Untethering Identity & Diversity through Acting


By Sindhujaa Kumar for The Times of India, Sep 2020 Column.

Art, in all it’s glorious forms, redeems and transforms. To create art, the artist plumbs his own depths. In his creation, he surrenders to the unfathomed emotional burn of life, individual and collective — opening powerful portals into the pain, power and transcendental beauty of all that’s alive. Art heals – the creator and the consumer – dissolving rigid barriers between people and cultures – a doorway to self-knowledge and shared humanity.

Among art forms, acting has a special place in healing and therapy. Other arts can be abstract, but in theatre, we deal with explicit expression and communication between people- it has a unique key to our emotional selves.

It is an action-based process that uses role-play, dramatization, spontaneity and dynamic self-presentation to investigate life. Through acting, we can powerfully overcome dead-end relationships, interpersonal conflict, self-doubt and navigate problems. Why? Because while acting, we create an ‘emotional distance’ from ourselves, and shift from being an ‘actor’ to being the ‘witness’, gain new perspectives and finally evolve to ‘director’ of our own behaviour and story.

In Acting Therapy, we play with:

1) Role-Reversals – Instead of remaining ‘stuck’ in our own views, we step into the other person’s shoes, cultivating empathy and understanding.

2) Alternate behaviours – While enacting a scenario, we experiment with responding in different ways to a given problem. We learn to handle the situation in new ways by accessing other parts of ourselves. For example, if we have been trapped in the victim story, or in a ‘helpless’ or ‘angry’ perspective, we can slowly move to the ‘negotiator’ narrative, the ‘humor’ dissolution etc. In fact, re-living certain moments and coming up with different endings is a powerful way to heal trauma. It helps us rehearse healthy behaviours.

3) Coming to term with things – Very often, people choke within themselves, bottling up emotions. Acting can be an outlet to finally express and allow all those emotions we have been holding back or running away from. Emotions are complex. Learning to stay with the ‘uncomfortable’ emotions helps us experience catharsis and achieve emotional and physical integration.

4) Validation – It is a biological need for humans to be ‘seen’ and ‘heard’. We are communal beings. Sometimes, we don’t need advice or solutions. All we need is for our journey, our presence, the story of our lives and the songs of our souls to be WITNESSED. Choosing a group of people, whether they are among near and dear ones, or complete strangers – to be part of the acting session, where we can express various facets of our personality – can be life changing.

5) Play and spontaneity – This increases our self-esteem and confidence, allowing us to stop living in restriction and imposed conformity. It increases mental/emotional flexibility and helps us expand personal life roles, giving us courage to be ourselves.

6) Dramatic projection – a technique where actors project their inner feelings and work their issues out onto a role or object. We can unravel inner conflict, expand the depth of inner experiences and improve our interpersonal skills. This process provides an opportunity to enact negative behaviors without facing consequences. In this safe space, they can face those behaviors directly and truthfully.

7) Scripted roles – The actor studies a role and attempts to understand the individual. Often, we can relate to traits and factors of the character. We can explore intricacies of personality. We delve into operating our intellectual, emotional, intuitive, sensorial and physical capacities to the fullest.

The beauty of acting is this: we re-discover the grandeur of the human spirit and when we go back to our ‘real’ lives, there’s an immense carry-over. Acting, although today sometimes seen as a self-aggrandizing profession, is sacred because we can share what’s important about humanity. It is a medium of healing not just for the individual, but for society. It is a platform to solve contemporary community problems by raising awareness and compassion.

As an art that inspires you to live in the present moment, and calls for you to bring your physicality, emotion, intellect and soul to different character interpretations- acting is almost a zen-like, meditative experience that invites your whole being into transformation. It requires you to open up and accept a greater range of emotions. It requires you to face the truth of another and expand inter-connection. It requires you to be self-aware – right from the way you think to the way you move and the way you talk to the way you breathe. It draws on your vulnerability, and transmutes it to confidence. You eventually start healing and trusting yourself more.

Acting untethers layers of identity, welcomes diversity in life-experiences, in human understanding. Just for today, try being someone else, try playing a different role. Build a bonfire for the titles and labels you’ve created for yourself over the years, and step out of your story to see a new world.

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