Jean Houston, Ph.D., psychologist, philosopher and researcher in human capacities, uses theater as a transformative tool in her interdisciplinary approach to teaching. Dr. Houston is the author of 26 books, including: “The Hero and the Goddess: The Odyssey as Mystery and Initiation.” This is the second of a two-part interview.
JH: I work all the time. I’ve just come from training thousands of Arab people in 10 different countries. I was in England, and it was all up on a huge screen. You could see all of these very large groups in all these countries. I trained them in some of my work in human development, in the light of social change.
EH: Do you use theatrical techniques?
JH: All the time, it’s what I am. It’s not a question of use. It’s incarnation, it’s what reality is.
EH: What makes a great play?
JH: You always have the artist’s skills sharpened, crafted. You have the statement. You have the playing of the story of the soul. I once was in the middle of Australia. I asked an old Australian aborigine, “How do we humans differ from the others: the wallaby, kangaroo, and koala?” She said, “We’re the ones who can tell the stories about all the others.” And I thought that was one of the best definitions of being human. And I think it is telling the story loud and clear and true. Often, it’s very uncomfortable.
EH: What is catharsis?
JH: Catharsis is the rising and ridding of old stuff that is no longer necessary. You see a lot, in talking about catharsis, of the old patriarchy, or the outmoded ways of being. It can also be psychologically catharsis of emotions — ways of thinking, belief systems, regrets, remorse — that do not serve anymore. Aristotle talked about the release (catharsis) of pity and terror: The great turnaround. You need a higher dream to follow catharsis — again the poet’s line, “Redeem the time. Redeem the unread vision of the higher dream ….” (T.S. Eliot).
EH: What sets theater apart from the other arts?
JH: It’s live. In a time when everything is on screens, the shear livingness is the interchange of essence between the audience, the actor, and the playwright, and everything else that’s happening. It’s a totality. There’s nothing like a totality to really bring you in. This is different. This is real. This is reality. It’s not the life behind the screen. There’s an enormous difference.
EH: I was so fascinated by your book “The Hero and the Goddess,” because you have groups of people act out the story of The Odyssey.
JH: After writing that book, I took a lot of students through the Greek Islands where we thought perhaps Odysseus could have stopped. And we actually would perform, at each island, the sequence of the appropriate action.
I have several books like that — “The Passion of Isis and Osiris,” and a very recent book, “The Wizard of Us,” taking you through “The Wizard of Oz” as a journey of transformation. It’s a kind of internal theater in which you yourself are transformed in the process. Because when the personal particulars of everyday life are lifted to the personal universals of great life, or great myth, then you become a mything link, and then your life rises to all manner of possibilities, growth, transformation, transition and even going beyond the stucknesses of everyday life. I say ‘mything’ link because you get beneath the surface crust of consciousness of anybody, and we are mything links — all the stories are there.