Wednesday, May 18, 2011

David Sutcliffe's "Group" Needs YOU: The WLS Interview, Part One

Where in the world is David Sutcliffe?  After a successful decade-long run being featured in prime-time series such as GILMORE GIRLS, THE DIVISION, and PRIVATE PRACTICE, as well as critically acclaimed roles in films UNDER THE TUSCANY SUN, HAPPY ENDINGS, and TESTOSTERONE, the up-and-coming actor seemed unstoppable.  Yet he has spent the majority of the past two years out of the spotlight, working passionately and tirelessly on a web docu-series aimed toward empowering and improving the emotional lives of others.  Join us as we catch up with Sutcliffe on his transformative journey, review some of his more fondly remembered television and film roles, and discuss his plans and aspirations for the future.  

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: David, it is so great to meet you! I want to begin by talking about your Kickstarter project GROUP.  Is this a documentary, a web series, or both?
David Sutcliffe: GROUP is a documentary and a web series.  I have been working on it for a couple of years.  Originally I intended it as a six-part television series.  We had a lot of different interests from different production companies, but the content was problematic.  For one there is a lot of language in the show, it is a little bit racy, it is a little bit crazy.  I started to find that I wasn’t comfortable with the direction people were taking it.  So ultimately I decided to take it to the web so I could maintain the integrity of the project.  That is where we are at.  I have taken the last two years to work on the project.  Now I’m trying to raise the last little bit of money on Kickstarter to finish and edit this web series.  We are creating fifty individual clips and then releasing them one a day so people can follow the workshop from beginning to end.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Let’s talk about why there is such strong language, racy subjects, and why you will not compromise.  What makes GROUP edgy and different?
David Sutcliffe: The type of therapy you see is called “Core Energetics.”  It is a body-based psychotherapy.  One of the goals is to get you into your “lower self,” which is a place where there is a lot of rage, frustration, anger, and judgment.  And of course there is more stuff underneath that, but the first level is to burn through that.  When you are releasing at that level it can be very intense, it can look violent. There are techniques where you are hitting something with a tennis racket or hitting a foam block.  When people do that and scream and yell there is a lot of language that comes out.  That stuff made some people feel uncomfortable, and most networks were not going to be able to broadcast something like that.   The other issue is that the woman who does this therapy obviously had her own concerns with how her work was going to be portrayed.  She had concerns about her work being exploited, or being put out in a way that wasn’t authentic.  I felt I had an obligation to her, and the people who agreed to do it, to put it out there in the right way, and to be true to what it is.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The videos featured on your Kickstarter page are with real people, not actors, correct?
David Sutcliffe: It’s funny, that’s the first question I get.  I don’t know if it is the way we shot it, or if people just aren’t used to seeing something like this, but a lot of people have a hard time believing that it is not scripted, and it is actually real.  I can assure you this was a real workshop with real people.  We haven’t seen people dealing with each other in this way, and exposing themselves like that before now.  It is so subtlety shocking that people cannot imagine it is real.  It can appear scripted.  But when you get human beings into a room, when you get them out of their head, and when you get the energy flowing, into a higher space of feeling and being, amazing things can happen.  We have a lot more wisdom, insight, and pure expression.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: People who enjoy so-called “reality TV” are not used to seeing expressions this raw.
David Sutcliffe: It’s very raw.  And it’s a hard project to talk about.  You can describe it, you can tell people what it is, but until you actually see it you can’t absorb it.  That’s why I’ve created this series, I want people to have the experience of it.  I want people to see what it is and to feel something about it.  I do know that if people stay with it, and move past the “this is kind of weird” phase, and just allow themselves to have an experience, then it stays with them.  People have reactions weeks later.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did you learn about Core Energetics?
David Sutcliffe: I got interested in the work through a friend.  He is a searcher, he found it, and I was immediately interested and intrigued.  I had done a lot of therapy before this, but here I went to a much deeper place than I had ever been to before.  I knew for me personally it was effective.  I don’t think it is for everybody but it certainly works for me and for a lot of people.

Then I discovered Ann Bradney.  Someone suggested I go to one of her workshops in Esalen in Big Sur, California.  That was a week long workshop with a group.  I was terrified.  The idea of revealing yourself to a therapist one-on-one is one thing. But to do it in a group of twenty people over a week...I couldn’t imagine.

