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Monodrama and Psychodrama

EVREINOFF AND MORENO:

MONODRAMA AND PSYCHODRAMA

PARALLEL DEVELOPMENTS OR HIDDEN INFLUENCES?

To Phil Jones (1995) must go the credit for the rediscovery (at least for

British dramatherapists and psychodramatists) of Nicholas Evreinoff (1879 -

1953), the Russian theatre director and prophet of theatre as therapy. He

emerged from Russia, where he was already a famous theatre director, and

travelled to the U.S.A. where he published a book: “The Theatre in Life”

(Evreinoff, 1927) in which one chapter is titled “Theatrotherapy”. (Casson,

1996, 8) As far as I have been able to discover he did not know of Moreno,

though Moreno knew of him because there is a footnote in the American

edition of “The Theatre of Spontaneity” (Moreno, 1947, 43) in which

Moreno criticises Evreinoff’s book. Moreno writing on the difference

between roles in life and on the stage states:

“It may be noted that the popular phrase: “Theatre-is-Life” is often

emphasised in a misleading manner.*” (Moreno, 1983, 43.)

The * asterisk refers one to the following footnote:

“Evreinoff commits this mistake in his “Theatre in Life”.”

Perhaps something of Evreinoff’s thinking may have influenced the founder

of Psychodrama. This paper explores that possibility.

By extraordinary coincidence Evreinoff and Moreno arrived in the U.S.A.

within a year of each other: 1925/6. Evreinoff was ten years older, aged 47,

whilst Moreno was 37. When Evreinoff published his book in New York in

1927 Moreno was an unknown, newly arrived immigrant, struggling to get

his medical licence, in debt, about to make a marriage of convenience to

stay in the U.S.A., but already with many of his basic ideas from his

formative period in Vienna. Evreinoff was a famous man with plays on

Broadway, an international figure. However Evreinoff has not been

remembered in the U.S.A.: neither Zerka Moreno nor Robert Landy

(Professor of Dramatherapy at New York University) knew of him when I

asked them in 1996. With only one brief footnote in his work to testify that

Moreno had heard of, even read Evreinoff, we must wonder if such

forgetting was part of Moreno’s tendency not to acknowledge other

influences. Undoubtedly Moreno was an original genius who developed

many of his ideas from his own research. There are however intriguing

possibilities. Sayler (1922, 230) writes that Evreinoff had visited Vienna in

1910. In his book “The Theatre in Life” Evreinoff writes that he was in

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Vienna in the summer of 1914 (Evreinoff, 1927, 111) This is also the year

Moreno first published: “The Invitation to an Encounter”. It was therefore

in the earliest period of the development of his ideas: he entered University

in 1909 and studied philosophy and medicine; he had already founded his

“House of Encounter”, a meeting place for mystical/existential interpersonal

and group experiments; played with and told stories to children in the park;

made his first experiments with drama/theatre (“The Godhead as

Comedian”, performed in 1911, published in 1919); he met Freud about this

time. Is it possible that he heard of the experiments in theatre in Russia? In

the cafe society of Vienna might he have encountered the Russian

actor/director, Evreinoff?

The answer to this question could simply be negative. There are many

instances in the history of dramatherapy and psychodrama of parallel

developments across the world continuing without contact or direct

influence. However surely a young man interested in theatre would have

been aware of the famous Moscow Art Theatre where Chekov and

Stanislavski had created a theatre concerned with psychological truth. The

Art Theatre had toured cities of Germany and Austria in 1906 (Sayler, 1922,

65) so its influence would have been recognised in Vienna. (It is entirely

possible that Stanislavski himself would have been a member of the

company on that tour.) I hypothesise therefore that other Russian Theatre

influences might have percolated through to Vienna, which at this time, was

the cultural capital of Europe. Evreinoff was becoming internationally

famous in this period: his play “The Gay Death” was performed in New

York in 1916. (Sayler, 1922, 301). In 1920 he had directed a spectacular

mass re-enactment of the storming of the Winter Palace with 8000

performers. (Cosgrove, 1982, 5) Surely Moreno would have heard of such a

famous theatre creator? If they did not meet in Vienna one is left wondering

whether they met in New York: from 1927 they may both have been there

and both were involved in theatre. Whether they were actually in New York

city at the same time is not clear: from 1925-27 Moreno was in Elyria, Ohio,

working on a contract with the General Phonograph Corporation on a voice

recording device, a steel wire “Radio Film”, (Zerka Moreno, 1998).

