Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Review of Jon Lipsky’s Dreaming Together: Explore Your Dreams by Acting Them Out (Larson Publications, www.larsonpublications.com, 2008)

“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”—Anaïs Nin

The relationship between dreams and our corporal existence on Earth is the meaty stuff of centuries of philosophical and theological discourse and Jon Lipsky—noted playwright, theatre professor, and leader of dream theatre workshops—has contributed a well-organized and vibrant new book to this ongoing discussion of the nature and meaning of the moving images that play on the cave walls of our sleep.

Geared for both the theatre practitioner looking to use dreams to enhance the study of acting and the non-theatre dreamer wishing to better explore the layered meanings and images of his or her dreams, Dreaming Together is divided into an Overview section and four parts, dealing with, respectively: (1) solo dream enactment, (2) ensemble dream enactment, (3) dramatic dream enactment, and (4) dream enactment in daily life.

Lipsky serves as an able guide throughout, providing a fine balance of dream examples, script examples, personal anecdotes, and instructional text. There is a minimum of jargon, from either theatrical or psychological perspectives, and the language is refreshingly frank and conversational. Lipsky’s considerable experience in conducting workshops around the world is clearly demonstrated from beginning to end.

The book begins with a list of dreams that appear in the book (fascinating reading in and of themselves for those who enjoy dream interpretation from a Jungian or other direction of approach) and a section entitled “How to Navigate this Book.”

The Prologue, “Theater of Dreams,” elucidates Lipsky’s approach to dream-work in no uncertain terms: “In my experience, the immediate value of dreams doesn’t come from explaining them, analyzing them, or following their overt or covert suggestions. It lies in re-entering them, living inside them, tasting and chewing them until they become incorporated into the fabric of our waking hours” (p. 14).

This quote might initially seem like it discounts the work of the analyst, but Lipsky is opening more doors than he is closing with this view. Indeed, it is all well and good to speak of our dreams over coffee with a partner or friend; consult the myriad books, websites, and instructional tools (card decks, etc.) on the subject of dream interpretation; or enlist the assistance of a skilled analyst to guide us to an interpretation from which we might derive meaning and healing, but this is the opening mile on a much longer journey.

Such is the value of this book.

Lipsky understands the key mechanisms of dreaming and dreams (he studied Embodied Dreamwork with Robert Bosnak, a world renowned expert on working with dreams and a diplomate of the C.G. Jung Institute), and by leaving behind any strictly psychological boundaries of interpretation is able to transfer them to the spaces of rehearsal and performance. The Prologue tells the reader everything needed to initially understand the Whys and Whats of the process, and key terms and ideas are all outlined in anticipation of the exercises that follow.

Part one, “Telling the Dream Story: Solo Dream Enactment,” is the section of the book aimed at the non-theatre practitioner, although theatre professionals will be well-served by the foundational material presented here. Lipsky again does a balancing act, presenting theatre and dream concepts in tandem. He is not only being efficient but making a case for the seamless partnership between Theatre and Dream-Work—a partnership I have been exploring for nearly 20 years.

Although I had been incorporating dreams into my work as a playwright, author, director, and educator for the first decade of my career, the deeper value of this approach was brought home to me in 2001–2002 when I had the opportunity to spend some time talking with Elyse Knight, artistic director of the Unlimited Potential Theatre Company in New Jersey, who was leading a group of actors in creating dream theatre. At that time I was doing a great deal of depth work to explore a shamanistic form of art using drum journeying, meditation, and trance (the results of which would come under “waking” or “lucid” dreams, as explicated by Lipsky in part four).

Through my solo experimenting and conversations with Elyse Knight, I began to more pointedly explore the overlap between spiritual/subconscious matter and the work of the theatre and how they can be utilized with the young people with which I work, many of whom are not actors, coming to many of the same conclusions as Lipsky has here. By demonstrating that we are all actors and inherently possess the actor’s skills, he makes the book accessible to a large audience—much larger than would be possible were Lipsky’s approach solely performance-centric.

The reader is taken through all the necessary steps: how to choose a dream to work with, strategies for recalling your dreams—including keeping a dream diary—and exercises for enactment, including the elements of sound, motion, and language. The first part concludes with a sample solo script.

Part two, “Creating the Dreamscape: Ensemble Dream Enactment,” begins to move the focus to the reader with experience in theatre. I recommend this part of the book especially to artistic directors, directors, and educators, as the fundamentals of building an ensemble are all here. I was reminded of Harold Clurman’s work with the Group Theater throughout. The exercises are well-explained and resonate on several levels, whether you choose to go the extra step of creating dream theatre or not. Sharing your dreams with people you don’t know well is a first step that will lead to the active listening and truthful responses key to a powerful, synergistic theatrical experience.

The sections on narrative (words) and collage (images) in dream-work bring a fresh, accessible perspective to the theoretical and practical ideas of theatre practitioners such as Artaud and Brecht. Heeding Lipsky’s advice to be wary of relying too heavily on “myths, archetypes, and cultural symbols” (because they can be misleading; fn 7, p. 106) will help the director and actor navigate the dense jungle that experimental/expressionistic forms of theatre more often than not place us within.

Equally as engaging are the sections on creating an “image score,” a rough draft, and undertaking rehearsal and performance. Once again, even if you never go on to actually stage a dream or series of dreams, the fundamentals in these sections are so sound and widely applicable to good playwriting, acting, and directing as to make this book nearly indispensable in the modern theatre (it is apt that Lipsky opens the rehearsal section with what he calls an “MTV-style of presentation”).

Part three, “Making Dream Theater: Dramatic Dream Enactment,” focuses on the nuts and bolts of putting together a dream show (Lipsky recently opened a Dream Café in Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA where he is practicing what he preaches in this book). Much here is drawn from the author’s own experiences, which makes for engaging and illustrative reading. From sequencing the dreams to creating the script, part three uses a generous amount of examples for maximum clarity and ease of use.

Key to this part of the book, and to the larger work of the theatre, is the section entitled “The Theatricality of Dreams,” which covers the real meat of the matter from the perspective of the writer, director, and actor. I have thoroughly marked up these half a dozen pages and anticipate referring to them often.

Part four broadens the perspective once again to the general reader interested in working with dreams. Entitled “Waking Dreams: Dream Enchantment in Daily Life,” this final section takes us out of the passive dreams of sleep and into the daydream and other forms of dreaming where the dreamer is aware of the images as they unfold. Readers interested in the material presented here can learn more by reading the books on active dreaming by Robert Moss.

As humankind races ever faster toward a new stage of existence brought on by the changes in the Earth’s environment, the global economic structure, and our relationship to the Universe and its innate intelligence—no matter the name(s) one chooses to give it—the ancestral/primitive forms of artistic exploration and expression are becoming once again crucial to our evolution and survival (in truth, their importance was never obsolete, just overlooked…).

The good work being done by Jon Lipsky, through Dreaming Together and the newly opened Dream Café, has created a remarkable set of tools that all people, whether working in the theatre and the arts or not, should being making use of to enhance their daily lives and the exploration of their dreams.

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