I quickly found that working in groups expedites the whole process. There is something about using the group to motivate you that helps to push you forward.  But also there is something powerful about being seen in your struggle, in your pain, in your rage, in all the things we want tend to want to keep hidden.  We don't want to show the world what we are ashamed of.  To bring that out and let it be seen in a group of people is really really powerful.  It was also incredibly meaningful to watch other people go through their process of reclaiming their lives and fighting to get them back.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When did you do the one week seminar?
David Sutcliffe: Six years ago.  I’ve been doing it regularly ever since.  I have almost finished my third year of a four year training program so I can be a Core Energetics facilitator.  I’m not looking to have a career as a therapist, but I’m looking to use the skills and the work as a producer.  You are always facilitating groups, whether or not you’re a therapist, a producer, or a general manager.  The skill set is all the same.  It has become a hobby for me (laughs).  Some people go bowling on Thursday nights, I go to my group therapy. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Is it always this intense?
David Sutcliffe: Not always.  Sometimes it is more subtle.  You can’t stay at that pitch of emotions all the time.  The four day intensives or the week long workshops tend to be pretty explosive.  The stuff I do on a weekly basis is more subtle, not as charged, and is more relational.  In these groups there becomes the opportunities to explore conflicts in relationships and that becomes really valuable because you can immediately use that information in your life.  You can see the patterns you create in your own life and see them play out in the groups. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did that one week intensive workshop change your life?
David Sutcliffe: First what happened was that you discover parts of yourself you don’t know about.  So you go in there, you allow yourself to lose some control.  You are there for five to six days, it builds on itself.  When you let yourself go, or let whatever wants to come up to come up, it is always shocking.  You’re like, “I had no idea that was inside of me.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What came up for you?
David Sutcliffe: My parents split when I was six-years-old.  My mother left my father.  So he wasn’t around, and that was extremely painful for me. As a child you can’t tolerate that pain, you don’t want to acknowledge that pain.  I think my mother had a really hard time dealing with that.  So the pain gets covered up.

Then there is a real rage that happens when a child is not seen or received.  What happened for me is that I got in touch with a lot of that deep deep rage.  I expressed that, the part of me that wanted to kill, that thought he could kill.  I let it be seen in a group of people.  You have ideas like, “If I show that part of myself there are going to kick me out of here, the are going to hate me.”  It was actually the opposite.  They were really moved that I had the courage to express that.

When I started to feel the real deep pain underneath it, some part of me was reclaimed.  I let myself feel some things that I had never allowed myself to feel before.  I then felt more integrated, more whole.  When you are holding onto all these feelings, and not letting them be expressed, then you are not really being present in the world.  You’re not fully there.  That’s really what it did for me.  It gives you more presence with what you’re feeling.  It’s like someone took a sheet of paper and ripped it down, and suddenly the world became a lot clearer.  I started to see myself in a different way, I started to see other people in a different way.  I started to see my own patterns and how I created them.  I started to see that when other people would come at me with their shit that it was not about me, that it had nothing to do with me.  There’s a real freedom when you get in touch with your own feelings and start to own those places that you had disowned for so long.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Sounds liberating.
David Sutcliffe: And we all have this.  That is the power of the group.  All this stuff we don’t want to admit to ourselves and admit to others because we think it’s wrong, we’ve pushed it down.  When you’re in a group you see, “I’m not alone in this, everybody has got this stuff. This is not special to me. Everyone has certain shame.”  Just the feeling of knowing you’re not alone is liberating, and allows you to be in greater connection with other people.  That is a big part of of what I’m trying to show with GROUP.  We are all the same, we all struggle, we all have judgments and pain and anger.  We are all human.  Sometimes we are cruel.  But it’s okay, it’s part of life, when we can accept that in ourselves it doesn’t have the same hold on us.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please check out David Sutcliffe's Kickstarter campaign for GROUP and consider making a contribution.  Then press here for Part Two in which we discuss what you will get from watching GROUP, Sutcliffe's intention for bringing GROUP to light, as well as memories of starting on GILMORE GIRLS.  What other Hollywood actors were considered for his role as Christopher Hayden? Find out in Part Two!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating  depression, stress management, HIV/AIDS related concerns, and grief/loss issues. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at For more information about scheduling an appointment or a speaking engagement, please email him at [email protected].

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