Harry Houdini, the famous 19th century magician, was a brilliant showman who engaged audiences in the drama of his onstage struggle. In one of his more famous stunts performed all over the world, he was shackled hand and feet, attached at the feet to a wooden board and lowered head first into a glass tank filled with water. A black curtain surrounded the tank after he was immersed, while an announcer described the enormous difficulty of escape. The audience was invited to hold their breath with Houdini, while the announcer solemnly counted the seconds, then minutes that he was locked in struggle. The audience would be gasping for air, the tension in the theater at a fever pitch and everyone in the place attuned to Houdini when he at last emerged, breathing hard, and near collapse. Watching a man face death and emerge victorious provided a collective catharsis to the audience that made Houdini a hero of his time. The fact that most of what took place on stage was an illusion is beside the point. He was demonstrating the power of warm-up.
A psychodrama group that is properly warmed up becomes a unit made of many diverse parts, and what happens there is often magical but no illusion. A person facing adversity of some sort gathers strength from the group’s creative energy and is encouraged to look at the situation from different perspectives, ask “what if” questions about their situation and explore them with the support of the others. But the group members benefit equally as much. The experience of watching a person work through a thorny issue, or playing a role in someone’s drama if asked to do so, can bring up unexpected insights about our own. We are lifted up through experiences that connect the dramas of our daily lives to the universal, never-ending story of the hero’s journey.
Houdini was also a master of self-invention, and a model of the discipline we need to create and express our own unique identity and continue to expand in positive roles. Real magic on the stage of life is the result of hard work and consistent effort. With a supportive group energy at our back there is a fighting chance we can face our fear and re-invent ourselves when life brings us to a crossroad from which there is no escape.
Nicholas Wolff facilitates a weekly training group in psychodrama/action methods. Training hours toward psychodrama certification and continuing education for CASACs approved by the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services are provided. For more information about this group go to http://www.lifestage.org/. Contact Nicholas Wolff at 631-366-4265.