Theatre as Therapy - My WOW Talk

In October 2015, I was invited to speak at WOW! Stories 2016 -- the 5th Annual Women of Whidbey Conference, created by Seriously Fun Productions. I welled up while Lynn Willeford told me about the timeline of the process, barely retaining any of the information. I was so excited and honored to be asked.

Here we are, five months later, and it's all over! The process of writing this talk was really intense and took me through a lot, as did listening to all of the other stories from powerful and inspiring women on this not-so-little island I call home. It was a beautiful, two-day event and it went by in a flash!

The only photo I have from WOW—day two, when I got to sit and relax and just listen and be with the stories. Thankfully I was in the first half of Day One, so I got to finish out the first evening that way, too... (Check out two of the "walls" I designed for Dead Man's Cell Phone hanging out on stage, painted all red! :-D)

Multiple individuals have asked to read the text of my talk, so I decided to publish it here in full.

In a month or so, you'll be able to watch it on WhidbeyTV and in another few months, it'll be on YouTube, but just in case they (definitely) edit out my "fuck"... you can read it in its original format. ;)

I chose to include all of the photos at the end in one gallery so as not to interrupt the reading experience.

Enjoy!


About the talk: Theatre is a reflection of life and can be used as a tool for self-discovery, healing, and growth


Theatre as Therapy
Kathryn Lynn Morgen

Here we are! You, there, with all of your backstory. All of the choices you have made, or haven’t made, all of your experience in this life, your experience of the world and the people around you, and all of their experience, and all of mine. 

There are so many stories in this room, and when we tell stories we have the power to heal something in someone else.

How do we frame a story? Some stories focus on words that were spoken, sounds that were heard, some focus on the visuals—how the sky looked that day or what someone was wearing. Some focus on a specific event and some are more long-term stories that string many events together.

This level of detail in the world has struck me all my life, from a very young age. There are layers upon layers of meaning embedded into our lives. There is no way to control all of these aspects of our environment, but they are all connected. There is no way to truly understand all of these connections—but they have meaning. 

In theatre we can control many of these aspects—all of these elements, we can choose the connections, the layers, that we want to communicate. We can choose and control how to communicate the connections we believe in, not because these are what we think the piece of theatre is about—but because they are the essence of what it means to us.

We can create worlds. 

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Now, let’s say, for example, your story is thus: 

Life is pretty chaotic in not-a-good-way from a young age, and you tend toward empathic qualities. As a child you don’t have the tools to create boundaries between yourself and others. You start reasoning out the choices everyone around you is making so that you can feel safe in the midst of all of these unknowns, believing that if you understand where everyone is coming from, then everything will be okay.

But there are so many layers and so many details and things change depending on all of these variables and it is all so much.

Where does that leave you when everything isn’t okay? What belongs to you and what belongs to others? What is being directed or scripted by what other people want?

When you can’t understand your own emotions, you can’t fully experience your own joy, so you don’t know how to follow your heart, and you can’t fully experience your own anger, so you don’t learn how to express yourself.

You lose yourself in this place and there is danger of never finding yourself.

Now you’re in high school. You were in theatre in middle school and really liked it and all but, like, haven’t done it in a couple years or whatever, and a friend of yours decides he wants to audition for the fall play but you have to come with him because he does not want to go alone and “okay! yes! I’ll do it!”

And you are cast as a lead.

And holy fuck, all of a sudden you have responsibility, accountability, you feel empowered, and scared, but you know that you can do it, and oh by the way, everyone around you is feeling the same things and working toward the same goal and there is nothing but support in the room AND oh by the way you are cast as Mary Hatch in It’s a Wonderful Life, who is a lively, playful, loving woman and you get to explore what it might be like to live in a world of nurturing, emotional vulnerability and laugh and cry and love and be loved.

You can find yourself. Suddenly you have a voice, you have ideas, and beliefs, you recognize your own personal creativity and process. You recognize your truth and you can share it with others. It is exhilarating, it is terrifying and joyous and heartbreaking and healing.

Life is alive and to be lived.

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One of the things I love so much about theatre is this sense of Alchemy.

Alchemy is defined (by Google, anyway) as a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.

Everything in the theatre is in specific relationship to everything else. All of these combinations make the theatre what it is. Not only the dynamic of the actors, but also the sound and lights and set, and the audience.

Every interaction in the theatre is completely unique to the singular moment of its existence. Each moment means something to everyone involved and each meaning is different, but we are together, sharing, transforming, creating.

Alchemy.

