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THEATRE AND HUMAN EXPRESSION

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Title: THEATRE AND HUMAN EXPRESSION


1
THEATRE AND HUMAN EXPRESSION
  • Glenn Wilson PhD
  • Kings College London

2
WHAT IS THEATRE?
  • An arena in which we can play act out fears and
    fantasies, test ideas and gain vicarious
    experience. (From Greek theatron seeing
    place).
  • In broad sense, refers to films and TV as well as
    live theatre any sort of entertainment that
    includes performers and audience and draws upon
    imagination.
  • Focuses on human conflict helps us see things
    from the point of view of others to observe how
    they deal with their problems, whether adaptively
    or self-destructively.
  • Brings magic thrills into our ordinary, mundane
    lives, whether disturbing (tragedy), ridiculous
    (comedy), or romantic (musicals).
  • Modern civilization has become overly safe - we
    need to rock the boat/test the alarms (yet
    within a safe context).
  • Gives chance to rehearse reactions to rare,
    dreaded occurrences (e.g., rape, earthquake,
    death of a loved one) prepares us to cope with
    the actuality of such events.

3
DRACULA ON THE COUCH
  • The myth of Dracula - perhaps the most popular
  • horror theme ever - makes an interesting case
    study.
  • It derives from several widespread C18th fears
  • (1) the werewolf legend half-human beast that
    changes
  • form in darkness.
  • (2) pacts with the devil, the soul being traded
    for immortality.
  • (3) Tales of blood-sucking bats that transmit
    rabies (infection)
  • (4) episodes of people coming back to life
    after
  • misdiagnosis of death and hasty burial in shallow
    graves
  • (the undead).
  • Modelled on Vlad the Impaler, son of a
    bloodthirsty Romanian ruler dubbed Dracul
    (dragon) Vlad himself was called Dracula (son of
    the dragon).
  • Central to modern Dracula stories is the
    seduction metaphor. Tall, dark, taciturn stranger
    appears suddenly in bedroom of buxom maiden,
    fixes her with compelling eyes, and with great
    authority penetrates a vulnerable part of her
    body, drawing blood and claiming her eternal
    devotion (Jane Austen plus the frisson of fear).

4
CATHARSIS
  • Refers to the purging of pent-up emotions that
    supposedly follows from immersion in tragic drama
    (from Greek for purification).
  • C.f. Freudian idea of abreaction neurosis is
    relieved by bringing repressed trauma to
    awareness (by hypnosis, free association, dream
    analysis, etc).
  • Psychodrama combines elements of Greek theatre
    and psychoanalysis a kind of group
    psychotherapy based on role-playing and dramatic
    improvisation of troubling life situations
    relevant to the clients.
  • Safe distance hypothesis - catharsis occurs when
    distressing feelings are awakened within a
    context that is recognised as safe (its only a
    play).
  • Research on debriefing therapy for PTSD suggests
    that passive re-exposure to original trauma is
    unhelpful some kind of cognitive restructuring
    is necessary, with emotions reframed as less
    threatening.
  • Theatre may help put our own problems in
    perspective others have experienced equal or
    greater distress, so we are not alone.

5
VIOLENCE IN THE MEDIA
  • The theory of catharsis has been applied
  • to the effects of media violence. Suggested
  • that viewing violence reduces the need
  • to act violently in real life.
  • Most research, however, indicates
  • that viewing violence increases real violence,
  • through imitation and desensitisation.
  • Especially true when the implied message
  • is that violence is a normal way of resolving
    disputes.
  • There are individual differences in
    susceptibility to the
  • media/violence effect not everybody is
    affected.
  • Sex in the media probably follows the same rules
    messages
  • regarding what is normal are derived -may include
    dangerous
  • myths (e.g., women ultimately enjoy being
    raped).

