Performing Our Lives Together

From Oct. 10-12 the East Side Institute and the All Stars Project hosted the Performing the World international conference for over 400 community activists, artists, educators, mental health professionals, mathematicians, business leaders, doctors, poets, clowns and many others. As a social therapist who has dedicated her life to creating environments that support emotional and social development, I was overjoyed! The conference very quickly became a celebratory experience for me. The diversity of people from 34 countries working to create a more humane world allowed everyone to play and perform a new way of living — of being together and of having interesting out-of-the-box (or perhaps even no-box) conversations from a variety of perspectives.

As a therapist, I sit for many hours a day. Being a former dancer and choreographer, I decided to go to all the movement workshops. It was fun. Participants in the conference had the wonderful growth opportunity to be serious, ridiculous, intellectually stimulated, politically inspired and moved by the work of our international colleagues.

I was very proud to lead a social therapy group at PTW and invite our visitors to observe. People were mesmerized by the collective creativity of how this wonderful and varied group (my ongoing Thursday night group of 25 years) creates their therapy together.

How do you do therapy in front of an audience? What role do the people outside the group play in our therapy play? Are they really observers? Are they participants? We discovered that the lines were blurred. As we always do in social therapy, we talked about what is happening in the room. The group played with how to be a group with people watching and listening to what they were saying. There were many twists and turns. The group members talked about their history as a group. Many of them are community activists. They were able to share the emotionality of the success of the conference and all that it has taken to build it.

For this session, they were joined by members of the Globotherapy group, our international online social therapy group led by my long- time colleague Barbara Silverman. A few of her patients were able to take part in this session in person. The group created a very moving conversation about its history. There have been many years of creating growth and development together. We were able to express the richness of what it means to be living our lives through hard times and joyful ones and learning and growing from our collective conversations. After all, that is what therapy is!

The group grappled with some questions: How do you keep growing emotionally in a world that is unraveling? How do we make demands on each other to break out of the self absorption of our culture and to develop ourselves as givers?

Our international group members gave us what it means to them to have social therapeutic conversations that support ongoing exploration and discovery of how to live meaningful lives. They expressed their gratitude to the Thursday-night group for continuing the creation of a community therapy that has profoundly touched them.

Here’s what some of our participant observers had to say:

Audrey C., Brooklyn, USAIt was very generous and moving. I’m honored to be present. I see a lot of theatre on a regular basis. This was one of the most engaging pieces I have seen in a long time. I laughed and cried.

Vanessa de A., Michigan, USAIt was very touching for me to see some people I met two years ago at PTW sharing their valuable experience and building (many) possibilities for this growing environment. It makes me desire to get out of my bubble and be part of this. Someone said it was scary to be part of something beautiful/big like this, and I felt like that two years ago and I feel like that now.

Michael F., Georgia, USA – I felt very encouraged witnessing and being part of the group. Their vulnerability inspires me.

Alex S., South AfricaA privilege to be part of/observe. It really was a “performed conversation” — open, generous and “truthful.” I love the notion of being loving and demanding too, and that was certainly part of the way the group related.

Tine G., Copenhagen, Denmark – I experienced a group full of generosity, engagement, and listening.

Marilia P., Sao Paulo, BrazilMy experience and my feelings confirm my belief in group therapy and the possibility of helping one (and at the same time) all together.

Art A., Toronto, Canada – Experiencing the group-oriented intentional dialogue that is social therapy is an elevating and inherently growthful experience. I want more!

Dina K., Thessaloniki, Greece – It was an amazing experience to be in your group, to listen to your conversation and watch you create together. I like the way you listen and help each other and show your compassion to members’ difficulties.

William S., New Jersey, USA – It was enlightening, enlivening, energizing, emotional, everyday, extraordinary – thank you.

Mayra S., UK – It felt authentic and human. It made me question my own way of reacting to others in my everyday life. How can I live a more “real” and truthful life?

Monica V., New York, USA It was an exciting and powerful experience. I appreciate your generosity and willingness to open the conversation to us, rather than reinforcing an old stereotype of therapy as private and personal. Today’s group revealed a new model that is open, vulnerable, generous and human – more ontological than psychological, asking, “Who can we be?”

Yun-Wen Ru (Yvonne), New York, USA – It was a very intimate group. The members built deep connections with each other.

Ya Ting C. (Lydia), Taipei, Taiwan – Thumbs up!