As someone who has lived with crippling anxiety and post-traumatic stress I find this extraordinarily therapeutic. As an actor, director, designer, producer, crew member, audience member…  Theatre is the glue that holds my life together.

As an actor, my job is to trust. Trust the script, my scene partners, my director to guide me, and myself to be present and accountable, to listen, respond, and create a person. An entire person!

As a director, I hold the ultimate vision. I am the one who says, “This is the world we live in. These are its principles, the laws that govern this reality.” Then, I guide the team in the actualization of that vision to its greatest potential.

As a set designer, my job is to manifest that vision into the physical environment of the story, often speaking subconsciously to the audience with specific intention.

For Dead Man’s Cell Phone, I worked with director Phil Jordan on the concept of the set. Grief, Near-death Experiences, Classical Greek Architecture, Film Noir and Stained Glass all played a part in creating this world, which had to provide 7 different environments—including a cafe, church, home, an airport, and the afterlife…

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Theatre is truly a collaborative art. Each person has infinite variables within them with which to manifest the same goal. To feel and express the same feelings that everyone else is feeling in the way that only they can, together.

Every piece of it offers me something to explore and something to discover. Something for me to take with me on my journey, and something for me to leave behind that no longer serves me.

Sometimes, the greatest lesson theatre has to offer is impermanence. That everything which begins also ends. That it is not where we came from, but how far we’ve come. That it isn’t about what we’ve done but the way that we’ve done it—with intention, with connection, with sharing, with trust, and love.

Thank you.

Me, speaking at WOW by Tyler Raymond

Me, speaking at WOW by Tyler Raymond

Two days to turn in the first draft of my WOW talk and my heart is pounding. I've already written two drafts. I have this intention in mind that I'll read and revise both into one and yet as I am typing this I wonder, will it ease my mind to simply send all the words in? It is a DRAFT after all but is it what I want?

I am terrified to even look at the words I have already written, to be completely honest.

The last time I had fear this tangible was leading up to a singing audition. 

The fear of being heard is alive and well, and so fucking profound I feel like I am transcending space/tme just to write these words. My chest is on fire. 

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Five years ago today I was in a really bizarre place. Magic things, light and dark, we're happening all around me and I wanted so greatly to believe in something bigger that I began to give all of my power away, regardless of the effects on my mind, body, soul. (Through this process I discovered the magic of personal power but it was very difficult indeed, a hard road to choose. I DEFINITELY could have done it differently.)

On this day, I met two women.

One with whom I fell deeply in love with, to a place that tore at the thorns in my core and helped me uncover darkness that had been planted there against my will, but that is a story for... maybe never.

The other woman painted this bolt on my face and calmed my frantic soul. She dragged me on to a karaoke stage and told me we were singing a duet of Under Pressure together. I blinked in awe, realizing I had no idea how the song was sung, or if I could even truly place the words. She told me I knew it and I believed her.

So we sang. 

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Theatre & Life (1)

It has struck me as of late how easily- - no, effortlessly I come to tears. Layers of petrified skin have peeled away one after the other until my shell is so tender and virgin that I can see it respirate if I am still enough. And that is my lesson, to be still with it and let my tears condensate as if seeping out of my very skin. 

It is nothing specific and every specific thing simultaneously. (As all is.)

It is a beautiful, nutritious breath of air, it is millions of refugees, it is learning what it truly means to participate or love yourself - do your chores, care for space, and, sometimes, sacrifice.

I am tired and angry. I am 28 - I try not to pretend to know how to quantify that in terms of a life.

What I want is to facilitate experiences like I had today. A stunning display of art - power - creativity - money - commitment - privilege - sacrifice - time - awareness - of choices that are massive and pack emotional, visual, physical, audial, spiritual punches in whatever way you choose to receive them, if at all. That don't apologize for their being a choice, or being strong, that don't believe they are ultimate or authority, and still are whole in their ownership of self.

Via My Friend Skye via Unvirtuos Abbey Via Jerry Ryan Official (all on facebook, artist unknown at this time)

Via My Friend Skye via Unvirtuos Abbey Via Jerry Ryan Official (all on facebook, artist unknown at this time)

An offering. A question not expected to be answered. A difference, especially, than if it had not been at all. 

I believe it is possible, above all else, that I am a philosopher. That I would like - that I want very much to offer questions and exploration. I hope this would facilitate (for those who seek it) the discovery, refinement, re-tuning of the voice... the tone, the vibration of the soul, and in-so doing offers myself the same.

So, there's that.