Saturday, March 17, 2012

With Zerka's memoirs, I remember my own memories

Karen and Zerka Moreno in the 1990s.
It was a cold and snowy day in Lakeville, Conn., in 1991 when I first met Zerka Moreno.

With Zerka's memoirs, titled To Dream Again: A Memoir, just published earlier this month with the assistance of editor Ed Schreiber, I find myself having many memories of my own.

Back in 1991, I was an aspiring psychodramatist and was practicing experiential therapy at the Caron Foundation, a large drug and alcohol treatment center in Wernersville, Pa. I had been reading about Dr. J.L. Moreno, the originator of psychodrama, and became excited when I learned that Zerka, J.L.’s collaborator and widow, was still teaching and demonstrating.  Even better, Zerka was scheduled to present a program  on the psychodrama of dreams, one of my favorite topics, during a weekend program sponsored by the Omega Institute of Holistic Studies.

I enlisted a fellow counselor to join me on the trip to Connecticut. We arrived in the aftermath of a soft snowfall, and I was happily waiting near the buffet line in the lower level of the quaint inn. I was surprised by the entrance of an elder woman who radiated vitality and energy.

“Hello!” I burst out to the woman I knew immediately was Zerka. The happy encounter, however, was quickly squashed by the entrance of Zerka's companion, Merlyn Pitzele, who was vigorously protecting his beloved from celebrity seekers and paparazzi -- as I must have seemed in my outburst. I retreated to the buffet line in great embarrassment, while my colleague comforted me and told me that Zerka had already been talking to Merlyn and was not the least bit offended.

My emotions changed to anticipation when I learned that only a handful of students had signed for the course on this snowy weekend and that each would have the chance to step on stage . The excitement and anticipation turned to awe as I watched Zerka direct drama after drama in a manner that was deep, profound and generally beautiful.

“If you were doing this for 50 years, you too would be seamless,” Zerka told her admiring students. Later, as we clamored for more information, Zerka said sweetly, “If you’d like to know more, you’ll just have to follow me around.”

And so I did. I soon began to make a regular trip from Lancaster, Pa., to the original Moreno stage at  Boughton Place in Highland, N.Y., for Zerka’s monthly trainings with a diverse group of people that came from nearby Ulster County as well throughout New York, New Jersey and New England — and from around the world. 

I've been continually awed and impressed by Zerka’s graciousness and amazing memory as well as her sometimes flamboyant wardrobe, which included interesting necklaces and an equally interesting collection of shoes.
Professionally, I learned to stretch myself to play auxiliaries for others and, like most of the other trainees, competed to get on stage as a protagonist with Zerka. Taking big breath, I finally directed a few dramas in front of Zerka, and she was always kind, yet direct, with my mistakes and my inspirations. When I finally confessed to her about how much her companion scared me with his protective behaviors, she offered me the ultimate in repair scenes -- the opportunity to redo the scene and introduce myself to Zerka in a way that encouraged and supported my spontaneity.

In between, I enjoyed hearing Zerka’s stories about her life with J.L., directives on the proper method of composing a psychodrama and introductions to Playback Theatre, which often offered shows on Friday nights before the  training weekends.