which is mainly based on physical expressionas opposed to acting or spoken theatre. Up to and including this date in his career, Stephen has considered himself primarily a teacher, although he also writes, directs and performs.
His theatre training began in Vancouver with an acting teacher, Gary Pogrow. He thought this interesting considering the topic of the interview because Pogrow also taught drama as therapy. Stephen began as a would-be playwright and said that his earliest memories about creativity involved his writing stories for English class in school. "When I was a teenager, I was very shy and withdrawn. I had no self-confidence whatsoever. To be perfectly candid", he said, "I was sort of a geek."
He had no real friends, no social life or anything like that and so spent most of the time in his room. He has a real empathy for the quiet, seemingly withdrawn kids in the classes he has visited. The reason for his withdrawn nature is based on things that have happened in his childhood. He did not want to elaborate on these details.
Therefore he was left with a lack of confidence but a strong will and desire to express himself. He felt there was a lot of blockage. His parents were separated when he was five years old. "My dad walked out. My Mother, although I experienced a lot of her frustrations, never discouraged me from what I wanted to do. So, from her I get a strong sense of will and stubbornness."
She taught him to have a true sense of "who you are " and that that is whats most important. She also taught him a good sense of duty and discipline. These last things did not become evident to him until later, although he said they surfaced naturally once in awhile when he was in difficult situations.
He said that he desperately wanted to get out of his small town home and family environment. So, when his sister announced that she was leaving home, he asked her to take him with her. Once he was settled in Vancouver, Stephen began to write but could never seem to finish anything. "So, I started writing plays but I never actually finished writing anything. Things would get started; I would have ideas, but I could never get the project completed and this was a real problem. So, I decided that I would take acting classes."
At the time he thought he could get a better understanding of the technical perspective of how to be a writer if he actually went through the process that an actor went through. Or as he said, "So, I would actually know what was stage left and stage right." It had occurred to him that he was trying to write plays with no real knowledge of theatre at all. He had never even seen a play.
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He was seventeen when he settled in Vancouver and started acting classes with Gary Pogrow. Pogrow who was from New York taught theatre from two perspectives: Drama as Drama and Drama as Therapy. He was therefore experiencing the classes and exercises with people who were not actors at all. They were psychology students or therapists who wanted to take the classes specifically for the Therapy techniques. "This created a very interesting duality within the group."
Stephen spent the next two and a half years (1976-78) with Gary Pogrow, studying theatre and as he explained later, getting therapy at the same time. Stephen said that Pogrow brought in a lot of aspects of Gestalt therapy and remembered a quote from his old teacher. " In pain there is humanity. I dont know if that pertains directly to Gestalt or not but for me, in my memory, I associate it with the Gestalt exercises we did". Exercises, he said, he found very frightening at the time. The workshops had two purposes then. You could use the exercise for personal therapy in order to learn about yourself and why you do what you do or you could approach them as legitimate acting exercises and use them for character study. It was always the students choice and some of the acting students constantly went back and forth between the two. This is mainly because they were such strong influential exercises designed to bring out emotions. "Some people broke down and cried and did all sorts of things. Gary made this duality of purpose clear. He always gave us a choice to do an exercise or not and sometimes we were specifically warned that an exercise had more of a therapeutic application than a theatrical one." Stephen remembered having to stop some exercises before they finished because he felt things were getting out of hand.
Stephen gave an example of one such exercise. "We did one exercise that was very scary. This is the one that is still a mystery to myself. I have always been very hard with myself and judge myself very harshly. Mainly because I am really trying to prove something to myself as opposed to proving something to the world. Upon entering the room everyone was told to lie down in the dark. The exercise was to have a fantasy. You lay down on the floor and started to fantasize about anything and so this was my fantasy: I am up on stage, a small stage, like the coffeehouse in Vancouver, called the Classical Joint. This was a coffeehouse in Vancouver where I loved to play chess. I had always wanted to perform there. I am up on stage and I am doing a mime routine and it is a café with candles on the tables. There are tables, chairs, and the stage. Then there is this presence in the back watching me and I am very aware of that. I dont know but it was much more real than the third eye watching. It was not me who was watching the fantasy take place, there was some thing, some one within the fantasy, at the back, that couldnt be seen. Though now in fact, I believe it was myself. This very large presence watched everything I did. So, everyone had their fantasy and that was mine, doing mime in a coffeehouse being watched by a mysterious presence. I also remembered that there was no audience. Just the "presence."
