07/07/2015 10:42 PM IST | Updated 03/07/2016 11:29 AM IST

'Life Is a Performance'

In his poem, "Our Fearlessness to Love," Andres Marquez-Lara describes global ancestors coming together and the dynamic interplay of the feminine and masculine that emerges to organize a revolution. He touches on the mystical and spiritual, however this is just the beginning because Andres's work is grounded in research, theory, practice, and innovative approaches to human centered problems. In his poem he continues to write about the "microcosm of our experience" also being the "macrocosm for our collective world," and implores us all to roar with the fearlessness of love.

Love compelled Andres to deeply explore the macrocosm of our collective world, and how we may come together to heal communities, while healing the innermost parts of ourselves. To this end, he founded Promethean Community to "create spaces where people can create new ways to love each other and be with each other" (from Andres's poem: "My Religion is to Live Through Love" -- Rumi.). He was also named an American Express Ashoka Fellow in 2014 for this grand work. Promethean Community's HEAL Labs are an example of how performance art is, in the words of Sir Ken Robinson (Creative Schools, 2015) "the most transformative experience..." Along with Peter Brooks, Sir Ken Robinson has been deeply connected to the power of art in education for decades of his career, specifically theater. Together they acknowledge "that a lot of theater does not have this sort of impact..." (Robinson, 2015). I believe Promethean Community does deliver this sort of impact!

Promethean Community:

Promethean Community is a unique organization harnessing "the power of performing arts to support communities in catalyzing innovative, engaging, sustainable solutions to the challenges they face." They use practices and pedagogy such as: Participatory action research (PAR), Design Thinking, Open Space, Drama Therapy, Social Therapy, Critical Pedagogy, and Arts-based facilitation. With two advanced degrees in clinical and community psychology, community mental health and governmental affairs experiences, as well as his own extensive background in improv, and with Playback Theater, Andres serves as facilitator bringing impacted communities together with local artists. To establish rapport and connection between the community members in the audience and the actors, Andres warms them up with specific activities. From my understanding of these warm up activities, they are absolutely critical to the creation of the kind of trust and safety needed for exploring vulnerable topics. After the warm up, the facilitator or director invites an audience member to share a story from their life experience. The story emerging from audience members is brought to life by the actors on stage. Andres said that after only 60-90 minutes, strangers leave feeling connected in the context of deeply emotional and vulnerable matters.

The ability to facilitate group healing through connection among strangers negatively impacted by social concerns is not only desperately needed worldwide, but absolutely critical to human survival. In The Empathic Civilization (2009), Jeremy Rifkin discusses the race to global consciousness in a world in crisis. He explored what he calls "dramaturgical consciousness" as flowing from psychological consciousness and representing a universalization of role-playing experimentation that originates in psychodrama. Rifkin stated: "Role-playing is no longer a therapeutic technique, but rather a form of consciousness for Generation X and the Millenial Generation" (Rifkin, 555). The work of Promethean Community cultivates vicarious intimacy with actors on stage. It promotes self-empathy, the practice of getting curious about oneself, for the purpose of discovering needs, wants, dreams, loss, grief, and even pain. Just like empathy involves seeking to know the perspective and experience of another person, self-empathy is a way of giving that level of attention to oneself. It is my belief that we can only give to others, once we feel our own needs are being met. Self-care is not only a challenging practice, but one that is discouraged in our culture. As such, learning self-empathy is important for individuals, and also the foundation of empathy for others. Promethean Community promotes the cultivation of self-empathy by involving affected people in creating performance art about their experiences so they can see it performed before them on a stage. This third person perspective on individual experiences is a modulated way of examining something that may be too difficult to look at without an intermediary, such as an actor.

Moving the challenging issues to actors on stage is an extremely powerful community intervention. It reduces the affective load of one's own experience by placing it in the hands of actors. In so doing, affected people gain an enlightening and empowering third person perspective on themselves.

The Connect Group School: an experiment in "dramaturgical consciousness" training.

In my work, I promote EmpathicEducation for a CompassionateNation as a method of healing Educational Trauma. Like Rifkin, I believe empathy (and compassion) are critical to preserving the biosphere, and that they are foundational skills for any career in the 21st century. Empathy powers collaboration by attuning people to each other, and not just fixating on one's own goals and experiences. To promote this foundational skill, I've created an educational experience for students that promotes "dramaturgical consciousness" for Millenials and Gen X'ers. The Connect Group School is a psychodrama in action because it gives students an opportunity to work through modern dilemmas in education -- in real time. In our Learning Community, students are the actors along with adult co-founders supporting their experiment in how to educate 21st century students. Improv and theater are among the learning experiences provided to our students in an effort to empower them with the skills needed to actively participate in democracy. Students are role-playing personas in the larger context of their community, which is itself a performance in history. Promethean Community and The Connect Group School are producing psychodramas on the planetary scale.

Since many of the techniques and practices utilized in improv and theater are also used in day-to-day situations, art imitates life and life imitates art. Our lives are essentially continuously contrived and highly scripted. Training young people and affected communities with theatre skills literally cultivates lives of theatrical splendor for the purpose of healing and preserving the biosphere. Every one of us has multiple personas and aspects of our personalities. Our performances in each of these various roles are directly related to the proficiency and competency we are perceived with. "Dramaturgical consciousness becomes almost a necessity in a complex, interconnected, high-speed civilization" (Rifkin, 560). The faster and fuller our lives get, the more roles we are called upon to play, which demands well developed "dramaturgical consciousness" on a wide scale.

Seeing the various roles of people's lives played out by actors on a stage, as Promethean Community facilitates, is critical to returning power to the disempowered, and healing the hurt and traumatized. Promethean Community returns power to audience participants by inviting them to interact the actors as their stories are being performed. This dynamic interplay between actors and audience, mid performance is a critical aspect to the outcomes of this approach. The methodology reframes the creative process and engages resistant and introverted members. Through Theater of the Oppressed and Forum Theater, Promethean Community engages groups around themes of suffering, and empowers people by introducing them to empathy for themselves, through actors portraying their stories. Andres Marquez-Lara, and Promethean Community, bring people together to create art, and in so doing they help us all come to life with vitality, connection, and renewed interest in collaborating for the greater good of all. By integrating science and spirituality, health and self-efficacy, logic/knowledge, and actual lived experience, Andres uses art to help people better understand themselves and each other. He compassionately promotes shared experiences of humanity for the purpose of healing communities. Love.