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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

Behind the mask of supportive and loving attention to the students' concerns and attempts to prosper and survive in the competitive market of academic adherence, the monster wreaks it's manipulative hands to forestall and paralyse the creative spirit of independence and personal sovereignty.

Do most people realise how vulnerable and open to persuasion young, intelligent and creative people actually are to manipulation by the charms and seeming affection presented and postulated by manipulative authority figures? And this may not have anything to do with sexual grooming! I am talking of the psychological manipulation; that wedding of ideas, instruction, belief systems and social dependencies to one person's seeming authority, love and extreme persuasive bond with others in an extreme power imbalance. We don't need to identify it only in cults; such manifestations may in fact be far less visible than what we observe in cults. Yet this kind of manipulation can lead to disastrous and horrific results with strong social impact and long-term consequences.

This essay is in no way an academic treatise. My reason for writing is an emergence of similar observed behaviours that I noted in a play I wrote over thirty years ago: "Blind Fold" set in the mid 1980s.

In that play, a charismatic figure ran a series of student camps over many years. The mantra was "One Focus; One Action" (and one other term I have since forgotten) and it covered a number of areas including rock-climbing and physical pursuits. But the key sessions were on Drama based activities and therapeutic, even psycho-drama sessions. At the beginning of the play we learn that this charismatic person, John Mantle, died (probably suicided) nearly a year before the current camp. However, his essential ideas were carried on by a group of four senior students who adhered, like Zealots, to the philosophies and approaches of Mantle and felt obliged to further the the extreme elements of his legacy. Mantle was encouraging student action regarding climate advocacy, young-people's advocacy, gender equality and self-management in the work place and in education. At the camp, where the play takes place, the Zealots learn of Mantle's own betrayal of the very philosophy he espoused and they felt he lost his "focus". They felt so strongly about it they decided it is better to face martyrdom than see the grand design be destroyed. In an extreme act of self mutilation, they each ritualistically blind themselves

rather than see the belief system they practiced being destroyed.

Part of their activity enacted in the play was a serious blindfold exercises that saw them take on the ability to see reality when taking away the sense of sight. For this they borrowed from Gloucester's journey in "King Lear". Their work culminated in the central exercise for the camp which was the "Boiling Kettle" which saw them prepare tea using actual boiling water while blindfolded and moving amongst the space.

"Blind Fold" was very controversial when presented at Canberra's Ralph Wilson Theatre in 1990. However, subsequent cultural attitudes and events of the past five or so years revives much of the central spine of that production and its thesis.

Come Here Lovie; You are so special but you need my help

The monster within the loving guise of the teenaged child's strongest adult supporter and guide takes the child on a guided tour of possibility. "I will guide you", says the monster in the loving guise of a supporter and advocate! The loving and attentive guise of one who cares as no one else cares; who seems to "see what I am"! Who will buck the prevailing systems of rules and care! Who acknowledges that "yes your teachers do care for you darling; they just don't see their own insecurities and weakness as I do! Don't let them inflict on you their own inability to see beyond their own training and institution" ... So "call me whenever you want to check up on what they are saying ... Darling, I am with you through whatever they have you do."

However, when it suits the monster, they abandon their charges as they move on to better things! Still, the confused young people cling to their every message and sign of their continued connection with them.

The Sweetness Seduction

The monster has a seductive face and a commanding voice. The voice is hypnotic and soothing of the ego. The monster lulls its victim / student who becomes the supportive device; an energised somnambulist that advocates and propagates the earnest and certainty of the monster spell-maker. "Yes lovie, I am with you all the way."

The monster is motherly or fatherly and hugs their students and former students when they see them to ensure that they love them. It is ok for them to hug because they is special; unlike all the other teachers and adults in the children's lives! While other examples of hugs and contacts with students via social media might be unethical and against teacher "Codes of Ethics", their doing this is special because of their unwavering support of the young people and their struggles.