Marineau, Moreno’s biographer, states he was having to move between

cities to avoid creditors and immigration officials until his marriage of

convenience to Beatrice Beecher in New York, May 1928. (Marineau, 1989,

96. His account casts doubt on Zerka’s: it seems Moreno may simply have

visited “the General Phonograph Company in Elyria, Ohio but did not meet

with the enthusiasm he had expected. No company records indicate any deal

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made with him...” Marineau, 1989, 95) Within two years of the publication

of Evreinoff’s book, 1927, Moreno was working with actors in theatre in

New York: from 1929 - 31 he ran his Impromptu Theatre in a studio in

Carnegie Hall (Zerka Moreno, 1998, and Moreno, 1983, c). Does Moreno’s

acerbic footnote suggest rivalry? Did the creator of Psychodrama (1921)

meet the inventor of Monodrama (1909)?

Who was Evreinoff?

Sayler tells us he had been a “circus performer, actor, playwright and a

regisseur; a flutist and a composer; a critic, a novelist and a historian; a

painter; a psychologist, a biologist, an archaeologist and a philosopher; a

graduate in law, a government official, a teacher and a world traveller.”

(Sayler in Evreinoff, 1927, x)

Not only was he a creator of theatre but a theoretician, rather like Artaud,

boldly prophesying new directions for theatre.

What ideas do Evreinoff and Moreno share?

Perhaps their ideas truly developed separately in parallel. The dates are

intriguing: Evreinoff wrote many plays from 1902 onwards; he first

published his ideas on “Monodrama” in 1909; he published his “The

Theatre for Oneself” in 1915 - 17 in Russia and his book “The Theatre in

Life” (1927) is substantially based on that earlier publication. Moreno

wrote “The Godhead as Comedian” in 1908 and published “The Words of

the Father” in 1920; and the “Theatre of Spontaneity” in 1924. (all first

editions in German.) They shared references as would be inevitable for men

of culture in Europe at that time: Moreno’s first play was about Zarathustra:

Evreinoff imagines himself as Zarathustra (Evreinoff, 1927, 181) and

includes Nietzsche in an imaginary dialogue about his theory of “The

Theatre for Oneself”, (Evreinoff, 1927, 199 - 269), having read him when

aged 18 (presumably in 1897, see Sayler, 1922, 224).

Spontaneity:

Stanislavski had used improvisation in rehearsals for plays from at least

1905 and in 1913 Copeau founded his theatre “Vieux Colombier” in Paris

and started work on improvisation. (Casson, 1997) Moreno’s Theatre of

Spontaneity dates from 1921, though he had been exploring play with

children since 1911 (“The earliest spontaneous experiments began in the

year 1911. It was a theatre for children.” Moreno 1983, 84). He defined

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spontaneity as operating “in the present, now and here; it propels the

individual towards an adequate response to a new situation or a new

response to an old situation.” (Moreno, 1993, 13-4) Moreno chose to work

in theatre because it provided a laboratory for spontaneity research. From

1915 Evreinoff developed an idea of a private theatre, part visualisation,

part role play, in which players could imagine, either in the privacy of their

own home, in the street or indeed anywhere, other identities and scenarios

than those they normally played in life. This was the “Theatre for Oneself”:

“People will play themselves, and for themselves, needing neither actors nor

spectators.” (Evreinoff, 1927, 256) This is akin to Moreno’s concept of

psychodrama and surplus reality. Moreno also liked the idea of the work

happening wherever the protagonist was found, in the street, at home, in the

office: in the moment, the very place where spontaneity was demanded. In

Evreinoff’s book “The Theatre in Life”, which we know Moreno read,

occurs these passages:

“Let me now pass to the definition of

 

The Theatre for Oneself. Theatrum

extra habitum

mea sponte! ...

 

mea sponte! ...
(190)...every artist of “the theatre for oneself”

must be his own playwright. It is exactly in the free improvisation that lies

one of the greatest attractions of this institution. (195)...do not be afraid of

 

mea sponte! ...

creating

 

 

sua sponte, meaning free will.