He said that after a certain time the teacher asked everyone to get up and asked for a volunteer to go first. Stephen Volunteered. Stephen went first and related to the class his coffeehouse fantasy. Once he was finished the teacher asked the other students to go up one at a time and "perform" Stephens fantasy. Some body got up and they were the table; there was a candle on the table, so somebody was the candle and then there was someone playing him on stage. (You did not participate. You were a spectator and you were going to watch your fantasy come to life in a certain way.) Someone also got up and they were the mysterious presence in the back of the room. Then they all started talking about who they were in the fantasy but not as a role but simply describing literally what they are in the fantasy. For example: Someone says, I am a table. I am a square table or I am a candle on the table. I am Steve doing mime on the stage. I am a mysterious presence watching Steve from the back of the room. On and on like that.
It was somewhere in the midst of all of this that Steve remembered becoming very scared watching his fantasy unfold.
"I felt like something was being ripped out of my body. Something deep inside was surfacing. I broke down and started crying and yelled, Stop! Stop! "
He said he doesnt remember to this day why he stopped the exercise or why it was so frightening for him. He speculates that it might be based in a need for approval that he had at the time or some other revelation that was surfacing but that he has since blocked out again. He never followed up on it because he invoked the workshop's most important rule. He chose to stop and not talk about it.
" When I broke down and cried, essentially everyone was very sympathetic. Gary re-stated that I could stop an exercise anytime. I was given time to compose myself. Since I did not want to talk about it he let the matter drop and proceeded with the next person."
Stephen said that some of the other students appreciated his willingness to stop because they too were there to study acting and were feeling pressured to reveal things they did not wish to. He explained that if he had wanted to dig deeper into the reasons for his break down he could have. "If I would have asked Gary he would have pushed further to analyze the fantasy. It was never my obligation to go further and I had already tuned in to the fact that I could always do it as therapy for myself; self-analysis."
Stephen believes strongly that there is a misconception in the theatre, a mythology that you have to reveal everything about yourself and that you are naked in front of the audience. Hollywood magazines and publicity machines he said deliberately push this myth. Some actors themselves according to Stephen enforce and justify this myth with a perverse desire to expose themselves personally in public.
There was however, an exercise that did create a desire in Stephen to have analyzed and made a very dramatic discovery (for a shy withdrawn teenager) which influenced the rest of his life. It concerned an exercise in stand up comedy. The exercise involved taking an event that was happening to you at present in your life and tell it to the class as if it were a stand up comedy routine, a joke, ala Lenny Bruce.
At the time Stephen was working in the optical industry. There was a union problem and a vicious attempt to decertify the union. He had decided to become a shop steward and represent his section. It is important to emphasize that he got along very well with his bosses and other employees. He decided to become a shop steward after testifying at the decertification hearing. He heard first hand, a lot of nasty things that the Company was doing. This Company was also very racist and anti-women. They believed that a woman was supposed to do only certain jobs and not others. After Stephen became a shop steward everything changed. All of a sudden, people wouldnt talk to him. Some people were even dismissed or suddenly found that they were not good enough at the end of their three-month trial period, which was the Companys window to accept or dismiss new employees before they joined the Union. The real reason for these dismissals was that they had become friends with Stephen or simply had lunch with him. The anti-union employees and some management people even spread rumours and told out right lies to new employees. "My favourite was finding out that I was living with my brother in a sexual relationship." On one occasion he was even threatened physically in front of the other employees in his section. Now he was in a situation where the reasons for his leaving home were surrounding him again. However he remembered that his mother was always tenacious and has inherited her stubborn streak. He decided to stick with the union and at the age of 19 became vice-president and even president of the union for a while.
This was the situation that he chose to speak about in his stand up comedy routine and specifically about the time his manager came into his section with copies of recently filed grievances. "In front of everyone he told me to take the grievances and shove them up my ass and tell the Labour Board he said so. This was always a big joke around everyone because I knew specifically that if I had said that everyone had heard him say that, then everyone would simply deny it. " There became in his comedy routine a whole issue about existing. He remembered this very clearly because he was talking about how after he joined the union he stopped existing for everyone. "I didnt exist anymore for some people and I remember saying off the top of my head, Well yes, sorry I do exist. I exist for the one brief moment it takes him to tell me to take the grievances and shove them up my ass and tell the Labour Board he said so and everyone looks at me and laughs in my face."
After you finished your routine Gary asked you what you thought the point or message of the routine was. Stephen remembered saying something like, "That talking to my manager was like talking to a brick wall." Gary said no. That was not the point of the story. Stephen became very uncomfortable and afraid and said, "I dont care what you think". Gary apparently took this in stride, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Then youre wasting our time." At that point Stephen said he gave up fighting the revelation that was coming and asked him what the real point of the story was. "The point to the story is", Gary said, "you dont need those people to tell you that you exist. You need yourself to tell you that you exist." That may seem like standard advice but it really hit home for Stephen and has shaped his life ever since. For someone who needed to find some form of existence for himself that was a very important discovery.