Deceptive Monster in a story-book world

There is nothing sexual in hugging their darlings and they will in turn always look to them for advice and clarification when things are difficult. And who would challenge them? The monster is hidden behind a vulnerable mask that no one dare try to penetrate lest they explode in a rage and release the venom from some inner chamber of personal horrors that chasten and demand release! To say they is the victim is to suggest they is under the control of a force over which they has little knowledge. And they conceals this monster as if it were simply a psychological disorder. And in concealing it, the disorder becomes their shield and even their weapon. And they offer it willingly to their favoured students: some keen favourites!

Spreading the Love

The story of the deceptive monster in human form embedded in social and familial situations is the subject of Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg, Eugene O'Neill and so much television melodrama series such as "Days of Our Lives". The complex narratives and motives of the monster in human personality and resultant actions is reminiscent of Iago from Shakespeare's "Othello". While no one starts out trying to become a monster, cultural situations and personal tendencies may well gravitate one to that of extreme manipulative action. Laura in Strindberg's "The Father" feels more than justified in struggling against the cultural weight of her own oppression. She weaponizes her perceived weak position in the household to achieve her desired outcomes. In the process, she becomes the monster that in effect achieves the victory she craved.

The phenomenon of weaponizing weakness is archetypal in its historical and cultural manifestations. The four students in my play, "Blind Fold", use their own powerless position to strike ferociously at the establishment that marginalised them and their lives. Having their belief system manipulated by a now dead adult figure, they feel armed and necessitated to advocate the ideals instilled into them. Working from a powerless position, they use the strongest weapon at their disposal: their own destruction and self mutilation! So yes, this guarantees their being taken seriously.

But these students were initially motivated by love; love for the ideals promulgated by a manipulative and probable Narcissist. Narcissists make great characters in plays. In real life, they are very active in all walks of business and the arts. Their influence on young teen minds is underestimated.

Extreme Positions and a Zealot Mindset

The narcissist monster whispering and urging can produce more than a simple dependency on a strong personality for guidance. When the monster dies or disengages from the young person's world, it might seem as if the influence dies with it. However, as we saw in the 1990 "Blind Fold" play, the young enthusiasts can take on an even more extreme position to fulfill the potential of their infection.

The best example of this in literature is Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel "Demons". In the novel, we see lauded ideas being framed from semantics into concrete actions that have the power to sink a whole nation. It is complex novel. To reduce it to a single statement of a theme or warning is to belittle its scope. However, the novel does provide exposition of the effects from some charismatic individual to play on the young mind and the young activist. The analogy of the devils in the swine gives food for thought when it comes to all forms of persuasion for activism.

Zealots and the Arts

Theatre provides a clear platform or stage for the masked monster narcissist. Stirring up the psyche in theatre rituals gives a clear routine through which manipulative controls can be exercised on young actors and students. Either from the position of director, actor, manager, designer or even janitor, the scene is set up for whispering and the soul touching so much part of the monster narcissist's repertoire.

Food from ideas and devils in the swine

The participants become one-tracked and successfully rule out interventions from others. The manipulator knows how to nourish and foster a sense of deep belonging. The participants learn to block out influences and remain true to the dictates of the masked warrior. The coldness in the eyes and blank expression of the students as others attempt to integrate them into diverse activities becomes perceptible. They each parrot the same slogans. They each have a mission to find fault in anything presented to them. They have no idea how much they are pawns in the monster narcissist's strategy to destroy her enemies and former allies.

In my play "Blind Fold" the students turned in on themselves as a protest and as a way to exercise their power. In today's world, the students begin to see others outside their particular group as enemies out to get them. They are fed the language of "toxic environment" and "not feeling safe" as phrases used to undermine their social situations and as a means to attack the educational system and their work environments and to weaponize their own neurosis.

But the real targets are not even on the radar of the students. They are rather surreptitiously enacting a strategy formulated by the loving monster they perceive as a friend, mentor and guru. These highly intelligent and artistic students are really prey to the charlatan charms of the narcissistic monster that charms and fosters them. At the least, students' own creativity is stunted and the ability for critical and independent assertion is limited. At the extreme we find numerous examples of where horrific actions are contemplated and at times implemented.

David Kozak, a twenty-four-year-old history student, killed 14 students at a Prague University on 22 Dec 2023. He recorded his thoughts about suicide and being a maniac by killing students. While nothing at this point suggests his actions had anything to do with the influence of another in his life, the action does point to the growing cultural neurosis whereby intellectual semantics are replacing a sense of empathy and real connection with society.

