teacher of acting (in english or hebrew), gestalt therapist, director, playwright, composer, klezmer musician, kabbalist. my work fuses gestalt therapy work on awareness, dreams, and personal relationships with traditional actor training techniques, especially those of michael chekhov, brecht, and mabou mines. like spinoza i operate in the secular sacrum, ﬁnding spirituality in nature by fusing kabbalah (especially breslav) with avant garde musical theater, within the overall world tradition of dialectical philosophy. i realize that this is not everyman’s cup of borsht, but it is the path i have forged for myself during my 75 years. another aspect of my work is performing as a klezmer musician, using trombone, trumpet, keyboard and 12-string guitar.
VIDEOS VS LIVE PERFORMANCE
since the day i quit med school in 1963 to do musical theater, i have chosen economically the low road rather than the high road. for me time is of the essence and i do not like to waste it. so instead of struggling to ﬁnance productions or writing endless verbiage i make videos of my shows, oftentimes with me playing all the roles, and i put them on the net. i am the most affordable actor/singer i know. the 400 videos i have put on vimeo and youtube (see “franklyn wepner”) include personal myth projects with performers, 5 original musicals on jewish subjects, 16 retellings of traditional jewish stories with my own music, examples of my teaching process and demos of me working on my own dreams. i delve deeply into philosophy and kabbalah theory and at my wordpress blog, “about franklyn wepner” you can ﬁnd about 150 of my essays. rather than “publish or perish” i put the essays on the net, perish, and go on with my life.
GESTALT DREAM WORK AS SIMULTANEOUSLY ACTOR PREPARATION AND PLAYWRIGHTING PROCESS
Since 1975 I have been using Gestalt work on awareness, dreams and personal relationships as a way to train and direct performers, and at the same time create musical theater pieces grounded in the lives of those performers. The basic principle is simple. I use the Gestalt work to peel the onion: layer after layer of social cliches, ego games and unﬁnished personal business. these personal essences are what michael chekhov calls “psychological gestures”. then I do the reverse process reconstituting the onion as characters or other artist structures. The existential message of the dreamwork becomes the superobjective or action of the tragedy, and then I build up the way the performer handles the characters and the plot around this foundation. this approach is particularly useful for creating “personal myth character” one man shows, since then the peels of the onion, the actor’s discards, are the fairy tale myths, idols, to which he has been dedicating his life.
Since my goal is theater as well as healing, whenever possible during the Gestalt dreamwork I encourage full expression using sound and movements. I work with a palette of recorded musical excerpts, and whenever appropriate I ask him if that image or emotional state were part of a movie what sort of music might be the sound track. Then I ﬁnd something close to that in my palette of musical colors and ask him to express the mood using the music along with his vocalizing and expressive movements. During the session I spend most of my time taking verbatim notes and making stick ﬁgures of his poses and movements. later l feed this back to him and encourage him to explore using it as creative material for acting, dance or whatever his medium might be. discovering these psychological gestures using psychological means is what chekhov emphasized in his master class lectures, in contrast to the dance class approach of most michael chekhov acting studios. a picture is worth many words, so here is an example of how recently i worked with a performer
BARBARA’S GESTALT THERAPY/PERSONAL MYTH WORK SUMMARIZED
here are some key moments verbatim, in proper sequence but taken out of context, from a gestalt awareness session of actress “barbara”. the order in which the quotes appear is important, since they are markers for the emerging underlying action. barbara says: (1) i see a “woman in custody” [substance abuse client in an institution] . i look for humanity, but she is like someone sub-human, a forgotten woman. it affects me. it’s sad. society is failing her and she is fading away. (2) nobody intervened to help me. i had to cook and take care of my mother. i had very few friends. i had an orthodox friend and her mother helped me. i liked the structure of religion, (3) it’s like i have two different parts, two parallel worlds, external and internal. i don’t like that. i feel my inner world is hidden, and the outer world is some ideal i’m supposed to be. (4) i don’t want to give a gift that brought unhappiness. there is a chasm there. they are a symbol of an ideal that was not fulﬁlled. (5) (my man) should feel that without me he could not have invented the wheel. i provide mental and physical stimulation. (6) sometimes working with my clients was a sublime experience. i would be working on automatic. when i make that connection to a person who is “removed” [cut off from society], it is “thank you, god!” i don’t know where those words come from . i throw out my best and then i never know who is going to take it.
