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Psychodrama Theater – Spiritual Awakening

Husain Sam-Tio Chung describes a psychomdramatic re-enactment of the crucifixion. From his book “God the Therapist” available from Amazon.com...

This was a spontaneous re-enactment of the crucifixion with a graduate class at Pepperdine University.

I looked around and asked the class, “All right, I want a couple of thieves and Roman soldiers, one rabbi, and the rest of you as the witnessing crowd—2,000 years ago.” Instantly, several volunteered for the parts. The class was facing the large plate glass windows with the church steeple in full view, and a large unpainted wall was behind them.

Before the opening scene, I gave the following instructions to set the mood. “I want everyone to close their eyes or look at the floor. Concentrate on the following. Put yourselves back and feel what it was like living in that time. We are all simple, poor, hardworking people. It is common such people to attend these public executions, but this day was not your ordinary criminal death sentence. Some of you have known or heard Jesus and become his followers. Some are just simple citizens of Rome who never even heard of this Messiah. Others are just curious.

“We’re in a time machine, so let’s all go back and put ourselves in that time and place, but as we are now. I want everyone to observe and be aware of their different feelings and states of mind as we enact the scene. Be honest with yourself.  Alright, you may open your eyes. As I approach each one of you in the course of this psychodrama, I want you to be spontaneous and say whatever comes to you at that moment. Forget what you have read in the Bible and do not quote famous lines. Speak from your own heart, and in your own words. Let’ s begin.”

Quickly, I pulled three empty folding chairs to the front of the large windows. I had Tony, who was a a visiting play write and acting coach play the role of Jesus. He was very reluctant, because unlike the other students he was not a practicing Christian. I had him stand on the middle chair and placed two students standing on the chairs on each side of him as the thieves. I had them stretch and extend their arms as if on the cross with palms up, telling them not to drop their arms no matter how tired. I wanted to simulate pain and discomfort. The rest of the class was to stand as a milling crowd, watching the scene.

The three who were standing on the chairs nearly touched the ceiling with their heads, raising themselves to a good height. Perfect.

I turned the lights off and told the class to turn around and look at the back wall. Everyone turned. They were shocked to vividly see a large and menacing dark shadow of a cross on the wall, superimposed on our three students with their extended arms. The shadows on the back wall seemed as ghosts of the three crucified who had returned to visit this class in the 20th century. I kept the class facing the wall for a while while I primed the three thieves. I asked the first thief, the non-believer to speak.

First Thief: (to Tony) “Ha, ha. Let’s see you work your miracle now, if you’re the great savior. Yeah, and while you’re at it, you can get me off this stinking pole.”

Roman Soldier: “Yeah, King of the Jews, call your God—ha, ha.”

Second Soldier: “Forget those fuckin’ thieves. Let’s role dice for the robe of this mad savior… ” (The three soldiers squat and shoot craps.)

Chung: (To Second Thief) “You really regret your crime. You have a wife and two kids at home, crying and starving. You fear for your family and fear what’s to come after death. Now, speak to Jesus.

Second Thief: “What was your crime, friend? I can see you are not a criminal like me. Why are you not afraid like the rest of us? (pause) Can you teach me not to be afraid like yourself?”

Third Soldier: (To Second Thief) “You shut your stupid mouth or I’ll jam this spear up your stupid thieving ass.”

All Romans: Laughing and applauding Third Soldier’s remarks.

Tony: (Raises his head from bowed position, stammering) “Wa.. .wa . . ter. ”

Chung: (Goes down the hall and gets a paper cup of water and gives it to one of the female students.)

First Soldier: (Jabs a spear into Tony) “Here drink your own blood if you’re that thirsty.”

(At this point, now that the class was getting immersed into the psychodrama, I made my move. Without the class realizing it, I launched the in-situ psychodrama by having each student act out his real personal feeling as themselves and not acting any parts.)

Chung: (Suddenly chooses an unsuspecting female student and tells her to give the water to Tony on the cross.)  “You are Mary Magdalene.  Just touch his lips with your wet hand, then wash his naked feet.  Go!”

Mary M: (Trembling, she goes to Tony and stands on her toes. With her wet hand and she touches Tony’s lips.  She notices that Tony has shoes on and turns questioning to me.)

Chung: (Yelling at Mary M.) “Well? Take his shoes and socks off, stupid! Don’t you remember he saved your stinking, whoring life? Where’s your gratitude?!!”

Mary M.: (Begins untying Tony’s shoes and taking off his socks.)

(Everyone, including the soldiers, are stunned, some backing off, a few putting their heads down, covering their eyes. A few eyes get blurred and red.  Most are stiffened by the terrible scene.)

Chung: “Is your name Mary or not? So—do what you feel. Be honest and follow your feelings.”

(Both thieves and Tony freeze, arms still stretched, looking down at Mary M.)

Mary M.: (She takes Tony’s shoe off and proceeds to wipe her wet hand on his feet. She leans over and kisses Tony’s feet, and dries them with her long hair. Trembling, she suddenly bursts out crying spilling the cup of water on the floor.)

(Tony starts crying, then even the first and second thieves are both crying. Then the entire class joins in unashamed weeping. Even the Roman soldiers lose their roles and are about to cry.)

Chung: (Whispering angrily at the three soldiers) “Don’t you guys start balling. Shut-up now! I want you to laugh and ridicule Mary Magdelene.”

Soldiers: “Ha, ha… ” (weakly) “Hey, whore, you can kiss my ass any time.” “Yeah… I am next, baby. Ha, ha.”