That was what the workshops and exercises were designed to do: To bring about an awareness of yourself so that you could then apply it and understand either a theatrical character in a play or simply yourself. That was the dual nature of the workshops that he spoke about at the beginning. He had two choices. He could take that and apply it therapeutically and keep doing exercises to work on his self-esteem or use the exercise of shaping personal experiences into a stand-up comedy act. Gary was capable of taking his students in both directions.
I asked Stephen to clarify for me that this story was a real situation in his life. He said yes. I inquired further as to whether Gary allowed them to use it in a role-play situation. Would he have taken that and had you use some techniques where you would have played the other guy and someone else plays you? Stephen explained that in that particular situation role-playing was not useful. It was important to tell it as a joke. "One of the hardest things to do is laugh at yourself and as far as I am concerned, there is not enough humour in the world."
He said that the exercise brought out a real sense of objectivity and that was a real challenge because you couldnt just look at yourself as being a victim because everyone else is laughing at you and there you were shaping it into a joke. You wanted people to laugh at you.
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In relation to specifically Drama as Therapy or Drama in Education, Stephen feels the therapy comes naturally through the theatrical process. You naturally reveal things about yourself. You can reveal very specific things that are too difficult to reveal through your normal daily experiences and that alone is therapy. Role-playing doesnt interest him. "I dont think that it accomplishes that much. I think that it is an unnecessary participation by someone else. Theatre itself is the therapy. Once you reveal something to yourself or out loud you can speak about it. It doesnt have to happen through role-playing."
Therapy does not have to happen in a private session between patient and therapist. In terms of group therapy, if that worked for people, then very good. He didnt feel he had the qualifications to dispute it. He said that for him, what he sees coming from his students both healthy and unhealthy and from his own experience is that the process takes a longer time than group therapy can give. He used the stand up comedy exercise above as an example of what he meant.
"If somebody had played my boss, well big deal. If I could have said in an improv situation, ok, you jerk, you asshole! That is not therapy because you have said that already; so saying it in a role-playing environment doesnt do anything for you in my belief. Specifically for role-playing, you are saying out loud what you have already said in your head except you can never fulfill it as strongly as it is in your head."
He finds it questionable in his experience, what that revelation actually does. "You have said something publicly but in front of a therapist who wont tell anyone anyway so therefore it is not really exposed." Stephen feels that therapy has to happen in public, as an expression. This is why he feels art, as an artistic expression, is much stronger than doing group therapy in terms of role-playing. Someone pretends to be your dad and you say whatever comes into your mind. Actually to talk out loud in that sense is very good but you dont need the other person playing the other role. All you have to do is storytell. Verbalize. Start talking."
One of his techniques that he uses for teaching is to have the student talk as fast as they can and feels that that does the trick. "If you talk as fast as you can and sometimes even as loud as you can, things come out of nowhere; they just start appearing." He refers back to the, I do exist for one brief moment line in his comedy routine. He never would have said to somebody portraying his boss that he didnt him to tell him that he existed. "Its just not going to happen in my belief." This is why he questions role-playing.
Stephen then talked a little more about his rapid storytelling technique and mime techniques. He said that what you expressed through rapid storytelling were images. That is how most of us think and dream. We sense things. So, therefore as it comes out of your subconscious; it comes out in ways that dont always make sense. The challenge of the technique is to remember what you said and start associating the images, which changes them. You may not find what it originated from but now they are out in the open. From a theatrical point of view he said that your body has a memory and remembers things on a subconscious level. Your body reacts instinctually. "If I slip and am about to fall, my body will grab something and then, only afterwards do I react with awareness. Oh! I almost fell. However my body has reacted already and says, "I know. If it wasnt for me youd be down there!"
Stephen has worked with students who have been heavily medicated and yet, to the surprise of their caregivers, have been able to remember physical activities week to week.
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His first experience applying his techniques was with a workshop for prisoners in Guelph at a medium security prison. It was a workshop in clowning. During the exercises, the prisoners talked about why they were there and how they felt about it. They did this both as a clown routine wearing a red nose and as a movement piece. He specifically remembered about one prisoner there. It was a man who has been given a jail sentence for his ninth drunk driving offence in which he had caused an accident. He was extremely angry and couldnt figure out why he was in jail. "For him," Stephen recalled, "it was a real addiction to alcohol."