The ennui that accompanies such situations gives rise to even greater possibilities for the monster narcissist to construct new strategies for the entrapment of creative and intelligent minds. A neurotic society gives credence to the apparent expertise and seemingly welcomed skills that the outspoken monster narcissist can use to solve whatever problem is raised. The university becomes a kind of breeding ground for the symbiotic relationships between monster and off-spring!

Narcissist as Victim with Protégé Victims

But if you think this person is NOT a monster and "you are over-stating your case", then think again. The skills of this individual may well be welcomed and seen as beneficial for the institution and for the students! Think again! Once they don't get their way, they will use all strategies at their disposal to destroy you! The students themselves being their most significant and putrid weapon!

To the public, they are inspirational leaders and martyrs to the cause. And some of their brightest followers will try to emulate and even surpass this contrived martyrdom.

You work in situations where you may well identify the kinds of things I am discussing here. The question is: "How do I deal with it?"

If any of this rings bells for you, then have a look at this website:

If you have noticed the signs I have outlined or simply wish to investigate further, then the linked website is certainly most valuable.

As artists, directors, teachers, colleagues it is important to identify and not be intimidated by the monster within the dynamic colleague and even friend who will ingratiate themself only to turn viciously when their way is blocked. The situation is not unique. Be careful; our students and fellow artists are our concern and we owe them ...

Best wishes in theatre and the arts ...

Joe Woodward

Have a look at:

COMING SOON in March 2024

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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

... god still loved her in spite of the fecal rains that poured down on her and from which she was made to drink ...

Ant Generals and Lazy Fat Ant Queens of the Ant Brigades are furiously working on the normalization of war and war talk and expectation. They write their opinion pieces and try sounding intelligent and knowledgeable to dispel any thought that they might in fact be moronic arseholes with reasonably high IQs. Farting out their shitty minds garnered from prestigious families and sewer rats, the Ant generals and lazy fat queens of the ant factories soil the cultural psyche with their fakery skills and semonic fertility drugs to masturbate the minds of vulnerable and isolated and desperate beings clinging to the impossible thought of finality being truly final. And for the child there is the over-riding dread; that shudder vibrating from the first cracks of thunder and the roar of the death jets supporting the darkest shadows of innocent imagination. While all the while Skull watches from one of those shadowy corners devastated by bland indifference. Skull no longer feeds but offers a kind of terror in nourishment to frighten even the mask of some gruesome Impaler. Skull fakes art and theatre in the fragile nests of ants that build monuments to their futile civilizations. And you say it is all so incomprehensible, an AI LSD fueled cartoon of charlatan investors in some orgy of sharks fucking in storm-water drains of one's educated mind and frugal study. So must we surrender to the Ant generals and lazy fat queens of the ant brigades in order to save the child watched over by the Skull.


Potato Head dreams of death. He sees the Chinese stamping on the heads of new born babies so he can triumph over the devastation as a great war-time leader like King Leonardo, the king of Bongo Kongo, or even some pelican prince from some sand bank rising above a puddle somewhere or other. And the court of White Russian democrats await death in basements for their lack of zeal to the Movement of History as advocated by those who really KNOW. The idealist holding an ancient gun pointing at the child of some Has-Been is convinced of the necessity to sacrifice the child to the demon of socialist sainthood. Yes, this is the cause. Potato Head can quote such atrocity to support his advocation of a Chinese war with Tasmania or some inland penitentiary. Potato Head is sincere. A sincere Penis waiting for god to intervene and rejuvenate a lost opportunity. Potato Head is also a Penis. A penile man of no substance except for the harboring of semonic seeds of fakery and delusion.

And Potato Head reproduces himself throughout the education system for the education of spiders and poisonous roaches. Yes, his mission is clear. His sincerity is unquestioned. His devotion to the Ant Generals and Lazy Fat Ant Queens is undeniable. Potato Head pisses in the direction of the Skull that watches him and shows no emotion as it questions Potato Head's philosophic and ideological pretentions. The Skull is no intellectual. The Skull simply IS. And Potato Head has no answer.


