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THE ANIMATED COLLAGE - A Creative Application of Voice Dialogue for Therapy and the Theater of Self Discovery

I have been passionate about Voice Dialogue since discovering it in 1989, and about Viola Spolin's Improvisational Theater Games since 1979. The two have conspired to bring to life, to "animate" my Self discovery works, personally and professionally, causing me endless delight and edification. As a contemporary, hands on shamanic healing artist, and body-centered hypnotherapist (who used to be an international performing artist,) I have amalgamated our wonderfully adaptable V.D. into several tools that propel spiritual and practical explorations into Psyche and the nature of Consciousness. One of my favorites is a theater game /therapeutic tool I call the "animated collage," (inspired in part by the "fluid sculpture" game taught in international Playback Theater.) Animated Collage is best served by having a minimum of four players, (although a creative journaling version can permit one or two persons to draw and dialogue, rather than stage a living piece of theater.) The primary concept is this: Someone presents a topic, issue or personal scenario to explore, and the others enact salient features of it, those features becoming "selves" or parts of the psyche or whole. Examples of subject matter are dream snippets, an episode at work, a relationship frustration, a physical health condition or political matter.

Whomever is directing or facilitating instructs the players to listen carefully to the story or scenario. After the telling, each is asked to report one feature that stood out. The aim is to extract all the salient features or points.

Players then volunteer, or are chosen by the director or storyteller to enact their facet, coming to the stage or other area cleared for the work. One at a time, in any order, each steps up to begin finding /creating a single spoken phrase (or sounds like cries, grunts) and a movement to "animate" their piece. It needs to be simple, to the point, and to express the "heart" of that part of the whole. It also must be easy to repeat several times in succession. When complete, the player steps back.

When all the players have completed the first step of the animation process, one by one, (the order will find itself) players step down stage to perform their piece of the collage, repeating their moving-vocal pieces as needed until the whole collage appears, all "glued" together. Now we can see the story, thought, event told brought to light. If the teller or director wishes, something more be more added, or changed as desired.

I'll give an example taken from a recent support circle gathering of wily therapists. One member reported having suffered a trauma at work with a client, an abused and abusive youngster who had threatened her with bodily harm. The therapist's employer had failed to provide ample support, both emotionally and in terms of ensuring her safety. Four of us hearing her story agreed to do an animated collage to help sort out the quandary and reduce emotional turmoil.

We began the collage process with each of us listener-players reporting one factor that had grabbed our attention: the therapist's fear of quitting her job and being out of work or losing her chances for licensing; her increasing resistence to going to work each day; her emotional shutting down; and her self recrimination for being unable to tough it out.

As a Voice Dialoguer, I know that the collage pieces or "parts" will correspond with or lead to key "selves" involved in the dilemma. In this therapist's case, with deeper exploration, we may have found an unemployed (able) Bag Lady, Martyred Caregiver, vulnerable Abused Child, an attacking Critic, unavailable Mother, and a Protector-Controller busy numbing her out, keeping Anger, Grief and Terror at bay.

Another, more playful example comes from my community college class with older adults. A student, who had been funding the courage to be more expressive, brought in a dream for our class to chew on: on a wooden raft in the middle of a lake, he's doing a class show-and-tell of his personal poetry and art, dressed in a clown suit. An audience too vague to make out as individuals, sits along the fringes of the water. The mood is overall inspiring, if a bit anxious.

On the chalkboard, with the help of the class calling out 'salient pieces,' we wrote down these: the "buoyant Lake," the sturdy enough Raft, the Fool-Clown, the artistic Offerings, and the Curious Audience. Volunteers then chose a part to play, refining each, and "collaging" the dream. Although the dream was somewhat self explanatory, the process of animating it was enriching. Nuances were found and contributed to the enjoyment of creating living theater, as well as being inspired by our friend's courage to risk embarrassing himself in order to achieve a worthy goal. Those of us playing the "parts" found ourselves part of a mysterious process whereby we all meld with the Dreamer's Psyche, becoming a unified field. Those watching the enactment, too, were pulled into the whole experience, relating later their own inner movements as they watched. Ideas for other "pieces" arose, as did thoughts about ways to express those that were actually collaged. If time had allowed, we might have done a second collage of the same dream -or of another student's piggybacking on the first experience.

There are endless ways to explore this artistic healing and therapy tool. Again, in the absence of live support from others, an individual person may learn to do the Animated Collage process as a journaling and drawing exercise with wonderful results.