Spontaneity is 1) derivation from the “laws of” nature, 2) the matrix of

creativity, 3) the locus of the self.”

(Moreno, 1983, 127)

Interestingly just two pages before Moreno’s footnote mentioning Evreinoff

he also writes (somewhat grandiously):

“Because of its action methods, the historian of psychology of the future

may well consider the Stegreif laboratory of 1921-1924, the most important

development in behaviour testing since Fechner and Wundt.”

(Moreno, 1983, 39)

Three pages after the above quoted passage of

 

 

“mea sponte” Evreinoff

quotes Wundt on children’s play.

Such parallels may be entirely coincidence; they may stem from the

zeitgeist; from the similarity of these two creative men’s frames of

reference: theatre, improvisation and therapy. It is sad and intriguing to

consider that Moreno did read Evreinoff (as evidenced by his reference to

 

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his book) and yet did not refer to his ideas more respectfully. In many ways

Moreno was already well advanced in his thinking and technique: the first

psychodramas had already been staged in Vienna between 1921 - 1925.

(Though they were not yet called “psychodrama” - a term Moreno did not

use in print until 1934 when he published “Who Shall Survive”: these early

therapeutic/dramatic encounters he then called “theatre reciproque”.

Marineau, 1989, 68) It may be he owed nothing to Evreinoff. However

when he did read Evreinoff’s book Moreno found much that confirmed his

own ideas.

Theatre and Therapy:

“Evreinov’s ideas are very similar to most of the current basic tenets of

Dramatherapy...he focused upon internal and psychological processes

involved in acting.” (Jones, 1995, 55)

In Evreinoff’s chapter on theatrotherapy it is startling how many

fundamental concepts are there: transformation, visualisation, role,

catharsis, the therapeusis of the actor and the audience. These are all

important concepts for Moreno. Evreinoff states that “Theatrotherapy is

still in its initial stages of development...Some day I hope to write a book

about it. In the meantime I simply should like to draw the reader’s attention

to this new cure as employed by some physicians and by some

stagemanagers in whose power, strange as it may seem, lies one of the

strongest weapons for safeguarding the health of mankind.” (Evreinoff,

1927, 127)

He speaks here like a prophet of Moreno, psychodrama and dramatherapy.

(Casson, 1996, 8)

The Godhead:

Evreinoff’s next chapter is titled: “To my God - Theatrarch”. This short

chapter is a mystical evocation of God as source of all roles and

stagemanager of the cosmos:

“I am certain that my ego has already played thousands, or even millions, of

roles on these ephemeral platforms (for what platforms are not ephemeral?).

And, no doubt, it will play many millions more in other masks and

garments, or, in the worst case, in the same mask and garments. I believe in

the innumerable transformations of my eternal spirit, for my God is the

aboriginal source of everlasting transformation of all things living. I believe

my soul is nothing but an actor constantly changing his costumes and

masks.”

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(Evreinoff, 1927, 128)

This accords with Moreno’s own ideas about man as a role player.

In the 1971 edition of “The Words of the Father” he writes:

“The number of roles in which the Creator of the universe can present

Himself without losing His inner consistency, is infinitely large. He has

become so flexible that He can provide for every need the complementary

fulfilment...the number of roles in which the Godhead can successfully be

approached is many times larger than the number of individuals who are in

need of Him. We do not find an individual praying as him or herself only,

but in the role of father, mother, wife, leader, king, person in authority, or in

submission, man of the crowd or isolate. Thus the Godhead in the function

of Creator is not only an extension of every being in the form of its

existence, but also an extension of every role any being may choose at any

time.”

(Moreno, (1941a) 1971, 315)

Whether this text dates from the original 1920 edition (not having access to

the earliest edition I cannot say) or is of a later date, the similarity of

Moreno’s and Evreinoff’s ideas is striking.

Dreams:

Moreno developed a way of working with dreams. He dates this right back

to his meeting with Freud, (some time between 1912-14) when he told the

world famous psychoanalyst: “Well, Dr. Freud, I start where you leave

off....You analysed their dreams, I try to give them courage to dream again.”

