One of the most challenging questions I encounter on a daily basis is: how are you? I find my experience of the human condition to be difficult to convey through casual spoken language. Can you ever fully describe how you feel and do yourself justice as a human being? To answer, I have to somehow squeeze the entirety of my experience into a simple two word response: “I’m good.”
We need art, be it painting, poetry, or drama, to express the inexpressible. Art creates a pause that allows us to really sit with what is being communicated. Listening to this creative expression in a deeply embodied way, with your whole body, gives rise to real dialogue.
I recently spoke with Nisha Sajnani about the relationship between art and community. Nisha defines community as something that we imagine and something that we experience. Art plays a role in imagining new ways of being and belonging. It creates an imaginal bridge between what is and what could be.
Nisha shares her experience with dramatic improvisation and outlines a four step recursive cycle of mirroring and emergence based on noticing, feeling, animating, and expressing. Much of my own work is inspired by Theory U which describes a similar process called “presencing” that revolves around iteratively tuning into what is emerging. The similarity in process is uncanny: observation, stillness, crystallization, action.
Dr. Nisha Sajnani is an Associate Professor and Director of the Drama Therapy Program at NYU. She directs the As Performance: Therapeutic Theatre Lab where her primary research areas of interest include the health benefits of theatre-making as it relates to social determinants of health, stigma, and social inclusion/exclusion, relational aesthetics in therapeutic theatre, scalable storytelling based interventions in schools, and sustainable mental health care in humanitarian contexts. Nisha is the co-editor of two books, including Trauma-Informed Drama Therapy: Transforming Clinics, Classrooms, and Communities, and has published numerous chapters and articles in research publications including The Arts in Psychotherapy, The Journal of the Applied Arts and Health, Canadian Theatre Review, and Canadian Women’s Studies. She also co-produced the documentary film, Fostering Democracy Through Theater.
In our conversation Nisha shares a handful of specific techniques she uses in her own practice. She talks about how bringing people together around an art making project is a way of fostering a sense of belonging allowing for multiple ways of encountering the reality of human experience. Our conversation is both deep and, at moments, poetic.