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Playing Back Boundaries (AKA My Third Arm)

February 7, 2013

I didn’t intend to write about this, and my intention isn’t to review, but to share the extension of my boundaries post. I wrote the post, and had this later the same day, so it feels poignant to share.

I went to see one of the Playback South theatre company’s performances last night. My Gestalt therapy tutor suggested it last week, after I asked her for Gestalt-related community theatre references.
The regular evenings are held at The Candid Cafe in Islington, and the space is unique, intimate and friggin cold!

The format is seemingly simple: four performers, and a heavily pregnant performer who was playing host, and two musicians on keyboard and a motley set of instruments.
The company warm the audience with a practical demonstration of how it all works: one person says their name, recounts a brief story, thought, dream etc. and the ensemble enact/ re-enact it, hence ‘playing it back’ to the original storyteller.

I resisted my impulse to share my ‘boundaries’ issue as I worried it might be too heavy, too close and even though I trained as an actor I detest speaking in public. I become aware of my English accent; what I perceive to be a generically English RP with an equally generic foreign tinge.
I did want to experience the process from the inside, as an active participant, so when there was a resistant gap of voluntary hands, I put mine up.
I was invited to join the host, sit beside her to recount my story- apparently there isn’t usually a ‘host’ but I found her role very helpful as a mediator between ensemble and audience- so I was as brief as I could be (not sure why I felt the need to be because the atmosphere was easy and relaxed).

‘My name is Tara, and four months ago I began Gestalt therapy training. It’s all been such a fascinating experience.. very positive. Though after an intensive residency and a personal one-to-one session, I came to a realisation about myself, which has left me thoughtful, unsettled and feeling quite vulnerable.. my unaware need to test boundaries…I’m not a confrontational person, so it’s been a surprise..’

I was asked to elaborate on the boundaries.

‘..nothing exciting..for example, feeling compulsion to test time allowances in therapy, going over the word limit in an essay..’

Now I’m oddly glad I didn’t think to go into my resistance towards marriage and other cultural conventions..!

Then an image came into my mind and I ran with it:

‘Feels like discovering I’ve a third arm I was never aware of..’

The host thanked me and we both sat back as the ensemble took a breath to begin.

It was fascinating. In my mind, I didn’t feel they were re-enacting or playing back, as it’s practically impossible to do that; they were enacting what they have taken from my story in that moment. This distance helped me enjoy the performance for what it was.

My unsettled and confused thoughts, manifested into a physical chorus of sounds, expressions and movement. I noticed I laughed aloud when one of the actors said, in an exaggerated dramatic way, throwing her head back: ‘…but I thought I knew myself..’. Thinking about it now, it is one of the things that rang truest for me. This is partly how finding something new can be so unsettling, as it challenges a former belief. Hadn’t thought of it before.
Then the arm metaphor came into the space, and the actors took such pleasure in the dramaticisation of discovering a third arm. I enjoyed the release as I watched the absurdity of the third arm.

Experiencing this sense of play unravelled some of the knots in my stomach. And sharing my experience, my concerns, with audiences and ensemble alike, also lightened my burden. I wasn’t alone in carrying it somehow.

If you get a chance, do go:

The sincere and intimate space, juxtaposed with a lighter sense of play, has been inspiring. It’s highlighted just how heavy and indirect pure verbal dialogue can be in therapy.

And I recommend sharing something that means something to you. Someone else’s story, about a short dream with a talking fox, has stayed with me.

From → Artistic, Therapeutic

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