Robert J. Landy
Professor, Drama Therapy
"Seeing other people wearing a mask of my face taught me to see all the different permutations of myself."
Early in his career, Robert Landy made a plaster mask of his face. He carried the mask and a camera with him, and asked friends, family members -- and even strangers -- to put it on. The resulting photographs are powerfully disconcerting. A photo of a child wearing Landy's face hangs over his desk in his NYU office. 'Seeing other people wearing a mask of my face taught me to see all the different permutations of myself,' Landy, the founder of the field of drama therapy, says. 'I saw myself as a woman, an old person, a child, in different roles.'
Landy, who developed the Steinhardt's Drama Therapy program, sees his early art as a precursor of what he would create professionally. His theory of human behavior as a taxonomy of roles and archetypes is the cornerstone of drama therapy.
He is the author of eleven books, including Persona and Performance: The Meaning of Role in Drama, Therapy, and Everyday Life (Guilford, 1993), Drama Therapy: Concepts, Theories an and Practices (Thomas, 1994) and How We See God and why it Matters: A Multicultural View Through Children's Drawings and Stories (Thomas, 2001).
In 2002, Landy was awarded New York University's Distinguished Teaching Medal, one of the highest forms of recognition the University bestows upon its faculty.
'We all play many roles and they are all valid,' says Landy, who is at his core an artist. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of California in theatre, psychology and English education.
He believes that healing comes through playing and enactment. And sometimes, simply enactment can be effective in restoring balance.
Landy worked with a group of 4th and 5th graders in a New York City public school in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Funded by a grant from the The New York Times Foundation School Arts Rescue Initiative, Landy's arts-based program helped the children gain mastery of the trauma by transforming it into art.
Guided by drama educators and drama therapists, the children created a fictional city called Standing Tall, which was inhabited by victims, villains and heroes. Landy wrote a play based upon the children's stories and improvisations, which the children performed to the school community. This experience is the subject of a film by documentary filmmaker, Peggy Stern.
The drama project helped the teachers and children make greater sense of the trauma of 9/11 and find ways to a little more trusting of the world.
'I am always amazed by the power and wisdom of children,' Landy says.