Finding Purpose Through Play



By Suzanne R. Dewey, M.B.A.

Some patients shuffle along the sidewalk to rehearsal and slump into a chair.  By the end of the night, I have to almost throw them out.  They bounce around the room, dance down the stairs.  They are really tired but their bodies are awake and alive so much more than they were when they walked in.  They come alive.  They start burning bright.
                                      Kevin Coleman, Theater Director

Part of the rich history of the Austen Riggs Center is the impact and work of Erik Erikson.  We also have his spouse, Joan Erikson, to thank for making a lasting and meaningful impact on our treatment model and on the patients who benefit from being at the Center.

Over fifty years ago, working with other clinicians and patients, Joan helped establish the Activities Program.  The purpose behind the program then and now is to provide educational experiences for patients.  The Activities Program is where patients take on the role of student.  They learn from experts in the field not from clinicians.  Whether learning horticulture, painting, weaving, pottery or working with young children in our nursery school, these students develop skills and might even discover unknown talents that provide them with a learning space away from intensive therapy.  We often refer to the Activities Program as an “interpretation-free zone.”  But really, it is an opportunity for new discoveries and reinvigorated exploration around vocation and hobbies.

We often hear alumni from our program state that the Activities Program is where they found themselves or that they learned to reach something within themselves that had been silent before.  Each staff member of our Activities Program offers considerable talent.  Time with Mark, Illana, Sandy, Michael, Kevin, Edouard or Paula is precious and highly valued by the students.

Twice each year, Kevin Coleman, education director at Shakespeare & Company, joins students and others to produce a memorable and talented production.  The typical run is several days and the intimate Riggs Theatre 37 house fills up quickly for people in the know about good theater.  

Coming this week, December 10 – 15th at 7:30p.m. (Tuesday – Sunday), Kevin is directing Lysistrata by Aristophanes.  This ancient and notorious comedy provides an unusual perspective on sexual relations in a male dominated society. Kevin readily admits, the story is riddled with bawdy humor and adult themes but goes on to say, that the production is a gem and will be as much fun to experience as an audience member as it has been for the cast in rehearsal.


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