Role play for a dying relationship


Lord of Penmai
Jul 5, 2011
Role play for a dying relationship

What is closure? It is an emotional coming to terms. That is why psychiatrists say that in a flawed marriage, it is better to seek a divorce than to stay on in a hurting relationship.

Because a divorce is final. It is a closure to all the fights, the hurt and the crying that went with it all. Now one can move on in life. The same logic holds for other vexed relationships as well. No one likes being dropped suddenly by a boyfriend or girlfriend. One would like to know the reason for the breakup. This is the closure we all seek.

Ideally, we should be able to get over these relationships, and the persons, by enveloping them with forgiveness. I think it is more important to first empathise with their point of view and only then, if we think they are right, can we forgive them.

But how do you achieve an empathy with them? There is a powerful tool in theatre, which can aid us. We call it role-playing.

In his shoes

Let us assume that you are having trouble with your father over the issue of your having smashed the family car. You have ofcourse looked at the incident from your perspective of having just one smash in the entire year. But start the role playing exercise and put yourself in his shoes. Then ask your friend to act your role of a brash 19-year-old son. Let him tell you in the brazen fashion you adopt: "Dad, I had a bang-up today." Then act like the 46-year-old father and tell your friend how you had remonstrated against him driving the car that night as the roads were slippery after the rains. That you are not upset with him for the smash, but you are sad that he chose not to listen to your advice. And worse, he does not have any remorse. Your friend of course will now say that he is sick with your 'I told you so' attitude. And so it goes.

The more you get into your father's shoes, the more you will find yourself understanding his character, emotions and thought process and the more you will start empathising with him as you are confronted by 'your' dislikable behaviour. If you are a girl, you could role-play your mother turning down your request for a new pair of shoes, as it is beyond the family budget.

Empathy is key

Such role-playing helps understand situations and people. Try it and you will not be disappointed for roleplaying is a very important tool in our armoury to change ourselves.

It is widely used in group therapy workshops around the world and in a spin off from the concept of Acting as Therapy.

What is the link between acting and role playing? In a sense, every actor enacts a role. But to make that portrayal more effective, many techniques are employed, one of which is Method Acting. There are again many versions of this technique but basically it involves the actor getting into the emotions and memories of the character. To do that, I normally recommend actors work on a 'back story' of the character.

What ticks?

For example if I'm doing a scene about marital discord between husband and wife, it is important to think out what makes the man tick. I mean, get into his childhood: Was it disturbed? Was he a single child? Was he a deprived or was he a happy child? Then what about his teens: Did he have trouble with girls or was he well adjusted? Then about his profession: Was he successful or was he unsuccessful, like the legendary Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman? So is he taking out his professional frustrations on his wife? And what is the nature of their discord- the fact that he refuses to change?

All these questions lead an actor to getting deeper and deeper into the skin of the character and bring the relevant emotions to the fore.

In the same way, clinically, and honestly, analyse your life - understand why you are what you are - and you will come up with the hard answers. And the person who then plays 'you' can dramatise the situations to show you how you appear to others. It is a mind blowing experience and shows how acting can be therapeutic and also brings out the potential of role-playing.

Look within

The wonderful aspect about role-playing is that it is as applicable to obdurate teens as it is to corporate executives and is much simpler when there are groups involved. This is because it is easy to find someone to step into your shoes and act 'your' role as everyone has to be someone else.

Among corporate executives, a majority of whom find the corporate ladder too slippery or who feel they have been short-changed by their companies, role-playing shows them their deficiencies and dramatizes exactly how they come across to their clients and bosses. Peers effectively act out the complexities of their characteristics.

I have touched upon the husband wife interface because in my experience, it is the most troubled, and troubling relationship of our times. Unlike in our parents' generation, the gender roles were sharply demarcated, today, roles have dramatically changed.

Wives are no longer always submissive. Husbands are no longer the sole breadwinners. Consequently, the issue is mostly about who wears the pants at home. Play your spouses role tonight and you'll find the answer.

(Excerpted from The best thing about you is You! by Anupam Kher, published by Hay House India.)
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