Chung: (To the Second Thief) “Well—are you ready to die? Do you wish to ask him for some favor?”

Second Thief: (To Tony) “I am afraid to die. I have a family. I admit I am not worthy, but…“

Tony: (Caught off-guard. Wipes his eyes.) “I…uh…I mean…Give me your hand.” (They reach and hold each other’s hands.)

Chung: (Whispers in Tony’s ear.) “Tell him something like: say after me, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…for our Father who….the Lord’s Prayer—you remember?” (Tony nods.)

Tony: (To Second Thief) “Say after me: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil… for our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name…”

Second Thief: (Facing Tony, begins repeating the prayer, really into the character as his own self.) “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

(As the two recite the prayers, Chung goes around to each in the class. The prayers can be heard, echoing in the room.)

Chung: (To a male student) “You are just an ordinary peasant. You have never heard or seen any of these men before. Say what you are feeling and thinking now.”

First Student: (With difficulty) “I dunno. Kinda numb. Scared. I feel sorry for him in the middle. I don’t know him, but I wish I had met him… I mean before this. He comes across very brave and so… I don’t how to describe it… I mean, he’s dying, and yet it’s as if there was somebody invisible he’s talking to. It’s spooky.  It makes me feel…. uh… like I’m guilty too.”

Chung: (Whispers to the soldiers, then moves to another female and male student.)

First Soldier: “Hey, let’s look around for some of those— what do you call them weirdoes?”

Second Soldier: “Christians?”

First Soldier: “Yeah, let’s get us some Christians and kill a few to pass the time.”

Third Soldier: “Just when I’m gonna win the robe, eh?”

First Soldier: (Yells to the class “crowd”) “Hey, which of you are followers of this man (points to Tony).”

Chung: (Surprising a male student) “You are Peter, his disciple, are you not? Yeah, I think I saw you last week when he was preaching in Nazareth. (To soldiers) Hey, this is one of the disciples!”

Everyone turns to Peter and a soldier walks up to him. “Kill him, kill him!” the soldiers and others yell with Chung.

Peter's denial

Student-Peter: “Hey, wait a minute. No way. I never met him in my life. I swear!”

Chung: (To the female student next to Peter) “You must be his wife? Kill her also!” (The female student was actually already so terrified by the whole scene that she grabbed hold of Peter as the soldier tried to pull her off of him.

Peter: (Yelling) “No, no…I mean, yes, she is my wife. Please we are not his followers. Believe me!”

Chung: (Spins around and suddenly grabs an older woman student who has stood stiffly throughout the whole scene, not saying a word and with no visible facial expression.) “I know you are a real believer, right?” (No response). “What are you holding in your hand?  A Bible?”

Older woman: (Glancing at the notebook in her arms.) “It’s not a Bible, it’s only my notebook, see?” (Whispers to Chung) “Pleazzzz, Dr. Chung—­don’t get me in there! I really am feeling quite sick and nauseous.” (Chung releases his grip and walks off.)

Tony & Second Thief: (after finishing the prayer, both were very quiet and appeared humbled by the experience.)

Tony: “Hey, Chung, can I get down now? I’m really drained.”

Chung: (Furiously) “What, Jesus Christ? You’re not dead yet? What kind of coward are you? You’re gonna quit and just walk away from your believers?! You’re in excruciating agony and suffering; your blood is practically all over this ground. The poor fellow who pleaded with you is also dying—what do you have to say, your final departing words, from your own mouth, Tony Monaco?”

The entire class stops and turns to Tony standing on the chair. A long silence. Tony looks around, seeing that everyone is watching and waiting for him.

Tony: “My real feelings, uh? (pauses) OK. This is one hell of a mess I’m in. I have a thousand crazy feelings going through me. I’m pissed-off and very depressed… Really sad, terribly sad for everyone, including myself. All the fucked-up bad things I’ve done to myself all my life. And I see all the same guilt in everyone else, the pain and suffering and stupid locked-up feelings and fears. Looks like I’m gonna have to pay for all the crap in my life.  And…and, God, I am scared shitless and don’t know what or who to turn to for help—Jesus … ”

Chung: “You are Jesus—so?”

TONY: “Forgive me…forgive everybody…please dear God, please have mercy upon our souls and release me…!” (Tony actually let go and openly cried.)

Chung gently pushed everyone around Tony to hug him and hold him tightly. They even helped carry him off the chair. They needed very little encouraging. They rushed up to him. All cried and wept freely and openly without shame. Chung then had the class carry Tony above their heads as if he were dead, walking around the room.

On the wall, the shadow of Tony was raised high as if dead; the procession moved against the superimposed cross. After the group circled a couple of times around the room, Chung took Tony out in the hall and gave him instructions.

I came back into the classroom saying, “All of you have witnessed his death, and now it is the Easter of your life.  He returns from the dead. Here he is! Be joyful, for you have been released of your sufferings!”

Tony entered the room, leaping, smiling, and bouncing around like a happy clown, though his eyes were still wet, Chung turned on the lights and had everyone form a circle, and together they all sang Amazing Grace.

Chung dismissed the class, saying, “I want all of you to keep this experience to yourselves until you have completed your term paper which is to be feedback of all your feelings in this last psychodrama class. Let the experience sink in, mull it over—alone. Then write and tell it from your heart; let it pour out and don’t bother with syntax and punctuation.  I want the real truth of how you felt. At least five pages minimum. Good night, sleep well. In the days of next week, before your last class I pray you will all be blessed with revelational dreams. God be with you.”