Then there is Rashmi Datt, one of the few certified practitioners of psychodrama in India, who conducts programmes like When the shoe fits to help people find their inner ease and freedom from sticky thoughts, from the “control room” in the head that imposes restrictions and judges.
To claim that improvisational theatre and psychodrama can replace therapy to counter anxiety may sound exaggerated, but their positives can be explained in no less terms.
These kinds of drama can actually inculcate in its participants the ability to let go, just be in the moment and achieve a sort of catharsis at the end.
Varoon P Anand, the facilitator of the second session of Headspace, monthly improv sessions at OddBird Theatre & Foundation in The Dhan Mill Compound, Chhatarpur, tried to pull most of the 20-odd participants, primarily in their 20s and 30s, out of their shell without hijacking their experiences.
OddBird Theatre is a collaborative art centre, organising a variety of art and dance performances. Improv is a string of spontaneous events that might prove to be therapeutic to the participants — thanks to the humour born or created out of the situation. Sahana Arun Kumar and Mojo, who were some of the participants at Anand’s workshop, derived humour from a given situation through gestures and play-acting, but not belittling anyone there.Kumar, a psychotherapist, describes how the improv workshop organised by Anand helped her overcome the need to have a sense of control. “As therapists, we have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. I do struggle with a sense of control and so I liked the fact that there is a space like this where I could go out of control.” Anand begins his sessions on a positive note — participants are asked to make eye contact for 20 seconds, compliment each other and make sounds like a chicken together… he ensured that no one felt embarrassed to make a ‘fool’ of themselves by making everyone get out of their comfort zones at the same time.
“For me, it was eye-opening. I found the initial activity of looking into each other’s eyes to be really warm, and hope that I have diffused some of that warmth among everyone here,” Kumar adds.
At the beginning of Vidushi Chadha’s workshop, in the first session of Headspace at OddBird, strangers walked in and shook each other’s hands but as they came back, they couldn’t remember the names, probably because of their nervousness or plain lack of attention in this technologically-fed world.So, what Chadha made them do was take four breaths with each other to help them remember their names.
She introduced a mental wellness exercise, where participants are grouped in twos and you or your partner have to come in with a blank letter, which the person (carrying the letter) has imagined to have written.
This exercise, meant for emotional and mental release, has the partner receive the (blank) letter and read it from the mind after gauging her partner’s reactions. So, if the partner presents a happy face, the reader conjures up an image of anything positive — perhaps the person has been promoted at work — and builds the story from there.
“This way you are shifting your focus and engaging with another being,” says Chadha, adding, “Improv and mental wellness are all about creating a safe space — if you are thrown into a scene, sometimes you don’t want to be offensive, you don’t want to be the buzzkiller.”
Anand and Chadha’s workshops are all about creating such safe spaces where one could feel comfortable being himself without the fear of being judged by others. The participants always have the option to choose a space for themselves if they feel mentally and emotionally triggered. This is especially for people facing trauma.Then, they would be free to come back and participate as and when they want.
For Sasha (name changed on request), who deals with anxiety, the most difficult part was making up her mind to come to Anand’s workshop. And, although she didn’t take part in the improv play as she didn’t feel comfortable, Anand made sure that she did all the exercises and group activities like giving compliments to strangers, playing games to understand the concept of one’s responsibility and, lastly, letting go of control without dismissing anyone.
What if I am not being able to entertain? What if I am not the funniest?, were some of the questions that stopped Sasha from taking part in the play.
For Mojo, Anand’s session was really helpful because he could just live in the moment, irrespective of what the present or past has held. “Plus, I didn’t bring any bias with me in these two hours,” he says.Speaking of bias, more often than not, improv gives people an excuse to be offensive and make fun of each other. Their biases around sexuality and physical appearances may also come out.Chadha recalls witnessing a scene where there were two men. One of them said,“Tumhara premi Raju.” Some people in the audience were sceptical but she asked them why can’t he have a boyfriend? Also, while talking about how in some scenes guys tend to portray girls, Chadha implies that in such situations people drastically get out of their comfort zones and strive to embrace other identities like that of a transgender. “The humour needs to come from a situation, not from the fact that someone is bald, fat or gay,” says Chadha.
Then there is Rashmi Datt, one of the few certified practitioners of psychodrama in India, who conducts programmes like When the shoe fits to help people find their inner ease and freedom from sticky thoughts, from the “control room” in the head that imposes restrictions and judges. Such programmes also save individuals from the hunger which gnaws at us from the “missing something” from life feeling. It wants more from the self and from relationships.Datt explores this through psychodrama — an action learning method created by psychiatrist JL Moreno. It is a way of exploring problems and conflicts by enacting relevant events instead of simply talking about them.
The enactment involves not only external behaviour, but also ‘inner’ aspects, such as unspoken thoughts and feelings, fantasies of what others might be feeling and envisioning future possibilities.The goals of psychodrama are to gain new insights, resolve problems, and practise new life skills and behaviours.
“In a group setting, we connect with ourselves with others to find alignment with our thoughts, emotions and actions, using theatre and music as a creative healing process,” says Datt.“We can say it’s a kind of laboratory for the exploration of problems. Instead of physical equipment, the device is the drama and participants’ own behaviour acts as vehicles for experiments,” she says, adding that there are many applications of psychodrama. In coaching, for example, Datt uses the empty chair technique to handle a conflict situation. (It is commonly used in gestalt therapy, whose origin lies in Moreno’s psychodrama).
Datt, whose clients range from housewives, mid-level managers, and business owners, shares an anecdote about one of her clients who was attracted to bad boys! Through psychodrama, the client went back to her childhood and revisited the memories of her childhood where she was caught between her mother’s affair with a man and her father’s unwillingness to do anything about it. The psychodrama that created the surplus reality made the woman realise that she was not angry at her mother for having an affair, but at her father for keeping quiet, which to her, was a sign of weakness. Through the re-enactment of the scene, she didn’t see herself as a victim anymore and found closure. The process acted as a catharsis of sorts, actuated by changing the narrative of her childhood with creativity and imagination, which make one understand that if overcoming one’s fears and failures is the big challenge of modern-day life, psychodrama therapy is a perfect road to reinventing oneself. The interactive style of the technique maintains the boundaries of individual privacy while offering valves to release mental pressure and emerge stronger, without the need to pop that addictive anti-depressant pill.