6
CATHARSIS AS DESENSITISATION
  • If exposure to horror and fear is cathartic in
    that anxiety is reduced, why would the same not
    apply to anger and hostility? Why would media
    violence not decrease its real life
    manifestation?
  • Violence is not always associated with anger
    sometimes a cold-blooded attempt to gain
    advantage, hence often no emotion to be purged
    (e.g., bank robbery).
  • What might be reduced by repeated exposure to
    violent images is fear of the consequences of
    acting violently, to oneself and others (this is
    what is called desensitisation).
  • Similarly, viewers may become desensitised to the
    possible negative consequences of promiscuity or
    rape.

7
STRENGTH OF THE MEDIA/VIOLENCE EFFECT
  • Some reviewers have questioned the
  • strength of the association between
  • media violence and violent behaviour.
  • Meta-analysis by Huesmann (2007)
  • showed that the effect size is
  • greater than many other recognized
  • threats to public health in fact,
  • second only to the link between
  • smoking and lung cancer.

8
COPYCAT KILLERS
  • Columbine School shooting
  • one of many incidents where similarities
  • were noted with particular video material,
  • which was thus blamed for the atrocity.
  • Direct cause and effect is, however,
  • hard to establish
  • (1) There are so many violent movies around
  • that similarities are bound to occur (often it
  • turns out the suspect has never seen the
  • material they are said to have copied).
  • (2) Serial killers seek out fictional material
    that
  • locks into (supports) their deviant fantasies.
  • (3) Atrocities occur without any apparent link
  • to violent media (e.g. Dunblane).
  • What spree killers have in common is an interest
    in guns and access to them, a sense of impotence,
    social alienation and fantasies of nihilism. If
    media exposure is involved it is likely to be a
    cumulative drip, drip effect, rather than
    direct copying.

9
CENSORSHIP
  • Evidence that media violence increases violence
    in real life leads to calls for censorship.
  • Problem is who decides what is right for whom?
  • Authorities usually defend the status quo,
    seeking to suppress revolutionary art.
  • Religious texts are often connected linked to
    atrocities, but few seek to censor them (mostly
    used to justify the act not the root cause).
  • Rock music and idols represent teenage rebellion
    hence bound to rattle the parental generation.
  • What is probably important is the moral or
    attitude conveyed rather than the words or
    imagery per se. (e.g., might is right).

10
EXPOSURE OF THE AUTHOR
  • Dramatists draw on personal experience and
    conflicts to create characters and situations -
    hence betray personal preoccupations.
  • In opera, Puccini featured frail, tragic women,
    Britten misunderstood boys, Verdi fathers losing
    daughters, Mozart sexual infidelity and Wagner
    the quest for ideals
  • (connected to own life problems).
  • W.S. Gilbert seemed obsessed with torture,
  • executions and matronly women probably
  • excited as much as horrified him.
  • Phantom of the Opera - autobiographical for
  • Andrew Lloyd Weber ?
  • Appeal of a play depends on the authors
  • fantasies being widely shared by audience
  • (e.g. Hamlets unresolved Oedipus Complex
  • Macbeths ambitious wife).

11
CREATIVITY AND MADNESS
  • You dont have to be mad to be creativebut it
    may help. Anecdotally, there are strong links
    between bipolar disorder (esp. the manic phase)
    and artistic output in music, drama and painting.
  • Some empirical support e.g., children of BD
    patients score higher on creativity tests hence
    a genetic link. May be mediated by dopamine, a
    brain chemical concerned with reward and arousal,
    which promotes loose associations (bizarre
    ideas). Some (by chance?) appear as genius.
  • Meta-analysis of research literature suggests
    that link between creativity and madness may be
    over-egged 15/29 studies failed to find any
    (Waddell, 1998).
  • Appearance of connection may be enhanced by
    profile and eloquence of certain famous people.

12
ARCHETYPAL THEMES
  • Certain images/ideas are of such survival
    significance that we store prototypes in the
    brain predisposing us to react in certain ways to
    them infants cry, human face, mating signals
    (innate releasing mechanisms).
  • Wagner and Jung (among others) noted that myths
    around the world repeat quintessential characters
    and situations that connect with human nature in
    profound ways (archetypes).
  • Idea of a dragon appears in myths and fairy tales
    of all cultures, predating discovery of dinosaur
    fossils may represent residual fear dating from
    early mammal struggles with giant reptiles.
    Prehistoric terror emerges in popularity of films
    like Jurassic Park.