The little girl is crying. She saw her mother being raped by ten soldiers as she was held down by an officious female of no fixed ideology. She saw her father being hacked to death by the masculine poet of politically correct world visions. She was forced to bury her brother alive under fear of her own personal mutilation. And she was made to feel thankful that god still loved her in spite of the fecal rains that poured down on her and from which she was made to drink. And she came to admire the depths to which men would plummet for the sake of cultural honor and the plight of Ant Generals and the Lazy Fat Ant Queens.

And she learned NOT to cry; she learned to look into the eye of the bull ant kingdom and lazy-fat queendom and vowed to take up the Aukus to obliterate the laser-light certainties of emotional equivalence that surrounded her. She embraced the Skull and when it was appropriate, she made it her lover and she danced within the tombs of lost cities and forgotten arts. She became the shield of Medusa and the cry of the crackling fire where potatoes were being baked for late night bar b cues for harbor-side parties of the wealthy and conservatively dispositioned who laughed a lot and made funny jokes about farts and fisting. She became the muse of her Skull whose eye sockets became the all-knowing dreaming of dispossessed and disillusioned dreamers and artists who were both fascists and anarchists at the same time. "There is no art" she would scream from awakened dreams on hot nights; "only needles in the eyes of certain death".

And the SKULL remained dispassionate. The child became old eventually to be consumed within the Ant nest of the Ant Generals. And if the Skull could dream, it would be of that child who is buried with her own dreams within the weight of unspecified detachments and centuries of fakery and ruins. Yet from the grounds we see Potato Head spewing up as a newborn growth that defies all logic and all possibility.

Stalin, Hitler, Jack Smith and Jill Hill welcome the little brat ... Skull sits on the mantle piece of some godly man being served a meal by a dutiful wife ... the war rages on a 1960s TV set in between the televising of the cricket and some Trotskyite pours another beer to recall the glory days of all those who were part of the movement ...

Joe Woodward 25 July 2023

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Image by Stefan Keller

Beauty in theatre is often found in the grotesque. Think of Beckett, Ionesco, Lyndsey Kemp, Butoh, Berkoff, Artaud and even Brecht and Shakespeare ... Let alone much contemporary theatre expression! Culture is at its basic core a closed system of repeated affirmation of myths and routine rituals that solidify all knowledge and all that could possibly be known and understood. It is the sanctification of the seemingly obvious and the cult of morality enforcement that accompanies all authority vested in the protectors and definers of cultural propriety. It is the grounding that human beings seem to need in order to face and negotiate the terror of oblivion and total disorder. It provides the structural straitjacketing of human desire, lust, ambition and delusion that forms one's identity. Theatre and culture are thus often at odds as theatre becomes the provocation operation (PO as de Bono suggests). Theatre is in fact, historically and logically, then a force for change and a challenge to stereotypical thinking and enforced cultural hegemony. In short, it is a vital component in the education and platforming for societal and cultural critical and creative thinking and action that goes back a long time: perhaps preceding even the Ancient Greek experience! So perhaps our educational and cultural managers need to embrace the grotesque that is often found in theatre as a reminder of the necessity of the Elizabethan "All Licensed Fool" that reminded Queen Elizabeth 1 of the illusion of her own power!

Political Drama from the Left and Right

The "New York Times" recently published "It’s Getting Hard to Stage a School Play Without Political Drama". (Michael Paulson, July 4, 2023 Updated July 5, 2023). You need to be a subscriber to read the full article. But it pointed to the growing use of agenda politics in the US to silence the voice of theatre expression. I might suggest it points to the silencing of the "all licensed fool" that might point to the delusional life within agendas of cultures and sub-cultures. The vested interests in the social constructions of various realities is becoming the cynical and a savage playground of the shapers of thought and viewpoints.

Social constructivism can be interpreted in many different ways. However, the recognition that belief and perceived reality is a social phenomena separated from normative considerations has a strong hold on twenty-first century thinking. So there is a tendency for controllers of public perception to go out of their way to restrict all forms of counter suggestions that might defer or deter people from deviating from the sanctioned agenda and correct viewpoints of thinking and attitude. Both the ultra-left and ultra-right recognize this need to shape and control the construction and advancement of particular realities. This effectively straitjackets people; preventing consideration and exploration of the unknown and of alternatives. So is this relevant for our theatre?