BARBARA’S PERSONAL MYTH PROJECT CHARACTER: JOAN OF ARC
and now here is my meld of the action of barbara with the biography of joan of arc. if barbara would one day decide to pursue this personal mythology acting exercise, then she could take this skeleton action that i provide for her and rework it into a more precise ﬁt for herself. acting joan of arc would allow actress barbara to identify easily, without having to use gimmicks and fake it. from this experience she would learn how to act truthfully, and later she could carry over this approach to work on other aspects of her life and other characters.
joan of arc grows up in a confused political and personal situation in the 15th century during the 100 years war between france and england. at age 15 joan puts the initially fragmented pieces of her life together and sees a possible role for herself. she sees her french people fading away, a forgotten people more and more dominated by the english, reduced to a subhuman state. she relies on her own developing powers and is attracted to the structure of orthodox catholic religion as something that reinforces her identity and provides her with a political mission. seeing herself as a charismatic spiritual leader allows her hidden powers to emerge and to be reinforced by the approval she gets from others. she identiﬁes with a mix of religion and nationalism which serves for her as a symbol of her emerging higher self, a self which incorporates all the various sides of her personality. it is not realistic for a 17 year old illiterate peasant girl to hold ofﬁce in the government or in the army, but she ﬁnds her niche as a source of mental and spiritual inspiration for others. she takes a major role in many military adventures. for her these extreme situations are sublime experiences where she feels herself to be working on automatic, constantly thanking god for providing her with superhuman powers. again and again she takes the leap of faith and throws herself into the fray without knowing what will be the outcome.
LINKS TO VIDEOS OF THIS GESTALT THERAPY/PERSONAL MYTH PROCESS (WITH PERMISSION OF THE PERFORMERS)
(1) gestalt work on awareness with actress bel baca (four half hour components of a two hour session): https://vimeo.com/27664718, https://vimeo.com/28105288, https://vimeo.com/28579484, https://vimeo.com/29031746. (2) gestalt work on awareness with actress svetlana ben (two one hour components of a two hour session, in hebrew with english subtitles): https://vimeo.com/166685847, https://vimeo.com/167794795. (3) personal myth process final performances of svetlana ben and boris gorelnik (15 minutes each, hebrew with english subtitles): https://vimeo.com/110558870, https://vimeo.com/110410996.
LINKS TO OTHER WORKS OF WEPNER VIDEOS
LINKS TO VIDEOS OF ORIGINAL MUSICAL SHOWS ON JEWISH SUBJECTS: (1) IN THOSE DAYS (about the cantonists in russia, 100 minutes). https://vimeo.com/21227936. (2) THE CAVE OF MACHPELAH AND US (all about the cave of machpelah from genesis until the present, 100 minutes). https://vimeo.com/13618622. (3) THE KING’S SON AND THE EMPEROR’S DAUGHTER (lives of hassidic rebbe nachman of breslav and jewish haskalah salon hostess rahel varnhagen interwoven, 90 minutes). https://vimeo.com/22220523. (4) BYE, BYE SH-NUKE (about purim and iran, 20 minutes). https://vimeo.com/18116702. (5) KING DAVID, ABSALOM AND US (updated version of the historical, hysterical events, 28 minutes). https://vimeo.com/21738312
LINKS TO VIDEOS OF JEWISH STORIES RETOLD: (1) A GHETTO DOG (holocaust story about an old lady and her dog). https://vimeo.com/17810165. (2) A WANDERING SOUL (should you become a hassid or not?). https://vimeo.com/17812793. (3) BALAK/BILAM (what the lord told the prophet bilam). https://vimeo.com/17636764. (4) IN THE VALLEY (do you really need a matchmaker?). https://vimeo.com/17753722. (5) ISRAEL AND THE ENEMY (the baal shev tov rescures the children). https://vimeo.com/17754874. (6) MOSHIACH COMES TO TOWN (about bibi and obama). https://vimeo.com/28240939. (7) THE CAVE OF MATTATIAS (a chanukah story). https://vimeo.com/21554252. (8) THE CAVE OF TEMPTATIONS (only the youngest son gets to israel). https://vimeo.com/17733050. (9) THE DANCE (tragic love at the time of exodus from egypt). https://vimeo.com/17808134. (10) THE FOX, THE CROW AND MOSHIACH (from an israeli point of view). https://vimeo.com/14293028. (11) THE HOLLOW OF THE SLING (the struggle of a hassidic bridegroom). https://vimeo.com/22193749. (12) THE MAN OF THE MAT (rabbi abuhatseira’s miraculous voyage). https://vimeo.com/17800947. (13) THE RING (the rabbi gives a diamond ring to the beggar). https://vimeo.com/17732310. (14) THE SHEPHERD’S PIPE (a boy, his flute and his prayer). https://vimeo.com/17800033. (15) THE SWORD OF MOSHIACH (a hassid arrives at the palace of moshiach). https://vimeo.com/28348560. (16) WHY MOSHIACH DOESN’T COME (all about mom’s condo in florida). https://vimeo.com/17802261.