One of the exercises he did was for the men to take an emotion of their choice and express it through movement. The movement sequence was very simple. You started on the floor and proceeded to rise to standing and return again to the floor. How you did this was your choice. They later performed this for the other prisoners in the program. This one prisoner in particular refused to wear a red nose and was always talking about how the prison officials played with his head. The clowning techniques Stephen used came from his experience in the workshops of Dean Gilmour. Gilmour was a graduate of Ecole Jacques Le Coq. One of the techniques was to play the role of an authority figure named Monsieur Loyale. The authority figure would pick on the clowns and even at times give them a little slap on the back of the head. He would place the clown under extreme pressure, always grilling him/her about what they were doing. "You discover your clown by discovering how you react to pressure." The clown had to keep constant eye contact with the audience or with the authority figure. Eye contact is very difficult for most people.
This one guy was always fighting. He would say that they were always making him do things he didnt want to do. He was always fighting and this, explained Stephen, was how his clown was revealing himself. Denial and anger kept coming as he talked about why he was in prison. He was an angry clown. He finally did the movement exercise and it was very simple, direct, and self-revealing. He started by sitting on the floor. He had his head bowed and was very tense. He kept looking to the left at a very specific spot. There was a definite struggle going on and finally he couldnt stay where he was and got up and went over to the left and poured himself an imaginary drink and then sat back down. "Thats his problem.", said Stephen. What he finally said in a short twenty-second or so movement sequence was more than he could get out in words. With words you can fight and dance around the revelation. He knew he had a drinking problem. He could express it without saying it in words. The men were free to make the movement abstract and just express a feeling but this man couldnt because he was by then too self-aware of his problem from all the rapid talking and pressure. "It was out in the open. It is not the public confession that is therapy; it is only self-revelation that is therapy and your self-awareness."
His next related experience came as a workshop leader at the Thistletown Regional Centre. He conducted a series of ten workshops for emotionally disturbed teenagers. Some of the clients came from abusive environments while others suffered from hallucinations and were heavily medicated. Some of the girls couldnt talk or express themselves. There was a girl named Helen who would constantly say "Yes. Yes. Yes" to everything you said. But when you looked at her and asked, "Are you listening to me?" she would laugh and say, "Okay I wasnt listening." The sessions were taught once a week and were one and half-hours long.
What Stephen wanted to bring to Thistletown, was the sense that mime operated on a deeper, physical level and that their bodies would remember the activities despite their condition or medicated state. Mime works by examining something and breaking it down into isolated movements. However these clients at Thistletown had to have things broken down even more than he expected. For instance he introduced the exercise of having a red ball in you hand and throwing it into the air. That was way too much information for the students. He had to break it down further; 1) I have a ball. 2) I have a ball in my hand. That was it. Then it progressed to; I have a ball in my hand. What color is the ball? They would make up a colour. That was all for the first week. They progressed wonderfully though. Each week he would begin by asking them what they did the previous week and to the pleasant surprise of the caregivers these kids were remembering. They even remembered things that he didnt or wouldnt have thought they were noticing.
"There was a Chinese girl in the class and she said, "We learned how to close mime". All of us looked at each other, the other therapists and I and we dont know what the heck she is talking about. Well we finally figured it out. She saw that I had a habitual gesture, which was a hand clap. At the end of the first session I said, "Thats your workshop for today", and I simply clapped my hands once. Well she remembered this physical gesture and interpreted it as meaning, "class is over". I was very impressed."
In honour of that they made the hand clap gesture the official symbol of ending the class. By the end of the workshop series they were throwing the ball in a circle to each other and describing what they were doing at the same time. "So for me, the therapy comes from the sub-conscious memory and the expression of it."
The physical gesture then is very important because things are sensed about each other through those movements. Getting someone to act out and to move and then to talk about moving generates the subconscious body memory and allows for the access of images that we didnt know were there.
I began to form the impression that Steve didnt believe there was a need for evaluation, either from a therapist or any other third party. I asked him to clarify this for me.
"No that is a choice." The problem he said was whether or not you can put it back in and deny it. His experience was that once something became a revelation for you, once you have done something physically it is very difficult for you to deny it. Now you have to accept it. That was one of the most important aspects of Garys workshops you do everything as a human being by choice. You chose to go in that direction during the improvisation. You can discuss why but you cant cop out! You must accept the responsibility for all your actions. Stephen took that rule outside the workshop environment and applied it to his personal life. "I have discovered that taking responsibility for all your actions creates a deep sense of right and wrong as well as pride in coping with whatever problems arise. This leads to effective problem solving instead of blaming."
