Live theater! We have gathered to witness our mythologies and to pass on wisdom through the enactment of stories since the beginning of human communication. At its best, theater is both personal and archetypal. The stories that theater brings to life, provide a context for the values that are most important to us. The stories allow us to see ourselves and our situation in a different light. The stories move us… amuse us… enrage us. The stories mirror our delight and our grief. The stories remind us of who we want to be… or not to be.
Theater is an ancient ritual, which can illuminate a new story and create a vision of hope and transformation. It can also show how lack of alignment can lead to tragedy for both the individual and the collective. This realization can come through the playfulness of comedy or the sharp stab of tragedy. Either way, a deeper truth is revealed.
Making the Invisible… Visible
Theater is revelatory in that it allows us to see both the invisible and visible ‘worlds’ of characters and groups of characters. There is nothing more important than internal and external alignment between the visible and the invisible in order to have ability, agility, stability, coherence, and resilience. This includes both alignment with the Self — alignment between an individual or character’s internal life and external behavior — as well as alignment between the values and mission of an individual and the collective or group with which they are in relationship. See the diagram below for a visual of these dynamics.
Where alignment tends to create coherence and a vibrant sense of resilience, lack of alignment can lead to entropy, wasted life force energy, wasted lives. Or, if an individual or group can summon enough agency, the pain of lack of alignment can create a push towards creating a new story… innovation… revolution… new structures… new forms… new processes…new actions and new ways of being/doing. This is a good thing, as not every structure or mission deserves our loyalty or continues to serve us. This push towards a new story is, in fact, a key dynamic in the evolution of consciousness.
Ultimately, our lives are a continuously changing dance between alignment and lack of alignment. When we are in a place — both internally and externally — where we feel aligned, our lives sing, we flow, we use our life force energy well. When not, we either languish or choose a new story.
Making the Unconscious… Conscious
Theater catalyzes a shift in consciousness or awareness in a variety of ways.
For one thing, the heroes and heroines of great drama are on a journey to integrate their egos and their souls. Often, they are moving from, what Richard Barrett has called, “survival needs to soul desires.” The hero’s journey takes them away from the safety of home (and the familial and cultural beliefs and world-views they have taken as givens), towards new self-knowledge, transformation… and, in time, to be of greater service to the common good.
The audience gets to experience all this vicariously, with enough distance to reflect, much like the healthy neocortex gets to observe the internal dramas of our reactive limbic systems, which are going on inside of us all the time. As an audience member, we get to witness greatness, as well as notice our own gaps between who we are and who we might be. Do we need to embark, consciously, on our own hero’s journey?
Theater arouses the emotions of the audience and triggers conscious and unconscious belief patterns. Let’s remember that most human decision-making is unconscious. It takes discipline and a desire to know oneself to explore the vast world of the unconscious root system beneath the trunk of the tree of conscious awareness.
Theater causes a shift in consciousness that brings the hidden roots to light. As we see the underlying patterns and motivations in the characters, we see them in ourselves. When the unconscious becomes conscious in this way, there is a chance to make a different choice.
This is beautifully illustrated by this quote from Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which transformed my consciousness when I first read it in college. Here was a man in a Nazi concentration camp, alone, being beaten by a guard… at the edge of death… deciding not to give in to hatred but choosing to love:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Theater can create this kind of space. As we observe the actions of a character making decisions in the world, we become aware of our own “power to choose” our attitude and influence our destiny.
Ancient Rituals in a Modern Context
The mission of DramaWorks InterActive is to use both the ancient and modern technologies of the theater to do what theater has done well for so long: transform human consciousness and awaken us to the inner story.
DramaWorks is a network of skilled consultants, actors, storytellers, and musicians dedicated to using their art, craft, and knowledge to reveal the inner workings and dynamics of a moment, situation, or organization. We serve as a catalyst for collections of people who want to create a new story for their individual and collective lives. We’ve been called a living spreadsheet of possible human behavior and attitude.
