Tales of Monsters in Drama Therapy

By Doug Ronning, MFT, RDT-BCT

Whether in fairy tale (Hansel and Gretel), fantastical literature (Lord of the Rings), science fiction (Frankenstein), monster movie (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), or Broadway musical (Little Shop of Horrors), if one encounters a monster in a story, it is likely a cautionary tale. In mythology and fiction monsters are stand-ins for the shadowy human appetites: greed, eros, bloodlust, hubris, and the desire to control others. Bruno Bettelheim indicted those who sought to remove violent and destructive monsters from children’s stories, for without the models of stories, children could not face “the monster a child knows best and is most concerned with: the monster he feels or fears himself to be, and which also sometimes persecutes him” (p. 120, 1975).

Whether natural or supernatural, monsters are catalysts that alter the journey of the hero. “Monsters demonstrate, monsters alert us: whether or not the etymologies relating the word to both “monstro” (I show) and “moneo” (I warn), are correct, monsters act as a moral compass,” opines University of Essex literature professor, Marina Warner (Warner, 2012, para. 4).

The iconic monsters of cinema are as recognizable as movie and pop stars, due to their great popularity and integration into the larger culture, but also because of the familiar paradigmatic use of existing plot structures in their stories (Schneider, 1993). As Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams point out in the introduction to their anthology of essays, Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (1991), the theme of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has become so pervasively popular that we may summon it in our mind when someone says to us, “I have not been myself lately.”

In a previous article for Dramascope, I offered an overview on how monster archetypes have been interpreted through psychoanalytic, existential, and postmodern lenses and outlined some of the ways monsters have been employed in drama therapy. In this article, I will offer an expanded view of how the monster story can be used in drama therapy, drawn from the work of Noga Levine-Keini and Brurit Laub (1999). By way of literature review, I will explore their model and offer ways to build upon it by amplifying the client’s somatic experience.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Casting Shadows: Playing in the Realm of Monsters

http://www.morguefile.com/archive/#/?q=monster

By Doug Ronning, MFT, RDT-BCT

From coast to coast, zombies have taken to the streets! In Portland, Maine, the stumbling undead suddenly appear amidst a crowd. In a flash, the music of Michael Jackson’s Thriller begins, and the undead, made up of both amateur and professional dancers, recreate the iconic music video (WMTW, 2013).  Across the country in Portland, Oregon, a food bank is the recipient of a fundraising Zombie Walk with the tagline: “We may eat brains, but we do have hearts!” (Oregon Food Bank, Inc., 2009). And it’s not just zombies. Every October, more than 2,500 interactive haunted houses spring up around the world, where local residents dress up to gleefully terrify visitors on country hayrides, in backyard mazes, on movie studio backlots, and in abandoned prisons (Olmstead, 2013).

Zombies, vampires, aliens, and other monsters are prevalent on today’s movie screens, televisions, and book shelves. This may hint at current cultural anxieties, but there is a long history of fascination with these mysterious forms across cultures. Monsters run rampant through folklore, religion, fairy tales, and mythology, and clinical practitioners have drawn inspiration from them since the onset of psychotherapy.

Many don’t understand the allure of monster movies, particularly those pictures designed to horrify and instill dread. Even more bewildering is this impulse to spend days every autumn putting on makeup and terrifying people, even when those people are paying for the privilege to be scared. In an attempt to understand the appeal of horror, film critics, cultural analysts, psychologists, and psychotherapists have examined the genre using various psychological orientations, including psychoanalytic, existential, and postmodern views. For more information, see Horror Film and Psychoanalysis: Freud’s Worst Nightmare, a collection of essays edited by Steven Jay Schneider (2004) and Horror and the Holy: Wisdom-Teachings of the Monster Tale by Kirk J. Schneider (1993).

The first half of this piece will explore a variety of these views. The latter half will explore monster archetypes through more embodied drama therapy approaches.

Beginning in the 1970’s, the popular essays of film critic Robin Wood explored classic psychoanalytic interpretations of monster movies, based in Freud’s linked conceptions of repression and the uncanny (Wood, 1986). Wood states “One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is all that our civilization oppresses and represses” (1986, p. 68). Stanley Kubrick, while discussing his film The Shining with film critic Michel Ciment (1980), offered, “In his essay on the uncanny, ‘Das Unheimliche,’ Freud said that the uncanny is the only feeling which is more powerfully experienced in art than in life. If the horror genre required any justification, I should think this alone would serve as its credentials” (para. 66).

Continue reading