(Marineau, 1989, 30)

Zerka Moreno

 

 

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adequate to him, or brings him to a better control of the latent dynamics

upsetting him.” (reprinted in Fox,, 1987, 200)

Evreinoff in his 1927 book quotes Freud’s Psychology of Sleep about

dreams: “...The most abstract thought is dramatised in the dream without the

participation of our conscious self....it becomes the aim of the dream to

provide the connecting links and to make thus possible the presentation of a

unified dramatic whole.”

Evreinoff comments: “The famous psychologist has here given us a lucid

and penetrating picture of the very essence of our subconscious self, and has

proved that this self is pre-eminently dramatic and theatrical in its

mysterious activity. Is this strange author of dreams so masterfully

described by him not a real playwright and stagemanager?

 

The dream is a

drama of our invention. It is the monodramatic theatre in which one

sees oneself in an imaginary reality...”

 

(Evreinoff, 1927, 54-55)

This statement echoes Moreno’s concept of surplus reality and

psychodrama.

 

 

Monodrama and Psychodrama:

Moreno himself did not use the term Monodrama which Evreinoff coined in

1909. It was used by Moreno’s followers to denote a psychodrama in which

the protagonist plays all the roles. (Blatner, 1973, 16; Blatner, 1988, 169-

170; Kellermann, 1992, 149.) They also refer to this way of working

without auxiliaries as autodrama.

Evreinoff’s Monodrama is a form of theatre which focuses the audience’s

attention, indeed the whole play, on one character: the play is his/her play,

each action and element of the drama speaking of this character’s psyche.

This central character is called the protagonist in Sayler’s 1922 translation

of Evreinoff’s preface to his play “The Representation of Love” (1910). In

this Evreinoff defined his concept of Monodrama thus:

“The corner stone of monodrama is the

 

living experience of the acting

character on the stage resulting in a similar

 

 

living experience of the

spectator, who through this act of

 

 

coordinate living experience becomes

the acting character...The task of monodrama is to carry the spectator to the

very stage so he will feel he is acting himself.” (Sayler, 1922, 230-231)

Evreinoff suggests a “process of projection” (Sayler, 1922, 241) occurs: the

audience identifies with the protagonist. This of course does happen in

psychodrama. Moreno’s development however was to replace the actor

protagonist with an actual member of the audience who warmed up and

stepped onto the stage to explore their own drama. It is interesting to note

 

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that Moreno did not use the term protagonist in his writings until the 1940s.

The word does not occur in “The Theatre of Spontaneity” which was

published in 1924 and contains his earliest references to the therapeutic

theatre of psychodrama, nor in “Who Shall Survive” published in 1934.

Evreinoff’s concept is only a short step from psychodrama. Evreinoff

suggests that we are limited in our capacity for receptivity and therefore

advises that instead of attempting to concentrate on any number of

characters in a play we contemplate instead one: “The real object of a

dramatic representation ought to be some living experience, and with this,

for the purpose of facilitating the receptivity, the living experience of one

soul instead of several. Hence the necessity of preferring one really acting

protagonist to several equally acting, - in other words, the logic of the

demand for such an acting character, in whom as in a focus should be

concentrated the whole drama and therefore the living experience of the

other acting characters.” (Sayler, 1922, 232)

This sounds very like the relationship of the protagonist and the auxiliary

egos in psychodrama: the auxiliaries present the protagonist’s perception of

the other roles in their drama: psychodrama is truly faithful to Evreinoff’s

idea. He goes further:

“Monodrama must present the exterior spectacle in correspondence with the

internal spectacle. This is the whole essence of it.” (Sayler, 1922, 235)

Evreinoff’s idea is of a psychological theatre, of soul revealed through

aesthetic demonstration. Moreno realises this vision in psychodrama.

Conclusion:

Any similarity between Moreno and Evreinoff’s ideas may be entirely

coincidence: in his massive bibliography for “Who Shall Survive” Moreno

does not list Evreinoff. In theory and practice, innovation and development

of therapeutic theatre Moreno towers above Evreinoff. We are left to

wonder whether they ever met in New York, or walked past each other in

the street, never actually achieving an encounter. Evreinoff himself

disappeared after a brief period of fame on Broadway in the late 1920s.