13
THE HEROS JOURNEY
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces
  • Joseph Campbell (1949) outlined a central story
    in literature/drama the epic journey of a
    brave, if naïve, young man who battles against
    tremendous odds to achieve self-knowledge,
    manhood, wealth, love or social deliverance.
  • Typical sequence
  • (1) Begins in ordinary world hero is innocent
  • often lost parents, or parentage unusual.
  • (2) Call to adventure initially refused.
  • (3) Meets a mentor - teaches true destiny
  • elicits previously unrecognised powers.
  • (4) Trials acquisition of skills needed for the
    journey.
  • (5) Supreme ordeal - dragon slain/maiden lain.
  • (6) Return in triumph with enhanced power and
    self-knowledge saves the world.

CAMPBELLS MONOMYTH
14
STAR WARS A DELIBERATE MONOMYTH
  • Wagners Ring Cycle was a deliberate pastiche of
    the heros journey as distilled from the myths
    and sagas of many cultures settings, characters
    conflicts were infantile, ancestral and
    timeless.
  • For Star Wars, George Lucas consulted Campbell in
    drafting characters and situations that were
    archetypal. In Jungian terms, Luke Skywalker is
    the ego (hero), Princess Leia the anima (female
    spirit), Han Solo the animus (male spirit), Darth
    Vader the Shadow (dark side of the self), and Obi
    wan Kenobi the Sage (mentor).
  • The adventures of Siegfried and Skywalker
    respectively follow the typical pattern of the
    heros journey.

15
HOW TO SCRIPT A FILM
London based film analyst and script consultant
Kal Bashir maintains that most blockbusters
follow a similar template, corresponding to the
Campbell monomyth.
16
THE APPEAL OF THE MONOMYTH
  • The drive toward mastery and achievement,
  • to conquer enemies and win love and
  • admiration is rife in men. Women
  • dream of the knight in shining armour who
  • will bear them away from drudgery and strife,
  • protect and support them forever.
  • The monster from whom the maiden is liberated
  • may represent a restrictive father hence sexual
  • awakening is a common theme. The standard plot
  • in comic opera is the guardian outwitted, or
  • theres no fool like and old fool. An old
  • man is tricked out of his claim to a young woman
    by a young pretender and his accomplices.
  • Society has a need of saviours exceptional
    people who will deliver them from evil. If they
    dont exist they will be invented (c.f. The Life
    of Brian). People look for idols in sport, music,
    politics and religion, as well as in
    literature/drama.
  • Concern with the genetic background of the hero
    has obvious evolutionary significance. Within
    limits, exceptional humans can be bred like
    racehorses, so parents who are themselves
    exceptional are the most likely source of the
    hero. However, we are often reminded that a
    genius or leader may be spawned of ordinary,
    unprepossessing parents, and the hero may emerge
    from the most unlikely places a lowly stable, a
    flying saucer, or a Swiss patents office.

17
CONCLUSION
  • Recurring characters/themes in theatre, film
    literature reveal human nature.
  • This nature reflects deep-seated instincts that
    have served our survival since prehistory.
  • Theatre is a higher cultural activity marking our
    imagination, creativity, and humanity, while at
    the same time a reminder of our animal origins.

18
BIBLIOGRAPHY
  • Wilson, G.D. (2002) Psychology for Performing
    Artists (2nd Edition). London, Whurr/Wiley (Most
    other references may be found here.)
  • Huesmann, L.R. (2007) The impact of electronic
    media violence scientific research and theory.
    Journal of Adolescent Health, 41 (6), Supplement,
    S6-S13.
  • Waddell, C. (1998) Creativity and mental illness
    Is there a link? Canadian Journal of Psychiatry,
    43, 166-172.
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