At Thistletown then, Stephen said that the therapy was the cognitive ability to remember the events that they experienced the week before. For Helen, one of the girls there, who was heavily medicated and could hardly move, remembering things day- to -day or week- to- week was a tremendous challenge and accomplishment. They were free to express themselves emotionally as well. They could remember how they felt as well as the physical activity, although in these workshops he did not have time to expand on the emotional aspects. "Mime is physiotherapy as well."
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Another experience Stephen related was teaching people who were mentally challenged. At Nelson Boylen S.S. there was a multi handicapped program. Students had physical handicaps as well as learning disabilities. He did mime exercises with them and even though some of the students couldnt talk, he said that the mime brought them to life. He doesnt think that you can access everything through speech. "I think that you have to have the physical element which is the most powerful aspect of our lives."
One young man in his workshop at Nelson Boylen could hardly speak and was slow. After a couple of mime sessions, Stephen said he watched him do one of the funniest improvisations he has ever seen. "He started making a pizza. His eye for detail was remarkable and he didnt stop at just making a pizza. He received a phone call and filled out an order. He made it. Locked up the Pizza store, got on a motorcycle and drove all the way to the house. The person comes to the door and gives him the money but he didnt have change. He tells them to wait and rides the same route all the way back to the Pizza store. Opens up again, goes to the cash register and repeats the process of going back to the house. It was very funny and rich with detail." Stephen said that he rarely saw that kind of openness and willingness to keep going in an improvisation. "My usual experience in the classroom is that a student would have maybe finished making the pizza and ended the routine there. But this guy just kept going and going until I stopped him."
Stephen believes that subconscious memories and feelings can be brought back through physical movement. He brought up the subject of hypnosis and related the mistrust he had for it. "I do not believe in hypnosis. Hypnosis is a very frightening thing we shouldnt participate in but that is just me." He believes that you are turning your sub-conscious over to somebody who you dont know. To him, this is a very dangerous action, whereas physical memories, which come out through improvisation, place the control with you. If you reveal something while you are in control, it works therapeutically. It gives you the self-confidence to be able to challenge the next memory that comes out. To reveal something through hypnosis and be confronted with it to him is frightening because you are trusting that it really happened and that the person didnt implant the idea in you however innocently. You are not in control and must keep relying on the therapist. "So, there is no therapy happening as far as I am concerned. Therapy happens when you are in control."
He felt that this was a vital thing that had to be taught to teenagers in the school system: To be in control and accept responsibility for their actions. "Even though the curriculum says that Drama is social skills, you can take all that curriculum and throw it in the garbage and teach theatre strictly as a profession, just as you would teach woodworking. You know, woodworking is not a socialization skill so why should Drama be? It doesnt make sense to me, personally. The socialization skills, the self-confidence is inherent in mime and inherent in theatre itself."
I asked him to clarify whether he still believed in the technique, in the outcomes that we were talking about such as, leadership, motivation, and self-confidence? "Yes. Those are just natural results." I stated to him that for the last twenty years, I had been aware, through my readings, that the prime focus must be on those other aspects and that then the skills develop. He appeared to be fully reversing this.
"In my opinion", he said, "it is the reverse. There is no reason to do that. So, to teach theatre as social skills, you are getting into, what are "social skills" and it damages the theatrical experience." He felt that this was a form of "theatre for social therapy" with no clear idea what "social therapy" was. You are not socializing teenagers by teaching them role-playing in the classroom. That doesnt work for him as a teacher and he doesnt think it works for students. "If you taught theatre strictly as theatre, everything would follow suit; they would naturally become more confident and sensitive."
He believes that teaching theatre, as a profession would therefore have a double benefit. You would teach them a skilled profession and instill all the social qualities you wanted to in the old approach. The natural qualities that emerge from drama naturally flow into other areas of the students life and school environment. In theatre, you have the confidence-building techniques that you need for presentation skills in other subjects. "Theatre brings out the ability to learn math."
He said this is not recognized enough. Drama is watered down to a point where it is not challenging anymore. He said the one thing that students needed between the ages of thirteen to eighteen, before they go out into the world is a very hard challenge." He believes that students are capable of doing it. One thing that theatre doesnt do at present in the high schools, is rise itself to the challenge that the students can give it. So, in other words, it is always shortchanging itself, it is always beneath its achievement level. This is why he felt that high school drama programs worked, only when they had a teacher that could inspire. "You should be hiring special teachers to teach that kind of thing. Unless you recognize the legitimacy of the art form, you cant teach it as a technique in something else."
I asked him if he meant professional actors when he said special teachers. "Yes. Professional, theatrical persons, but not necessarily an actor. Not all actors can teach. Teaching is a profession, an entity in itself. Just because someone is a professional actor doesnt mean that they can teach theatre. Someone could be a wonderful teacher and not necessarily be a great performer. It is one thing to understand the process and another to actually cope with being in front of people."
