The H.E.A.T. Collective was founded by Artistic Director Jessica Litwak to create, advocate and inspire artistic expression rooted in healing, education, activism, and theatre. We work to build collectives in every context: in our performances, workshops and community events. Engaging artists across the world, we aim for powerful bridge building art of courageous generosity. In this series, guest experts will write a piece representing each letter of H.E.A.T. - week one will be healing, week two is education, week three is activism, and the last week of the month is theatre. Together these pieces will highlight the work that is being done across all aspects of The H.E.A.T. Collective in the hopes that we can ignite dialogue, spark further exploration, and encourage more people to get involved.
In ‘real life’ I have a begrudging tolerance of my physical body. Since I’m a white man I’m allowed a bit more privacy around my body; and so its weight, its hair (or lack thereof), its soft and hard parts – are not that often subject to public commentary. The critical dialogue I have (frequently) with my belly and its frustrating prominence is almost always internal. However when I play with clients, my body is not just the same, slightly sluggish companion I drag through the New York streets. It’s my instrument, my ‘broken toy,’ the flawed play object for my clients who struggle with their own scars, wounds, and weights – both metaphorical and actual.
Within the Playspace (Johnson, 2009), I feel more free. Though I don’t immediately fall into a loving relationship with myself, I am motivated by purpose, by need, by relationship with my client. My body can become an offering: I am a dying grandmother in a hospital bed, a warm embrace, I am a friendly dog rolling onto his back. In Developmental Transformations we speak often about ‘offerings’ we make to the client in the play: some ignored, some hungrily accepted, some rejected. While acknowledging the power in the role of the therapist, as well as power encoded within the many identities both parties bring into the play, there is a true vulnerability in the offering. I have often wondered about myself – why is it I recoil from this vulnerability in my regular life, but I embrace it: both in the clinical encounter but also in my former role as an actor?
In her beautiful writing, philosopher Erinn Gilson explores the concept of vulnerability; drawing on Judith Butler’s work on violence, Gilson posits a nuanced understanding of vulnerability as “a basic kind of openness to being affected and affecting in both positive and negative ways” (Gilson, 2011, p 310). Fear of vulnerability – and particularly fear of our awareness that we may be harmed – spurs in us a powerful ignorance, a willful ‘un-knowing’ that renders us closed to possibility, but creates a ghoulish caricature of invulnerability and which, paradoxically, renders us far more likely to do harm to others (Gilson, 2011; 2014). It’s hard not to be saturated with images of this performance these days: heightened perceptions of white male vulnerability are creating very scary (and quite dangerous) shadow puppets all around us, indeed.
In my own practice: on the stage, in the classroom, and inside the playspace, I am aware of the sacred and complex work I attempt in order to make the audience/my clients aware of my openness. I am open to being affected by those I encounter, and I hope that they will become open to being affected by me. The encounter has within it the possibility of harm, rejection, judgment – in addition to trust, kindness, and transformation. The idea that it might only be the audience, student, or client that is transformed is another sort of deliberate (and potentially dangerous) form of ignorance to cultivate.
So I try to ‘roll over’ – to present my throat, to show my belly. This doesn’t always look soft and passive. The offering may be loud, or aggressive, or confusing. But it is meant as a deep signaling of my vulnerability – my willingness to be with them for that hour, that group, that class. And I am not always successful; oftentimes the offer is rejected: and more often I imagine that I fail to offer enough. Too much armor, too much polish, too much laughter, too much words. And so I keep trying. All of me.
Applebaum, B. (2017) Comforting discomfort as complicity: White fragility and the pursuit of invulnerability. Hypatia, 32(4), 862-875.
Gilson, E. (2011). Vulnerability, Ignorance, and Oppression. Hypatia, 26(2), 308-332.
Gilson, E. (2014). The ethics of vulnerability: A feminist analysis of social life and practice. New York: Routledge.
Johnson, D. R. (2009). Developmental transformations: Toward the body as presence. In R. Emunah & D. R. Johnson (Eds.), Current approaches in drama therapy (pp. 89–116). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
Adam Reynolds, MFA, LCSW, RDT-BCT is a drama therapist in New York City. He is a PhD Candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center’s program in Social Welfare whose research explores shared resilience between people who have experienced traumatic events and those they work with. He teaches Research and Clinical Practice at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and has a private practice in Chelsea working primarily with young people who have experienced trauma, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. He is the Training Director of DvT-NYC and DvT Taiwan, teaching Developmental Transformations Drama Therapy. His professional headshot doesn’t show his belly.