DREAMING TOGETHER: Explore Your Dreams by Acting them Out. By John Lipsky. Larson Publications, 208 pages. Softcover, $16.95.
Prize-winning playwright, director, and professor of drama at Boston University, Jon Lipsky has been pioneering for decades in the field of dream theater. Now he has written an important and delicious new book, Dreaming Together, which sheds abundant light on what happens inside us at night when our eyes are shut.
Mr. Lipsky encourages us to wake up and smell the imagery, to harvest our dream experiences and work with them dramatically. “Don’t ask what dreams mean,” he insists, “but rather what they are.”
He urges us to put our dreams to use by carefully sharing them with others, and he outlines a time-tested approach for maximizing the fruits of this adventure, which “can go very deep and reveal ways our dream life intersects with, and enriches, our waking life.”
Though Dreaming Together could serve as a how-to for theater artists wishing to explore dreams for revelations about emotions, Professor Lipsky’s discoveries and techniques certainly have a broader utility than the experimental stage. After all, what elements of our lives are more private and particular than our own dreams? Dreams are so very personal and, for that reason, delicate to handle, that society has generally been unable to reach a consensus on how to deal with them.
Mr. Lipsky humbly offers a way, and as I read his chatty discussion, illustrated with just the right number of sample dream sequences and personal anecdotes and quotes from Shakespeare, I could not help but hear a subliminal “Eureka!” called from somewhere in the intellectual firmament. (Or was I dreaming that?)
Seriously, I think Jon Lipsky is on to something quite profound and much more than just fun or self-indulgence for people who want to get up with others on a stage and make sounds like suffering dolphins or threatening lionesses or frothy white egg monsters or people being chased by vicious psycho-killers.
In the early 1990s I had the extraordinary experience of acting in a workshop production of one of Mr. Lipsky’s dream play masterpieces, Dreaming with an Aids Patient, at conferences in Boston, Chicago and London. The play depicts the spectacular, sometimes despairing sometimes sublime, dreams of Christopher, a young man who went for emotional support to Robert Bosnak, a Jungian dream analyst in Boston. During that year of dreams, Christopher was dying of Aids.
Playwright Lipsky transformed the dream notebook of the suffering Christopher into living, incredibly vivid dream images and an awe-provoking drama. Each performance by our cast of three set the audience into a tearful meditative trance. After each performance, there was absolutely no applause. Each time, the audience walked out in a silent, deeply reverential daze.
So these dream plays, tapped from the raw veins of human emotion, the mother lode of our unconscious, have strange and uncanny power, but only if carefully molded by the dreamer or the playwright into an artful construct. And much of the delight in “Dreaming Together” flows from author Mr. Lipsky’s eager and gentle voice as he warns about the pitfalls of trying to force meaning into the dreams or presenting them without the necessary diligence and care for their peculiar, sometimes frustrating, ways of wanting or not wanting to express themselves.
Mr. Lipsky first suggests that acting out dreams is “a playful, interactive approach, rather than an analytic or psychological one. As such it can circumvent some of the emotional baggage that accompanies dream work.” He then introduces us to some dream dynamics and an overview of dream theater; how dreams are never “dreamy” but rather literal and concrete — and that therefore the images for dream drama should be quite actual — real words, tangible objects, landscapes as close as possible to real. Re-examination of the images and the characters in our dreams is critical to understanding what they are. “What’s it like?” he often repeats, when trying to milk out the real essence of an emotion or a dream vision.
Later Mr. Lipsky shares examples from some of his own dream plays and from his group classes at Boston University. He carefully develops the methodology for culling out the essences of dream figures, assigning roles for various members of a dream drama group, and giving duties and recording tips to “the scribe.” He also advises on how to nurture the phases of dream development so that each dream can live in as real a manifestation as possible and with a clear link to the others in its collage.
His final imaginative flourishes include proposals for dream cafes and suggestions of how and what we dream while we are awake.
The natural kinship of theater and dreams has always been acknowledged, but Jon Lipsky has now created a limpidly explained technique of how best to mine dreams and make their charged import accessible to actors and audiences alike. Could it be that the closer we come to our dreams, the closer we come to ourselves and to each other? In Dreaming Together, Jon Lipsky has given us plenty of powerful evidence to consider and, of course, to sleep on.
Dr. Gerry Yukevich is a specialist in internal medicine and a member of the board of directors at the Vineyard Playhouse.