Fred Newman was a playwright and theatre director as well as a social therapist (and philosopher, community organizer and political strategist). He loved creating conversation on therapy and theatre. Here’s excerpts from a class he gave on The Therapeutics of Theatre—in 2002, and just as relevant (maybe more so) 15 years later.
My own vision in psychology as well as in theatre is to take what’s being destroyed, what’s being smashed into a million pieces and create something there. That’s how I see my theatrical vision insofar as I have one—to create something out of crap. It’s to create something out of what’s been destroyed. Not to take the garbage of the world and make it look good, not put a lot of fancy smelling stuff on it or shape it up, not doing what’s done on Broadway, where crap is made to look beautiful. And therefore mislead people and mis-teach people politically. Where problems are made to look acceptable rather than unacceptable so that something has to be done about them. Not political theatre with the answers, but political theatre which shows that we have to learn how to create with the crap that we have inherited. Because this is our working material. And no mental act, in my opinion, can turn crap into anything but crap, though we can create with that as the material.
I do mainly group therapy, as many of you know, with 20, 30, 35 people. They bring into that room their pain, their destroyed lives, their destroyed visions. They bring these lives into a room and they give them to us in a wonderful act of love, they give them to us, they share them with other people. It’s very touching and very moving that they would do so and we try to create an environment where they feel relatively comfortable—not without pain—but relatively comfortable in trying to do so. And then we take that terrible, terrible, ugly stuff—which is for all of us in varying degrees who and what we are—and the work I try to do is to help people create something out of that. Let’s build something with that.
This country is so overdetermined by special interests, by social forces of great wealth and great authority and great power—how can we possibly change anything? And I think I’ve learned that what you have to help people with and teach people with is that we’re going to have to build with what we have, what’s left to us in a very, very oppressed and overdetermined culture all over the world. And so we have to build, in my opinion, with the crap that remains. I want the people to see that we can build something in the world with garbage. And moreover, we’re going to have to, because that’s what we wound up having. I don’t want to in any way contribute to creating illusions for people that we’re going to be able to build with wonderful things, with wonderful materials. We don’t have wonderful materials.