Although he studied art as therapy with Gary Pogrow and has read some of Carl Jungs work he still has a great mistrust of therapists and psychology as a science. "I criticize art as therapy in terms of the methods of using it. I dont think its a science; maybe psychiatry is because it is based on medical research but I certainly dont think a lot of therapists are legitimate." He said that in fact, he thought that there was an oversell of therapy in our society. For him they all do the same thing which is take the authority to take control of your own life away from you only to hand it back to you as the solution to your problem. "Therapy steals that from you first."
I asked him how drama could be different but still therapeutic. He said that if you act a role of somebody who is really frustrated, then you naturally came in contact with your own frustrations. Drama reveals your own feelings and forces you to deal with them. The one important thing that is missing is what he described as the myth that there must be somebody there to say, "Yes, you have solved your problem. Yes, that is the problem." Even though you have realized what the problem is, there still must be that formal confirmation to everything. He explained as an example that he could have gone to a therapist when he was younger, but through doing "theatre" he had accomplished the same thing. "I have accomplished all that without going to a therapist and I havent spent all that money."
Therapy has become, according to Stephen, just simply whatever a particular therapists personal opinion or philosophy is. Its not based on any scientific study or on any real factual evidence in his opinion. He gave an example of a young girl he knew who was raped and went to a therapist. In her first session, on their first meeting, the therapist said that he was going to pretend to be her attacker and was going to attack her and that he wanted her to say whatever she felt she wanted to say to her attacker. This had a devastating effect on the young girl who was eighteen at the time.
Stephen expressed his frustration at this type of approach. " Is there a PH.D. program somewhere that teaches that as a legitimate aspect of therapy? Maybe he had a whole background of why he wanted to do something like that but the opinion of this young girl was, fuck you. I am not coming back here any more because you are just weird! So, its not, "Hi, my name is John and I know this is going to be difficult for you and its going to take time. And talk for a bit and maybe the fourth of fifth session if someone can prove to me that actually attacking a woman who has just been attacked is somehow "therapeutic" by attacking her again, well its beyond me."
Stephen feels that therapy in itself sometimes creates the need to have the therapy and really all you are doing is talking. He spoke about a show he listened to on the CBC IDEAS program hosted by Lister Sinclair. He couldnt remember the persons name as Bill MacKnight but wasnt quite sure. The speaker talked about how the family and the role of the community in family is gradually being displaced and being taken away from us. He used an example of a study concerning the grieving process. There were, according to the study, professional "bereavement counselors". When someone in the family dies, they have research to say that there are eight different stages of grieving. The family, during the initial process of grieving, only experiences the first four. There remain the additional four stages of bereavement that the counselor then helps you through. Mr. MacKnight gave this example of the effects that this can have. Aunt Jessica calls and says, "I want to come over tonight and Ill be with you and talk with you." And the nephew says, "I am sorry Aunt Jessica, you cant come over right now. The bereavement counselor is here and we are talking." In effect, Aunt Jessica is being told, "I dont need you. You are not needed. You cannot help me and the family in this process." Yet in fact, for centuries the way to do it was with the community and family members involved in the bereavement process. "You dont need a therapist to tell you that it takes time. You need your family there. Aunt Jessica and her nephew need to be together and do not need separate sessions with a stranger."
He felt that there is over dependency on therapy. "I guess its basically this: a good friend is as good a therapist as any Drama Therapist is". I asked him if he felt that a teacher could be as good a therapist as a professional psychologist could? He confirmed that in certain areas he believed it was true. He said that kids arent as messed up as we think they are. Young people are neglected by their parents and they need a role model and a listener, not necessarily a father or mother figure but simply someone older who they see as being older. He felt that a person couldnt play both sides of the fence though. You cant be a friend and an adult role model because, some time, they are going to look for a parent. They need a parent; they need an adult to go to and if you are always their buddy, you are no longer an adult. That line has to be there. Traditionally teachers were role models. Now, teachers are so overloaded with all their responsibilities and at the same time restricted in the way they can talk to students, that they cant act as an effective role model.
The main philosophy behind his teaching is self-confidence and discovering creativity and the independence that already exists in the student. Its all based on a personal perspective, from a self-centred point of view. He has explained to students that self-centred" just simply means that you are centred within yourself because you cannot be centred anywhere else. He said that we have a mythology about what self-centred means, that it is selfish to be self-centred. He distinguished the difference between self-centred and self-obsessed. Once you have confidence, in your own perspective he believes that you give more. You dont have to teach a philosophy of giving; its usually there already. People who give without needing a return are people who have been given confidence. Some people give because they get something in return which is an exchange, not giving. If I give a donation and I get a tax receipt then thats an exchange of services. It will only hurt until I can write it off at next years income tax. He stressed that this was not a criticism by all means of the tax system because it was a valid way of getting money from self-obsessed people who needed to be rewarded for their donation. He gave this example of what he meant.