We’ve found that one of the deepest and most effective ways to reveal the inner story and create new possibilities is through playing out the alignment or lack of alignment of values in a group or organization. We’ve been working with Richard Barrett’s models of consciousness and values for 20 years. We’ve been inspired by these maps to create experiences that inspire people to shift from belief-based decision-making towards values-based decision-making. Belief-based decision-making is based on family conditioning and enculturated patterns (the consciousness of the hero before they’ve set off on their journey). Values-based decision-making, in contrast, orients a person towards their authentic self or soul desires. (This is the stance of the hero when they stand for something and live by it.) DramaWorks collaborates with organizations to give flesh and blood examples of what living from values might look like in action.
How DramaWorks works with Organizations
DramaWorks has worked with a wide variety of organizations and challenges: top leadership in an international technology company transitioning from selling computer hardware to selling services, creating increased efficiency and accountability in international supply chains for a telecom company, improving the customer and employee satisfaction of an innovative bank, and expanding and deepening the conversation between account managers and clients in a legacy wealth management company.
The typical client of DramaWorks is full of highly conscientious employees, who are driven by excellence, integrity, and service. Key issues tend to surround the need to rapidly accommodate to changing market conditions and the need to re-vision, refocus and restructure.
Sometimes DramaWorks works with companies in a moment of crisis.
Imagine: We are on the 50th floor of a bank building in a very big city. We are in the Board Room, the highest floor in the building. All of the leaders of the Bank — the CEO, the C Suite, and around 50 vice presidents — have been gathered for a potentially transformational event. All of the people in the room have completed the CTT Values Assessment. Ten days previously, reported in newspapers around the world, the bank has been accused by the federal government of fraud.
To say the least… the reputation of the bank is at risk. What potential action steps now need to be taken? How are the people in the room going to change the story or narrative of how they relate to the world, their customers, one another, and themselves?
Based on the results of the values assessment, coordination with leadership at the bank, and some key interviews with employees of the bank in sensitive places, DramaWorks InterActive has designed a 25 minute scenario. The scenario isn’t scripted, per se, but the characters are fully developed and the overall plot and sequencing are designed to get the elephant into the room and give a sense of the entire system.
DramaWorks tells the truth, but tells it slant. DramaWorks never uses the actual name of the organization it is working with and carefully protects the identity of those insiders who have given real world human contextual examples of the alignment and lack of alignment in the invisible and visible worlds of individuals and the organization.
We tend to stop the scenario at a key decision-making point and engage the audience. Over the course of years, we have found that the wisdom of the crowd begins to emerge in the room. The audience often has a collective sense of right action, of what needs to happen for the organization to function with greater alignment and the people in the organization to move toward aligning with their growth needs or soul desires of self-expression, connection and contribution. The wisdom of the crowd often envisions the way employees might strike a healthy balance between taking care of their self-interest and contributing to the common good. After coming together in this way, individuals and departments often report having a greater sense how they might join with others for the most powerful collective influence, resilience and vision manifestation.
AND the beauty of the use of theater in an organizational transformation effort is that no real customer is going to be alienated and no real money is going to be lost, as we experiment with different ways of viewing the world, different stories, and different ways of treating each other.
Not to mention, it’s fun for people to see their proxies (and DramaWorks Interactors are the proxies for everyone in the organization) take the risks, make the mistakes, try the new behaviors, suffer the consequences, celebrate what is going well, and clarify the pathways towards more aligned and more authentic interaction.
Let’s Enact Some New Stories
We are at a moment in history begging for new stories, new possibilities, new ways of being with ourselves and one another. Perhaps we are always at this moment, primed for something new and more aligned, coherent, and resilient to emerge.
Personally, I think we need to pick up the pace of change towards a more values-driven world, a world emerging with new stories centered around enduring values such as peace, integrity, credibility, wisdom, service, collaboration, and creativity.
Theater is a powerful means to get us there.
For more information on DramaWorks and these transformational processes, go to www.kailomentoringgroup.com/dramaworks
Erik Muten, MFA, PsyD is a clinical psychologist, evolutionary mentor, organizational consultant, and designer of transformational events. He lives with his beloved, Amelia Perkins, in the woods of Western Massachusetts. Together they have formed the Kailo Mentoring Group, which has alliances with innovative agents around the world with various areas of expertise in integrating Ego and Soul. He can be reached at: email@example.com.