Nothing is known of what became of him. That one tantalising footnote in

Moreno’s American edition of “The Theatre of Spontaneity” suggests

Moreno may have absorbed ideas from Evreinoff.

Note on spelling Evreinoff:

Nikolai Yevreynoff is the spelling used by Sayler in 1922. The man himself

chose the spelling Nicholas Evreinoff when he came to the U.S.A. (Sayler

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in the introduction of Evreinoff’s 1927 The Theatre in Life.) Phil Jones used

the spelling Evreinov in his 1995 Drama as Therapy, Theatre as Living.

Acknowledgement:

I am grateful to Zerka Moreno for her contribution to this paper, in

responding to the first draft with some biographical details and specific

references.

References:

Blatner H.A., 1973, Acting-In, New York, Springer Publishing Company

Inc.

Blatner A., & Blatner A., 1988, Foundations of Psychodrama, New York,

Springer Publishing Company Inc.

Casson J., 1996, Theatrotherapy 1927: Evreinov, article in the Newsletter of

the British Association for Dramatherapists Winter 1996/97

Casson J., 1997, Dramatherapy History in Headlines: Who did What, When,

Where? Journal of the British Association for Dramatherapists Vol 19 No. 2

Autumn

Cosgrove S., 1982, The Living Newspaper, History, Production and Form,

unpublished dissertation, Hull University.

Evreinoff, N., 1927, The Theatre in Life, Brentano’s, New York.

Fox J, 1987, The Essential Moreno, New York, Springer Publishing.

Jones, P., 1995, Drama as Therapy, Theatre as Living, Routledge, London.

Kellermann P., 1992, Focus on Psychodrama, London, Jessica Kingsley.

Marineau, R., 1989, Jacob Levy Moreno 1889 - 1974, London, Tavistock

Routledge.

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Moreno J.L., 1941a, (first American, English Language, Edition) and 1971,

The Words of the Father, New York, Beacon House Inc.

Moreno J. L., 1941b, Fragments from the Psychodrama of a Dream,

Progress in Psychotherapy, 4. (mentioned by Fox, 1987, 185)

Moreno J. L., 1950, Fragments from the Psychodrama of a Dream, Group

Psychotherapy, Psychodrama and Sociometry, 3, (reprinted by Fox, 1987,

185 - 200)

Moreno J.L., & Moreno Z., 1975, Psychodrama Vol III, New York, Beacon

House.

Moreno, J.L, 1983, The Theatre of Spontaneity, Beacon House Inc.

Pennsylvania.

Moreno J.L., 1993, Who Shall Survive, (Student Edition) McLean V.A.,

American Society of Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama.

Moreno Z., 1975, A Survey of Psychodramatic Techniques, Psychodrama

and Group Psychotherapy Monographs No. 44, Beacon House.

Moreno Z., 1998, personal communication: letter in response to the first

draft of this article.

Sayler, O. M., 1922, The Russian Theatre, New York, Brentano’s.

Styan, J. L., 1996, Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 3, Cambridge

University Press.

© John Casson 1997-8

writes of the technique:

“Instead of telling the dream, the patient re-enacts it. He takes his position

in bed, warming up to the sleep situation. When he is able to reconstruct the

dream, he rises from the bed and represents the dream in action, using

auxiliary egos to enact the role of the dream characters. This technique

further makes use of retraining the patient, giving him the opportunity to

“change” his dream and re-direct his dream pattern.”

(Moreno Z., 1975, 7 also in Moreno & Moreno, 1975, 242.)

In 1941 Moreno published “Fragments from the Psychodrama of a Dream” a

verbatim transcript of a session (Moreno, 1941b & 1950). Commenting on

the session Moreno likens the dream itself to an inner theatre: in

psychodrama the inner is externalised so it can be worked on

therapeutically. He writes: “He is encouraged to re-dream the dream, to

continue the dream on stage, and to end it in a fashion which appears more

, of improvising...(198)” (Evreinoff 1927)

Moreno of course had already been doing spontaneity and theatre research

in Vienna, 1921 - 24. In the glossary of his book, “The Theatre of

Spontaneity”, Moreno defines spontaneity thus:

“The root of this word is the Latin