"There is a statement by Carlos Casteneda in Tales of Power. Casteneda says to Don Juan, I think that I can be the best of myself and if I do that is that self-confidence? And Don Juan says, No. The self-confidence that you have is the self-confidence of the ordinary man and that is someone who looks into the eyes of the person coming towards him and looks for approval and calls that self-confidence. The self-confidence of the warrior is the warrior looks inside himself and calls that impeccability. The assessment is the assessment of yourself in your own opinion. "
Stephen said that we say we are grooming students to go out into the world and be confident but were really not. In our school systems and in therapies, we are still grooming people to be subservient to someone or something else. You have to be subservient to a philosophy, to a corporation, to a boss, your parents, teachers, and the school administration. We say we want students to have confidence but as soon as the students break out and begin to show independence and start to challenge things then it is quickly squashed. "Sort of have self-confidence. Be something and well tell you it is good and then go out and get a job." He said that thats not really independence. Its just grooming people to be good employees.
He said that there were people who came to his classes just for the pure pleasure of what they discovered. "You know, art is the therapy. All you have to do is look at a Frida Kahlo painting. Tell me that is not therapy. "I dont think that you could have gotten a painting like that out of a therapy session. That came naturally to her or Picasso. Thats a whole different perspective. "
I asked Stephen if the experience was the same for all the kids he taught. He replied that at the core of people, in terms of self-confidence, that yes it is the same. "So there is nothing that I do that isnt culturally acceptable." The situation that he finds in Canada is that he works with students who are Canadianized By this he meant that they have come to accept the fact that its not their culture, and that for example something like eye contact is not impolite. So, although at times it would take longer, with the cultural aspects or backgrounds of the students, he experienced no problems with teaching.
He felt students needed Drama because they need a class where they are de-structured enough to express whatever they want to express. They can teach and show as opposed to being taught. In math class you have to teach them something they dont know. In Drama, it is a humanistic thing, and so therefore, it can never be from the perspective that the teacher knows more than the student does.
He said that you couldnt tell somebody who had come from a different part of the world or a foreign country where their entire family had just died of AIDS or had been gunned down by whoever, that you know how to get them to express sadness. Thats not the point to Drama; Drama gives the self-confidence to be able to go into math class and actually learn and heighten learning skills. Drama allows you to go into Science class a make the conceptual leaps and bounds that you need to make in Science. A good scientist is somebody who has made a conceptual leap within his or her own mind and pursues that theory. "Einstein was incredibly creative because he looked at a series of figures and conceived of possibilities but he first had to conceive it. Thats creativity. Its the conception and the expression of that conception. Thats what science needs; thats what Business needs." He emphasized his belief by saying that if we take Drama and Art or any form of personal expression out of the schools, then we would get a lot of neurotic adults wandering the earth.
Another discovery for Stephen concerned the fantasy techniques he uses in his work. He said that kids are not as obsessed with sex and violence as everyone thinks. On the surface he said yes, you ask kids normally to walk in, sit down, and come up with a scene, then it will usually deal with some sort of sexual or violent nature. When he gets them up and asks them to talk as fast as they can, you are not going to find anything like that or at least very little. They, instead, come up with incredible stories. He has them listen to music and have a fantasy. He said that he gets the occasional sexual fantasy but most of them are very colorful, wonderful fantasies that dont contain either sex or violence. You can even play a very violent piece of music and usually the worst that you will get is that they were afraid. When they have to act out their fantasies, (they listen to the music, with their eyes closed in the center of the circle, and act out the fantasy that is happening in their heads) it is all very innocent.
For example, he said one girl was in a bar and she ended up being a stripper in the bar. She didnt take her clothes off; she just danced around like a stripper, so there was nothing revealing in what she did. He finds it interesting because they are initially embarrassed when the fantasy ends and they open their eyes but then he said they are astounded at what they have created for everyone. Another person, laid down and was moving and touched her face, and got up again and when she described her fantasy at the end she said that she had met her boyfriend downtown and they went home and made love and got up again. However in the fantasy, he explained, when she was acting it out, in point of fact, she never came anywhere near having a sexual encounter. In fact he had to think hard about which point in the acting out part actually pertained to that. "So, the fact is that they dont actually express themselves in that way."
