Dream theater has long been one of my favorite things in the playshops I lead. We turn dream stories into performance very quickly, encouraging the dreamer to be director, scriptwriter and star. I will help her to pick members of the workshop to play all the key roles in the dream, human, animal and other. She can interact with her dream characters and ask them to tell her what they can say from the roles they are playing. Sometimes a dream is really asking to be dreamed onward, to continue an adventure, move beyond a fear, claim a power or resolve a mystery. In dream theater, it is remarkable how quickly we can facilitate this process. This is the pinnacle of improv, is profoundly energizing and bonding for a whole group, and often both wildly funny and deeply healing.
I was awed by how fast and deep we were able to go, through spontaneous dream theater, on the first morning of the workshop I am currently leading in Berkeley, California. A woman narrated a dream in which she was shocked to see that her ex-husband was pregnant. She became distracted by the busy-ness of life, work, schedules, cleaning routines. Then in a moment of revelation she realized, inside the dream, that he ex was pregnant because he had stolen her egg,. Tremendous emotions were surging as she narrated the dream. I suggested that she might want to cast people to play the key roles, starting with her ex and the egg, and the moment of revelation.
As the drama unfolded, completely alive in the room, I proposed that she also cast people to play sources of inner guidance for both herself and her ex. Watched her confront her ex, reclaim something precious that she felt had been taken from her, and then come together with him, inside the embrace of the guides available to them both, for the well-being of the family. She told us she would be able to take this emotional healing and carry it through life, and the depth of the shared experience left us in no doubt this would happen.
A second dream narrative also called for immediate performance. In her dream, another woman met a young girl, maybe four years old, she recognized as a very young version of herself who had gone missing at that age through bad things in the family. She tried to approach the child, but the girl would not engage with her, curling up in a corner and sucking her thumb. We quickly cast all the key elements in the dream, including the strange house and the rising flood waters in the landscape. The player who embodied the lost child brilliantly presented the challenge of reclaiming a part of our vital soul that may have gone missing in early life: we have to convince her that we are safe and we are fun.
The player in the role of the lost child refused to accept the assurances from the adult dreamer that she would be protected and would enjoy life with her grown-up self. It took intervention of a shamanic kind to clear this. I approached the child and asked her whether she would trust the Bear or the Tiger. "Tiger," she said without hesitation. So I entered the second theater. Tigers are beautiful and fierce and young children usually love them. The lost child came home to the adult, riding the tiger. They embraced, and were joined, We were all delighted by the fine visual synchronicity that the woman portraying the lost child was wearing a beautiful scarf featuring huge, brightly colored butterflies. The butterfly is a near-universal symbol for soul; in Greek the same word (psyche) means "soul" and "butterfly".
The third dream shared on Saturday morning also invited immediate dream theater. In his dream, a man was scared by a huge standing bear that stood in his way. The bear had a chain attached to one of its legs. He avoided the bear, got distracted by a party scene, and then encountered two more bears. He lay down, trying to make himself small and invisible. The bears lay down on either side of him and went to sleep, leaving him unable to move or relax until eventually he left the dream, feeling that something vitally important had been left unresolved. In the dream theater, he was able to separate from the distractions of the party scene, and eventually to free the bear from the leg iron. In the conversation with the dream characters that ensued, the bear told the dreamer, "I am your own power" and the chain was especially eloquent. "I enabled you to contain that power until you were ready to claim it."
It is extraordinary how this kind of performance can bring all the elements of a dream - far beyond the initial dream report - richly alive in a space and at the same time offer a path to closure and healing, all within minutes. The play-acting can become a true theater of soul recovery, as a spirited and intentional family emerges to support the recovery of vital energy that went missing in cruel passages of life, and to bring in more of the bright spirit of a larger Self. The child in us loves all this performance and creativity, and the child selves we may have lost are drawn to us because we are fun.
Bear cub fountain on The Circle in Berkeley (c) Robert Moss