Sunday, May 18, 2014
Demolishing Stalin's ghost through dream theater
"I'm in Letná Park," she begins, accepting my invitation to step into the center of the circle and tell her story where everyone can see her. "They have cut down the trees. Our precious lindens are just stumps. I feel the blood of the trees." She is crying now, weeping over the rape of the land.
"There is worse. They have put up the Stalin Monument again. Its black shadow falls over the Old Town. The curse of Stalin is falling over my country again."
Everyone in the room feels the shadow of this dream. It carries collective memories of Soviet oppression in this country in an earlier era, laced with fears about what Putin's regime in Russia is planning today. The Stalin Monument on Letna hill, overlooking the Vltava River and the Old Town of Prague, was the largest group statue in Europe. It depicted Stalin leading two lines of faithful Socialists, Czech and Russian, into a bright Marxist-Leninist future. Czechs, who have often fought tyranny with humor, called it "The Line for Meat." Even beyond its monumental ugliness and hubris, there was strangeness about this construction. The sculptor, Otakar Svec, killed himself the night before the monument was unveiled in 1955, just a year before Khrushchev denounced Stalin. The Communist government in Prague waited until 1962 to blow it up, which required massive quantities of explosive. The gargantuan plinth remained, and was topped by a giant metronome that uncomfortable evoked the hammer and sickle for mant. There has been ongoing debate since the "velvet revolution" about what to do with the site, which is widely called "Stalin" to this day."
Zora, the dreamer, was born in Stalin's era. Many of the families of the dreamers gathered in our pleasant space at Maitrea, just behind Old Town Square in Prague, suffered imprisonment under Soviet rule.
So: here we are with the first dream shared on the first full day of my workshop in Prague, and the chill of a horrible past history and the edginess of the current situation along Russia's borders weighs heavy on all of the 52 people in our space. We need to move the energy. We need to make the land green again, and exorcize the overweight ghost of Stalin.
"Let's turn this dream into theater," I propose. Zora was eager to see how this would work.
No problem recruiting players to become the sad, broken trees in the park and the hill itself. In an instant, our space is transformed. We see and hear the pain of the butchered trees.
A good-natured Czech chemist agrees to play the Stalin Monument, and adopted the correct position, one foot forward, eyes fixed on that bright Socialist future. His posture breaks the unease in the room. Wild laughter and clapping begin.
Zora spreads her arms wide, becoming the eagle of her dream, circling the room on straight wings.
"You are in command here," I call to her. "Your dream is alive around you. You can do anything you like to make a better story. You can restore the trees. You can recruit an army of helpers to plant seedlings. You can demolish the Stalin Monument so thoroughly that its ghost will never be seen again."
With amazing speed and energy, under Zora's lead, our players bring the trees back to life. They dance with Stalin, pulling the figure out of its rigid Line for Meat stance. "Let's turn Stalin's statue into a fertility goddess!" a wit proposes. The chemist's efforts to shapeshift his sturdy male body accordingly draw gales of laughter.
The mood is bright. We may not have changed the world, but we have brought 52 bright spirits to brighter life. The gifts of spontaneous dream theater, generated by personal and authentic experiences, are unending. It is my favorite element in all the workshops I lead. It is a potent source of healing and soul recovery, not only for individuals but for the families and communities we bring together.
Photo: Stalin Monument, aka "The Line for Meat", that stood on Letná hill from 1955 to 1962.