'Therapy as Performance'

Therapy sessions can be dramatic, but normally take place behind closed doors with only the therapist and client as witnesses. “Therapy as Performance,” a new interdisciplinary series premiering Jan. 19 at The Cherry Artspace in Ithaca, turns that convention on its head. Performance artist and creator Leeny Sack will appear as the “Constant Client” in two public – and unscripted -- therapy sessions presented consecutively, conducted by “Guest Therapists” Kate Halliday, LCSW, Certified AEDP Therapist and Jeff Collins LCSW. Sara Warner, associate professor of performing and media arts, will serve as the “Distinguished Expert” and lead the post-performance discussion.

“I conceive of Sara’s remarks, whatever she will choose to speak about, and the conversation with the audience as not separate from the ‘sessions,’ but as integral to the structure of the work,” says Sack. “This is not a post-show ‘talk-back’ but a kind session in itself, for Sara in her ‘role’ as a researcher scholar, activist, feminist, cultural commentator, art lover, compassionate human being on earth, as well as for the audience, who will be invited to speak primarily personally and experientially and to interrogate me, the therapists, Sara, but mostly themselves, in response to the evocation and provocation of the public therapy sessions.”

As an advocate for public humanities and for scholarship that engages society, Warner’s work takes many forms, from leading post-show discussions at theaters to collaborations with climate scientists to the staging of "patriot acts" (political performances on national holidays) with the Bad (Hombres) and Nasty (Women) Collective. 

“I work on the art of activism,” says Warner. “I look at the ways political actors use performance in experiments for social justice and the ways stage actors use the theater as a laboratory for creating new worlds, reimagining notions of community, citizenship, power, and justice.”

Sack is one of the most important and innovative artists of her generation, says Warner. “Leeny has radically redefined theatrical modes of storytelling through her erudite and kinesthetically daring feminist performance art. From “The Survivor and the Translator,” which arrested my consciousness when I first encountered as a graduate student, to her most recent project, Leeny’s astonishing oeuvre explores the complexities and contradictions of the human condition. It’s been thrilling to witness the development of ‘Therapy as Performance,’ and I’m delighted that we have an exciting new space, The Cherry Arts, to stage performance art in Ithaca.” 

Warner is working with another performance artist this semester as well: Rhodessa Jones is founder and director of the Medea Project: Theatre for Incarcerated Women, and is Cornell’s newest Rhodes Professor.

“’Therapy as Performance’ is part of the Cherry Arts' presenting program, in which technical and artistic support is made available to extraordinary artists in the Cherry Arts community, to help them bring their works to fruition in the Artspace,” says Sam Buggeln, artistic director of The Cherry Arts. Previous works that were part of the Cherry Presents program include “Bitter Banquet,” a multimedia song cycle by Annie Lewandowski, senior lecturer in the Department of Music, with accompaniment by David Yearsley, professor of music. Upcoming in the series is a new rock and roll opera, “Usher,” created and performed by Anna Coogan, visiting lecturer in music.

Tickets to “Therapy as Performance” can be purchased here.


More News from A&S

 close up of actor's face