He said that it is the outside influences. People saying thats what teenagers are all about, saying thats what they are going to do, saying that thats what it is. He said that if you dont give them a chance to express themselves personally and discover their true selves, then after a while they would start believing it. "Youll find women who are told they have weight problems but when they do a personal fantasy, you dont see any of that. You will see a woman who moves with great confidence all the way around the room."
The danger with Drama as Therapy and other forms of therapy is that therapists dont necessarily take the responsibility for what they have"dragged out" of people. I asked if that was what teachers were afraid of? He replied that it is what teachers should be afraid of because they have to accept the responsibility. If a teacher provokes it, and if it comes out of the class, the teacher has to deal with it and not necessarily solve the problem but acknowledge that it came out and help the student over the initial shock of realizing that it is there.
Stephen then talked about what qualities he felt a Drama teacher should have.
He said that they must match the energy of the student or exceed it. In other words, the student must get caught into their excitement. "A lot of people come to my classes who are adult professionals and one comment that has been made is that it is a pleasure to come to my classes because I enjoy what I do." That joy he said rubs off onto the students so, when he is telling the student to speak as fast as they can, he is not standing listening impassively. He is matching their energy and reacting to them.
"To give inspiration to somebody else is to give them the confidence and the joy that what they are doing is good. And it is not rubber stamping either. A teacher has to have the confidence within themselves to let the student do and go; the teacher has to accept what the student does and put it into a framework that is there. And in the High School it is much more restrictive than it is with me, but you always have to work within that framework."
19 Stephen La Frenie
Update of Interview
Question: How have your attitudes changed since the last interview in 1995?
Stephen felt that his central philosophy hadnt changed at all. The reasons why he taught and the process were still the same. He is still concerned with the creative process and still believes that through this process, therapeutic results would emerge. He remains adamant that he does not use any of the catch phrase words, as he called them, belonging to Drama Therapy. He continues to create his own exercises and still uses the ones from his experience with Tony Montanaro.
He had noticed a difference in the students over the past few years. He said the appeared to be younger in terms of maturity. They are more reluctant to do things and even less willing to jump in there and try new things. He teaches less mime technique now and concentrates more on Commedia Dell Arte which he described as having a lot of fast improvisations. This to him was very creative and so allowed him to use the creative process which is the focus of his teaching. It is a direction he wishes to continue to follow. Unfortunately he said, the more sophisticated approaches are dwindling in a lot of schools he has visited. Teachers are sticking to a very basic element. He believed that it was still dependant on the enthusiasm and dedication of the teacher him/herself. As he stated in the last interview, "If you have a dynamic teacher you have a dynamic program." It is not the curriculum, he said. It cant come out of the curriculum but only out of the individual drama teacher who is there.
He still sees many teachers using drama class time to deal with behavioural problems. Drama has the unstructured environment that allows you to do that. It is not possible in a Math class which has a specific structure that cant be interrupted. Despite this though he felt that drama was still used as a dumping ground for troubled kids who arent wanted in other classes. "I did teach one class where the entire class time was taken up because the teacher had to solve a problem that happened while she was away, a very abusive situation, so she sat down and all the kids talked about it. So I sat in the office waiting to start the class but unfortunately it took over thirty minutes because the students had to talk it out and wanted to talk it out. She has that kind of influence over her students. She also found it very frustrating that she has to spend a lot of her teaching time doing that." That was the double- edged sword that is Drama Stephen said. Drama sparked those kinds of things. It was directly related to a project he was doing with the class the next day. It dealt with racism and racial beatings and so they had to deal with the same kind of abusive language.
Stephen feels that what is important is that a student realize and learn who they are and accept who they are. "Not accepting who they are in terms of their limitations but accepting who they are in terms of their possibilities." What you have to do is allow the student or push the student so that they have no excuse not to accomplish something or at least try to accomplish something. "I get a lot of rebellion from students about how complicated the project they are doing appears to be. What do you mean I have to associate these five words together, theyll say. I tell them, well the words came out of you, those are your words and yes I know you can do it. Ive been doing this for fifteen years and Ive seen incredible work come out of students so I know that youre capable of it so thats why were doing it. There is no reason not to." He said that he was not going to spoon feed them little mime scenes or themes that have been hit over the head because why should they talk about racism if thats not what going to come out of them directly. The real issue behind racism, tension, anger are going to come out within the things they create and if you need to, then discuss them. "But why stop a student from expressing pure joy or pure abstraction. If they have a fantasy that theyre wearing a cowboy hat and riding an ant you know down a hill well we can play with that. We can play with those images and see where they go and what they can do. That is what I mean by them accepting themselves."