By Gillian Kranias, HC Link Consultant
This is the eight blog post in a series on facilitation techniques and approaches written by HC Link staff. This post focuses on using popular theatre for warmup/centering activities and even as a learning tool.
Without being an actor or director in any way whatsoever, I have pursued a lifelong passion for using popular theatre activities in community learning, community development and social change settings. These activities all value equity and inclusion, as well as a holism that engages creativity, non-verbal communications and full body awareness in our analysis, learning and organizing efforts.
Some techniques take a significant amount of time and are difficult to explain in writing. For this blog post, I am sharing few warmup/centering activities and the technique of image theatre, which can take anywhere from 5-90 minutes.
For more reading on popular theatre and theatre of the oppressed, try these titles:
Games for Actors and Non-Actors
By Augusto Boal. (New York: Routledge, 1992)
Educating for a Change
By Rick Arnold, Bev Burke, Carl James, D'Arcy Martin, Barb Thomas
(Toronto: Doris Marshal Institute for Education and Action & Between the Lines, 1991)
Playing Boal: Theatre, Therapy, Activism
Edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz (London: Routledge, 1994)
In the right group, your courage to do things differently will pay off in surprising ways!
Centering Activities (5 minutes)
There are hundreds of theatre and improv games that can help “center” members of a group together, build listening skills, and exercise people’s timing in response. Here are two fun ones that I learned from Augusto Boal’s book. To choose games appropriately for your group, consider the lightness or seriousness of the gathering, how well people know each other already, as well as physical ability and language differences among group members.
“Name & Motion”
* Engages group members to listen, observe, and move
* Requires only limited “theatrical risk-taking”
* Generates lots of smiles and breaks down inhibitions
- Have everyone stand up in a circle. As the facilitator, explain and demonstrate how this introduction game works:
- Each individual, when they are willing, takes one step towards the center of the circle and makes a motion (preferably large) while calling out their first name. Everyone else must then together repeat the person’s “name and motion” two times (like an echo response).
- Allow time for each person to introduce their “name and motion” and be welcomed by the group through their “name and motion”.
“Pass the Clap”
* Engages group members to listen, observe, and move
* Focuses group members attention to one collaborative challenge
* Encourages a lighthearted approach to mistakes
- Seated or standing in a circle, the facilitator claps in the direction of someone next to them. This person is asked to pass the clap to the next person in the circle, and so on the clap will pass from person to person around the circle.
- Do this a few times around, so that the clap passes around the circle and past the facilitator several times. Then, while the clap is passing on the opposite side of the circle, the facilitator can begin a second (and later a third) clap that will travel in its own timing around the circle (so several claps will be circling at once).
- The facilitator can keep passing the clap through the circle for a while, and then eventually gather the claps (by not passing them past the facilitator) to close the activity.
- Variation: It is also possible to shift from sending the clap around the circle, and send it instead to someone across the circle.
Personal Style Reflection - What animal am I most like in a group? (5 – 20 minutes)
Typecasting by others can heighten conflict. Allowing each individual in a group to share their uniqueness and offer insight into the qualities of their “animal” creates an appreciative and collaborative dynamic. I learned and used this activity from colleagues at the Self Help Resource Centre.
* Engages group members to reflect on what they bring personally to the group
* Uses metaphor to convey complex ideas in a non-restrictive way
* Provokes laughter – being lighthearted about the strengths and challenges of our unique personalities
- Post pictures, or a list, of 6-8 different types of animals.
- Ask people to reflect on which animal they most behave like, when working in a group setting.
- Invite each participant to share which animal they identified with most, and why.
- With larger groups, the same question can be explored more dramatically/playfully by asking people to act out their animal, find others acting like them, and then sit together in their animal group to create a list of what they see as the significant qualities of their animal in groups.
Image theatre (10 - 90 minutes)
(Source: Headlines Theatre, Vancouver & Mixed Company, Toronto)
Image theatre is a wonderful technique! It is less intimidating than roleplay, and can be used on its own or as a warm-up activity before roleplaying. This technique is also known within popular education groups as “human sculptures”.
* Engages group members in holistic thinking and analysis, and learning
* Works equally well for multi-lingual groups
* Helps groups analyze patterns within shared issues or experiences
* Great for experiential learners
- Begin with people’s experience. In small groups, on a given theme, share stories or jump right into identifying patterns or key elements of a problem. Ask the group to create a frozen image (no words) to convey their perspectives. For example: How does inclusive leadership work? Or What keeps you [parent] from getting more involved in your child’s school?
- Each group takes turns “exhibiting” and “viewing” the sculpture of other groups. Encourage people to explore all sides of the sculpture by touring around it. If the image includes people playing specific roles, after the sculpture has been viewed, the facilitator can point to the people one at a time and ask each of them to say a few words about “what is your character thinking/feeling?”
- Another variation is to ask people to return to their groups and develop a series of 3-5 images – evolving from the first – that bring about a positive change. When these image series are being shared, the facilitator claps her/his hands to signal the group to change from one image to the next.
Augusto Boal’s book: Games for Actors and Non Actors has an entire chapter on different image theatre techniques and describes dozens and dozens of such games.
SPOTLIGHT –Organizations are using popular theatre as a learning tool!
Popular theater uses theatre as a tool for social transformation. It typically involves the “audience” as participants and invites groups to explore attitudes and social problems and imagine a range of potential solutions.
Reflet Salveo, an organization that promotes access of Francophones to quality health services in French, used the popular theater approach as a learning tool within a workshop context. They hired actors from a French language community theater group (Les Indisciplinés de Toronto) to role play and demonstrate a series of possible scenarios in the context of hiring people with various disabilities. They allowed for audience feedback and found this was a great tool to generate discussion amongst participants.
Companies in Ontario who work with communities and are using theater as a tool for positive change:
Mixed company theatre uses forum theatre (an interactive approach that involves the audience in developing real-time strategies for dealing with social and personal issues) to educate, engage and empower audiences in schools, communities and workplaces.
Sheatre uses issue-based theatre to find solutions to social problems. Artists and community members work collaboratively to express and explore a wide variety of issues that are important to their community.
In Forma Theatre aims to engage community members in meaningful dialogue through participatory theatre.
Branchout Theatre believes in the use of popular theatre as a branch towards social change by connecting and empowering individuals and communities to communicate and transform the world around them.