The Social Construction of Reality

Berger and Berger's "The Social Construction of Reality" (Berger, P. L. and T. Luckmann, 1966 Garden City, NY: Anchor Books) might well have taken unforeseen directions in the decades since publication. Lev Vigotsky's (Vygotsky, Lev, 1978 Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press) advanced Piaget's theories of cognitive development pointing to the role context and social development had on cognitive growth. Perhaps, drawing on this idea and that of similar theorists, it isn't too large a leap to suggest then that personal belief systems and ways of interacting with the world are socially constructed. One's very cognitive development is thus interlaced with culture.

To greater understand and confirm how belief systems actually shape culture and one's interaction with it, have a look at this simple video: "How Belief Systems Work". Just click on the image.

Artaud and the Challenge for Theatre and Education

While some would argue that belief systems are not only necessary but are in fact inescapable facets of the human being, our programming is such that it is impossible to escape from some world view and some belief system without replacing it with another. Our very means for perceiving the world and ourselves depends on it. Antonin Artaud recognized this essential point and suggested a radical view that theatre could challenge one's very belief system with shocks to the personal perception that an audience might have.

While it is debatable whether Artaud's view ever was even partially realized, his "Theatre Of Cruelty" and the grotesque avenues it inspired has had a very significant influence on both stage and screen presentations. The ability to challenge and break through the straitjacket of conventional thinking and experience has certainly been a major part of Artaud's legacy.

The timid child being psychologically smothered by their parents into a frightened and self-conscious being with low self-esteem or, in reverse, with an over-bloated ego so devoid of the ability to engage, is at once shocked into leaping from the boiling water just as the boiling frog was forced to leap away when thrown into the death trap of 100 degree water that would have killed it. Yet most of life is in tepid territory protected by the straitjacket of cultural and familial certainty. Currently, our younger generations are being bled of their ability for resilience by the immersion into tepid social settings that shield them from any challenge to their cultural and social upbringing.

The theatre, both as presentation and as a process for participants, is one area of experiential engagement that offers a challenge to this impending destruction. So when the controllers of social construction use their power to censor and restrict theatrical exploration and presentation, we need to recognize it for what it is: ie. nullification of what it is to be human; a blanketing of curiosity, empathy and challenge!

Nullification of Challenge and Growth

Without the Licensed Fool of theatre being able to express unfettered observations, reflections and responses from within the closed system of culture, one's very reality is likely to implode or be obliterated from existence. The neurotic adherence to delusions and the whims of charlatans from the political and social domains means that the limitations of restricted experience and opportunities for thinking will result in personal stagnation and social restriction.

The NAZI extolling of the beautiful in art and culture was a lie and a façade covering the most hideous of sanctified action by a ruling elite. Such art practice tolerated no challenge to its aesthetic. Today, there is a growing tendency in Western cultures to limit and destroy artistic practice in theatre that counters the bland art of distraction. This is particularly evident in education. The New York Times article reflects just the tip of the ice berg. Self-censorship and the slide into shying away from sensitive and essentially challenging theatre subjects in schools is ensuring the strengthening of the hold cultural straitjacketing has on its subjects.

As teachers, directors, writers and artists of all kinds, there is an onus on us to lead by example in a mission to rejuvenate cultural connection, artistic courage and life-long engagement with processes of creativity and design. The grotesque must be embraced; there lies the seeds of beauty. With the challenges offered by mind-numbing social media propaganda, the task of becoming the licensed fool is ever more necessary for both individual and societal sanity. We live in a mirror maze of narcissistic obsession. The real question for our theatre is how to break out from it! The actions of state and self censorship as indicated in the New York Times article makes this ability to escape so much more difficult. This then is the prime task of our arts and theatre in this country to ensure nothing of that scale ever is encountered on our shores.

Joe Woodward

See other essays on similar topics:

Theatre Songs of Protest

The Blistering Cold of Left-over Tears

Exploring Oceans or Just Following Drain Pimes in Teaching Drama

See the movie: "Under the Light"

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