The lighting team casts a spotlight on one of the audience members who applied to act as a main character. Unlike normal plays, an audience member who wishes to share personal troubles or concerns as the theme of the play becomes the protagonist. Without a single script or scenario, the play starts with an interview between the chosen audience member and the director.
“So what is your latest concern that battles you?” the director asks the confused-looking student.
“I find myself in conflict with my parents over my future career,” the audience member whispers.
As the interview on the stage progresses, the rest of the members of Psychodrama, observing the worried expression on the protagonist’s face, try to imagine what the person might have felt during an argument with parents.
“Come out, father!” the director calls out to one of the members of Psychodrama who will now act as the main character’s father.
“Come out, character’s mind!”
Another member prepares for her performance as the protagonist’s inner-self.
Psychodrama was formed in 1974 as an official student club in the Psychology Department at Ewha. Focusing on vocal training and psychological acting in weekly sessions, members of Psychodrama prepare for an annual improvisational theatre.
They pour out every trivial or grand trouble disrupting their daily lives during the weekly sessions. By role-playing a specific conflict a member had gone through, they remind themselves of the feelings they had at certain moments. To the members, the annual play is a place to practice what they have learnt throughout the semester, which is understanding others based on trust and empathy.
“We think of the stage as a surplus reality meaning a surreal set-up,” said Kim Hyun-ji, the student director of Psychodrama. “In a surplus reality, there is no restriction to what one can say or act on stage.”
Not having taken many major psychology classes yet, Kim frankly admits that the theater cannot replace a professional psychotherapy. Because the play is not directed or planned by experts in psychology, it has limitations as a psychological treatment. However, the members of theatrical company ask their audience to treat the stage as an alternative reality where one can deal with and possibly overcome stifling pressures he or she faces in life.
A scene titled “Wall” shows the process of retaining one’s confidence in life. Members of Psychodrama surround the protagonist, forming a circular wall. The protagonist standing at the center of the encompassing wall then tries to break through the circle of present troubles and weaknesses.
As a finale, “a surplus scene” is prepared to meet the expectations of the protagonist. If the character hopes to receive support from her parents, the member who plays the role of the father conveys an encouraging message to the daughter. At the end of the play, there is a “sharing” session where the audience and the members of Psychodrama exchange their feelings on the theme of the play.
The strong dedication and trust among members and the protagonist are the two biggest merits of Psychodrama. The play is based on an individual’s concerns and secrets. The success of the play wholly depends on how much the audience and the main character trust the director and the rest of the members. For this reason, the director of Psychodrama does not give an answer to the question as to the most memorable scene and character.
“Recognizing that you have a concern and actually acting the scene based on a previous experience are totally different matters,” Kim said.
Kim thinks that people nowadays are reluctant to reveal their true feelings.
“We try to orient the theater as a space where all participants can be honest and straightforward in revealing their feelings,” Kim said.
The members are continuing their practice for the annual play in September. Once again, script, scenes, and protagonist are not decided. They will all be prepared right as the play begins.
(*All of the explanations of the play are based on examples provided by the director, not from a true play.)