LINKS TO VIDEOS OF GESTALT THERAPY DREAMWORK: (1) GENESIS (just how close do i want to get to people?, 13 minutes). https://vimeo.com/27440111. (2) TRUTH SEARCH (a scary dream about cats, 21 minutes). https://vimeo.com/18125697. (3) THE LIVING ROOM (mourning my brother, 75 minutes). https://vimeo.com/29520197. (4) WALTER BENJAMIN LIVE (about my father, aggression, death, 102 minutes). https://vimeo.com/26796051. (5) MATCHMAKER (about my search for love, 73 minutes). https://vimeo.com/26613279. (6) SCARY DREAM (my inductive, intuitive thinking challenges my deductive, rational thinking, 46 minutes). https://vimeo.com/23401868. (7) THE BURNING BUSH (what is reality?, 84 minutes). https://vimeo.com/22687488. (8) TALKING TO GOD (smart hitbod’dut vs dumb hitbod’dut, 90 minutes). https://vimeo.com/21402767. (9) THE ROOM (raunchy dreamwork done on a chagall painting, 44 minutes). https://vimeo.com/42392623. (10) THE BRANCH (dreamwork done on a zen painting, 60 minutes). https://vimeo.com/21395947.
LINKS TO LECTURES ABOUT THEATER, THERAPY, KABBALAH (MOST ARE ONE HOUR LONG): (1) MICHAEL CHEKHOV PSYCHOLOGICAL GESTURES COMPARED TO GESTALT THERAPY ESSENCES. https://vimeo.com/94641209. (2) ACTOR AS CREATOR (based on leo schaya’s “the universal meaning of the kabbalah”, chapter 3, two videos). https://vimeo.com/93837069. https://vimeo.com/93839425. (3) EXODUS DECODED PHILOSOPHICALLY. https://vimeo.com/91161556. (5) MICHAEL CHEKHOV AND LEO SCHAYA ON CREATIVITY (based on chapter 9 of schaya’s “the universal meaning of the kabbalah”). https://vimeo.com/77527798. (6) MICHAEL CHEKHOV AND THE ZOHAR (chekhov judaized in homage to his jewish mother). https://vimeo.com/77108056. (7) MICHAEL CHEKHOV EXERCISES ARE GESTALT THERAPY AND FICINO NEOPLATONISM (about chekhov’s 41 actor training exercises). https://vimeo.com/61949054. (8) CENTERING VERSUS EXTREMES (based on leo schaya and nachman’s likutei moharan, section 49). https://vimeo.com/60847428. (9) CHEKHOV ACTING SYSTEM AS GESTALT THERAPY DREAMWORK (based on chekhov’s master class lectures, two videos). https://vimeo.com/59552225. https://vimeo.com/59631711. (10) MEISNER ACTOR TRAINING EXPLAINED (as improvisation, as gestalt therapy and as breslav kabbalah). https://vimeo.com/57752412. (11)TRUTH SEARCH: KABBALIST YEHUDA ASHLAG AND MABOU MINES THEATER (from an aristotle point of view, english and hebrew versions). https://vimeo.com/30777170. https://vimeo.com/30781616. https://vimeo.com/30904300. https://vimeo.com/30904465
LINKS TO VIDEOS OF LECTURES ON NACHMAN OF BRESLAV’S COLLECTED ESSAYS (LIKUTEI MOHARAN= LM). LM 1 (two lectures in english). https://vimeo.com/41507529. https://vimeo.com/42752138. LM 1 (three lectures in hebrew). https://vimeo.com/41757570. https://vimeo.com/41760511. https://vimeo.com/41762788. LM 51 (on succot) https://vimeo.com/51398978. LM 51, 52 (on my video, “the room” in english, three lectures) https://vimeo.com/42886949. https://vimeo.com/42898310. https://vimeo.com/42933409. LM 51, 52 (on my video, “the room”, in hebrew, two lectures) https://vimeo.com/42940653. https://vimeo.com/42940653. LM 52 (on hitbodedut, in english, two lectures). https://vimeo.com/44506270. https://vimeo.com/42752138. LM 52 (on hitbodedut, in hebrew). https://vimeo.com/42778929. LM 64, 22, 282 (on children who hate, two lectures). https://vimeo.com/44499518. https://vimeo.com/44506270.
LINKS TO VIDEOS OF LECTURES ON SHLOMO CARLEBACH’S TORAH COMMENTARIES: SC 1 (lech l’chah). https://vimeo.com/72255463. SC 1 (lech l’chah, in hebrew). https://vimeo.com/72409490. SC 2 (covenant). https://vimeo.com/72644550.
ALSO: SEE MY WORDPRESS BLOG, “ABOUT FRANKLYN WEPNER” FOR 150 ESSAYS AND OTHER WRITINGS, MANY CONCERNING NACHMAN’S LIKUTEI MOHARAN IN RELATION TO GESTALT THERAPY AND THE PERFORMING ARTS