When you ask Elle Morgan what she finds most beautiful in the world, she’ll tell you it’s been raising her children. After two hours of chatting with her on your dining room sofa, sipping green tea and slurping (speaking for the interviewer alone) overripe nectarines, a different picture emerges.
“My dad was a big nature guy, and what we loved about nature was that it’s so authentic. A pine tree is a pine tree. It isn’t trying to be a hemlock. It’s this integrity you don’t always find with people. However, I’m interested in change. I find it beautiful when someone recognizes something they don’t want to be anymore and makes a change.”
…what we loved about nature was that it’s so authentic. A pine tree is a pine tree. It isn’t trying to be a hemlock.
Raising children certainly involves many elements of change. Now that Elle’s children are adults, she has turned her interest in change into a passion and opened it up to the world. Since 2008, she’s been practicing and teaching “The Elements of New Life Scripts,” a program that uses components of nature and theater as vehicles for personal transformation.
“I like to infuse the elements of nature, those being earth, water, fire, and air. I use that as a metaphor for each of the stages of New Life Scripts (NLS). I guess the best way to describe NLS is really Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. The Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come all helped that man change. None were left out.”
Elle started her adult life with a BA in theater and uses that expertise, along with years of writing and acting experience, to help participants of the NLS program examine their past experiences, analyze their present lives, and project their potential futures through writing plays and acting them out. It sounds intense. When asked what she is trying to achieve with this work, and what made her think to pursue it in the first place, Elle takes a moment before responding.
“It keeps revealing itself. It’s been a puzzlement to me all my life about my acting. Why did I like it so well, and why was I so good at it, and then why did it have to be so difficult to do it as a living?
It didn’t really resonate with me what was required to become a theater person in the entertainment industry.
“Acting schools and acting classes try to teach the same things as NLS does. They try to get you to go to your deepest places and be vulnerable. However, it’s done in a hostile environment instead of a safe one. So, it’s almost torture. When I went to grad school for my MFA, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. There are people who want you to fall on your face because you’re in competition with them—teachers who don’t want you to one up them. That’s why I left acting. It didn’t really resonate with me what was required to become a theater person in the entertainment industry.”
Where most people do think exclusively of the entertainment industry when it comes to acting and actors, Elle offers a different perspective.
“I like to work in the community where I live. I want to be a voice in educational theater to promote the idea of a theater practitioner for transformation. I would like to see that be a major in college.”
To cite an example, Elle talks about working with students who are interested in the possibility of becoming theater practitioners in their future communities.
“I took my intern to a community supper—it crosses all class systems and age ranges. It’s a free meal—a community event, and we sat next to these senior citizens. I asked him afterward what he got from it. He said he thought of creating something to take to assisted living homes to perform or maybe get them to perform. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The problem is that nobody sees it as a job. There need to be funding sources in the community for roles like this.”
Elle is quick to distinguish the Elements of New Life Scripts as an art form, in itself.
“It’s not drama therapy. We are creating works of art. They still have to be entertaining. It may need to be rehearsed more or revised. In any art form you have to be able to go back and keep refining your choices. You’re creating a work of beauty. We give it a stage and an audience and a critique—that’s how important it is.”
It’s so important, in fact, she’s in the process of writing a book about it.
“I call it a playbook instead of a workbook because it’s about plays and playing. It uses the genre of theater to do personal development work within the context of theater and nature. I think what’s unique about my book is it’s about the whole person—mind, body, spirit—not about how to write a script. It might explore what your bedtime ritual is, for example. Those things matter in terms of quality of life and being able to look at your lifestyle and evaluate your habits—the ones you want to keep, need to change, want to adopt. You need to look at the whole person.
“The playbook does a lot of talking about practice—in theater, you would say rehearse. I love the idea of practicing things you want to improve. If you do various practices, it will inform the artistic and personal development process.”
Elle speaks from experience with regard to practice and ties it back into her long-term connection with nature.
“As far as the different types of intelligence go, I score very high in nature. I don’t think I was born with it. I think it’s a practice. Nature provides me with metaphors, and I receive messages constantly when I’m in the woods. I think it’s my creative mind that does it. When I look over a landscape, I see things that most people miss, and I take it deeper to a spiritual level. I want to share that with people through practice.”
The idea of creating a work of art might deter those who don’t consider themselves to be artists or people who have never followed such pursuits, but to Elle, the concepts are universal.
“I want the Elements of New Life Scripts to be accessible to anyone, whether they are introverted or extroverted, whether they are theater people or not. Just like people who go to college and take public speaking, everyone can benefit from creating something and being able to share it. I do think some people are more talented at things, but I think everyone who is a human being can be involved in a creative process and can make a work of art.”
Just like people who go to college and take public speaking, everyone can benefit from creating something and being able to share it.
And it does have to be art. There is no escaping this essential component of the Elements of New Life Scripts program.
“If you can see your life through the lens of art, then your life is art, and art is beautiful. Also, it feels super good to make art, right?
“Another level is in the meaning and value created when you make something yourself. Once you have this concrete piece of work—this art—there’s no denying it anymore. There’s no going back. It’s about taking ownership, and it’s a metaphor for taking ownership and control of your own path in life.
“And, lastly, perhaps most importantly, it is a gift. It’s about going through some pain, maybe—a journey of discovery, painstaking choice making—to finally offer it up as a gift. Hence the audience. It’s not all about you. In the end, it’s for others.”
Elle compares the work she does with theater to her experiences with practicing and teaching yoga.
“I think theater, like yoga, is a contemplative art. They both require you to do self-inquiry and self-exploration, and you do it with attention to your body. In 2007, I listened to a guided meditation by Michael Bernard Beckwith on ‘Life Visioning’ about finding your life’s purpose. My son gave me these tapes. It was the first time, even in my advanced years, that I had ever accessed my inner self to find my life’s purpose. I was always looking externally for my purpose, thinking someone else has the answers and I just have to get them. It’s the first time I took this seriously. I’ve continued on this path of inner work.”
I was always looking externally for my purpose, thinking someone else has the answers and I just have to get them.
It is the path that led to the Elements of New Life Scripts and the employment of theater for such inner exploration and growth.
“I think theater is really good for personal development work because the skills needed for the art form are those human beings need to become better people. They need to relax, be in the moment, listen—those are just three examples.”
It all comes back to the pine tree in nature.
“The two questions in my book are, Who are you? and Why are you here? The Elements of New Life Scripts program is about helping people become their authentic selves through theater. It’s about using acting as a way of trying to get to the truth of who you are. What better metaphor could there be? Acting surely helped us create those personas we’ve built throughout our lives that are not our true selves. Why not use it to peel them away?”
This piece was inspired by Elle Morgan’s work with the Elements of New Life Scripts (http://newlifescripts.org/), combining nature, yoga, writing, and performance art to explore and encourage personal transformation.