Steve read this document to the cast, creative team, and guests at the first cast meeting and read-through on November 25, 2014.
Some First Thoughts & Impulses: Notes from SHOCKHEADED PETER 1st Rehearsal
— Steven Bogart, Director
We’ve abandoned our children, we’ve abandoned ourselves, we’ve abandoned our inner child; suffering emotional trauma and fear of abandonment. Shaming and critical self talk. The angry/defiant child. The vulnerable child.
The inner child has gone into hiding deep inside. In other words, it has been repressed or disowned by the subconscious mind in order to protect us from the pain and fear of the abandonment it carries.
The main problem with repressed and disowned parts of self is that they don’t stay repressed…they get triggered just like any other part of the self. When they do is when we have “reactions” that are grounded in the fear of abandonment.
An excerpt from The Uses of Enchantment (1977) by Bruno Bettelheim:
“A child needs to understand what is going on within the conscious self so that he/she can also cope with that which goes on in the unconscious. Understanding, however, is achieved NOT through rational comprehension of the nature and content of the unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out DAYDREAMS—ruminating, rearranging and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures.
“The child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which enable her to deal with that content. The unconscious is a powerful determinant of behavior. When the unconscious is repressed and its content denied entrance into awareness, then eventually the person’s conscious mind will be partially overwhelmed by derivatives of these unconscious elements or else he/she is forced to keep such rigid, compulsive control over them that her personality may become severely crippled.
“But when unconscious material is to some degree permitted to come to awareness and worked through in imagination, it’s potential for causing harm—to ourselves or others—is much reduced; some of its forces can then be made to serve positive purposes.
“However, the prevalent parental belief is that children must be diverted from what troubles them most: their formless, nameless anxieties, and their chaotic, angry, and even violent fantasies.
“Many parents believe ONLY conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to children—that they should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. There is a widespread refusal to let children know that the source of much that goes wrong in life is due to our very natures—the propensity of all humans for acting aggressively, asocially, selfishly, out of anger and anxiety.
“Instead, we want our children to believe that, inherently, all humans are good. But children know THEY are not always good; and often, even when they are, they would prefer not to be. This contradicts what they are told by their parents, and therefore makes the child a monster in her own eyes. The dominant culture wishes to pretend, particularly where children are concerned, that the dark side of man does not exist, and professes a belief in an optimistic meliorism.”
Shockheaded Peter is a hallucinatory expression of our fear of monsters, born from the abandoned child within.
- The main story holds the justification for all the other story/songs. Without this main story then, the show would be a series of vignettes.
The story is of the abandoned child, literally and metaphorically repressed, thrown into the basement of our adult psyche, motivated by shame, and the pathological cycle of abuse.
A manifestation of the abandoned child, crying out a warning to our adult selves. Repression, repressed impulses, feeling thoughts, desires, etc., cannot remain hidden.
- The stories (songs) are about the behavior that the adult world/dominant culture must control.
- Fear of monsters.
- Fear of ourselves
- Fear of abandonment
- Fear of the future and of death
- Fear of dreams, of unconscious states
- Fear of loss of control
- Fear of hallucinatory states of mind
The physical expression of the play through the design elements, the band, and various juxtapositions of acting styles contributes to the unconscious dream state in which the abandoned child-within lives.
The physical space of the play is the place of nightmares and the ID. The place where we have locked away our inner child. It is the inner abandoned child’s prison playground.
Another element is the plays absurdity and satirical effect, which is achieved by combining playful humorous rhymes of childlike lyrics with the gruesome punishment and outcome of each story.
All these stories illuminate behavior that stems from obsessive parental control, shame, and fear of abandonment. In this case, the fear of abandonment is two-fold.
The child’s fear that they are monsters in their parents eyes and will be thrown away, tossed out, discarded, punished and in Shockheaded Peter—killed, or left to die.
Motivated by shame, adults fear disapproval, rejection, and ostracism by the dominant culture which includes religious and spiritual expectations; the child represents all that is good with the world, all that is godly and one of the entrances into the afterlife. If the child is good, the gates to heaven are open to us.
There is a third major tension running through Shockheaded Peter; In the original Hoffman stories, the children were punished but not killed. In this case, the stories were used as cautionary tales to enlighten parents and children to proper behavior.
Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott wrote Shockheaded Peter partly as a critique of the Hoffman stories. Our perverse delight in the outrageous treatment of children reflects a deep concern for their welfare by drawing attention to the crazed manner in which adults want to save the young from themselves by destroying curiosity and adventurous spirits.
The appropriateness of Shockheaded Peter is, ironically, what Shockheaded Peter is about, then: a warning, if not a wild expression to the dominant culture about over-protective practices in education, motivated by a culture of fear that silences and seeks to control wild unchecked imagination.
As we work to stage Shockheaded Peter, we struggle with our need to protect children and ourselves from the theatrical violence of the stories. But the piece itself is a monster of our own creation; an expression of our unconscious festering needs, desires, and fantasies that scream for freedom.