Did you ever play Truth or Dare when you were younger? Perhaps you play it now?
Recently a client of mine gleefully reported a fun study game that she and her study buddy made up while they were doing homework the other night. It wasn’t quite Truth or Dare (it was actually pretty G-rated), but it was super creative. Not only did she have a lot of fun studying her Spanish vocabulary, but she learned a lot too!
Tune into the video to hear me describe my client’s version of Truth or Dare for studying… and let me know if you try it, too!
Hey, don’t have time for the full video? I’ve got your covered, here’s a quick summary.
I’m always intrigued by the many wonderful ways my clients can surprise me with new and exciting ways to study. I have one client who was telling me last week about how she and her study buddy came up with a little game. She didn’t refer to it as such, but it was reminiscent of Truth or Dare.
As I said, my client has a study buddy, and so they were both studying for their Spanish class, which they are in together, and they decided to have a sort of race. They agreed that whoever could learn the flash cards the fastest, and do the best on their mock exam, could ask the other to “do” something – thus the truth or dare aspect. In this case, my client won and got to read one of her study buddies poems, which she didn’t usually get to read.
Recently a friend sent me a survey asking me what ensemble performance feels like. She’s getting her Ph.D. and she needed some help. Ever the dutiful friend, I complied.
I’ll share the text of those emails in a second. But first — I want to share this: I just finished performing in the second of two Wing It! Performance Ensemble concerts. I’ve been a member of Wing It for three years now and have had a love/hate relationship with performance.
Improvisational performance is hard and makes me feel vulnerable. Every Monday when it’s time to go to Wing It! practice, I feel shy and reticent. But I usually make myself go because I know it’s good for me. And I’m slowly falling in love with the community.
At this weekend’s performance, I still felt shy and reticent, but also READY! Good thing, because instead of the usual 12+ performers, we were only 8. This meant that I couldn’t just hide in the wings, waiting for other performers to initiate. I’d have to pay attention, be engaged, and start stuff!
For those of you who’ve never been to a Wing It performance, let me explain. We perform in a huge dance studio. The performers stand on the side, at attention. We watch, we wait, we listen. And when we’re inspired, we move onto the stage. We’ll dance, tell stories, or sing; we might even do all three at the same time! More simply, in the words of our fearless leader Phil Porter, “We start stuff, we mess with it, and then we end.”
The last couple nights we were performing on the theme of “Obama Year One.” Some gorgeous dances emerged, and stunning music played by Shazam, Theron, and Amar. Amidst the stories, we learned:
How recent terrorism rules have restricted Phil’s ability to crochet on airplanes
How I spontaneously learned to hoola hoop, taught by a group of Grandmas at Lake Merritt
How Dorothy’s Filipina grandmother was detaind by INS on a recent visit to the US
Which brings me back to Nika’s question: “How would you describe, for someone who has never experienced it, what the experience of ensemble performance is like for you personally?” Here was my answer:
In ensemble performance, I spend my time listening — but in a different way than I’m listening when I’m in solo performance (and note: I’m speaking about improvisational performance here, not choreographed/scripted performance, which I imagine provides a different experience of the ensemble).
By myself, the listening is mostly introspective. I’m listening “in” to my story, and then listening to myself as I tell it. To some extent I’m also listening to the audience and their response to my story, but that’s it.
In ensemble performance, I’m stilling listening “in” to my own impulses, but I’m ALSO listening to the group as a whole. It’s a weird balance between going inside and staying focused outside.
But it’s also important to say that the outward focus is what we, in interplay, call “easy focus”. There’s no way to have a directed focus on one thing; instead my attention is diffused and peripheral, and takes in the whole. And then I choose from moment to moment: how do I want to respond to what’s happening?
In ensemble performance the question is no longer, “What am I creating?” but rather “What is being created here, and how can I contribute to it?
In her email, Nika also asked, “If you teach or coach other how to perform as an ensemble group, please also briefly state the 3 concepts and/or practces…that you aim to foster in performers who work with you.” Here’s are the 3 concepts/practices that I aim to foster in the Tuesday night InterPlay Performance Technique class: :
Who are you as a performer? What are your personal riffs/motifs that you bring to the stage? (In order to be an excellent ensemble performer, I think it’s crucial that people understand their own individual offering… you can’t give to a group unless you know what you’re giving).
Practice listening to the group body. Helping people become more and more “in tune” to the “middle thing” that is being created.
Leading versus following. Know when to create something new/unique (to lead) and when to support that which has already been initiated (follow).
All in all, teaching and performing the InterPlay forms has been an intense and rewarding experience for me. Big hugs to all my fellow performers this weekend, and to all my Tuesday night students. What a journey we’re on together…listening, laughing, creating. It takes courage to be so vulnerable in public, and I salute us all.
For the last two and a half years I’ve been Elizabeth Mendana‘s teaching sidekick. But then she decided to move away.
So, I took a deep breath… and a gulp…. and decided, “Yeeeeehaaaaaa! I can do this!!!” (And promptly bought fancy red dance pants for the occasion).
Last night I was totally prepared to teach a small, intimate class to a few Tuesday night regulars. But at 6pm on the dot, two gals bounded in to the room. InterPlay newbies! “Oh, no!” I thought. “What will I teach?! Can I gracefully cater to the entire range of experience in this room?”
As more folks streamed in (what a surprise, this close to the New Year!), I took another gulp…and made a crucial decision: I will not hold backjust because there are new folks in the room.
Phil and Cynthia are always telling us to “trust the forms.” I’m gonna trust that InterPlay Performance Technique will hold us all in its warm, playful, artful embrace.
Lo and behold — it did! The new folks blended right in (in fact, an outsider wouldn’t have been able to tell who was whom), and the experienced InterPlayers seemed satisfied, too.
We got our silly groove on with following and leading; practiced side-by-side solo dances; and finally created gorgeous ensemble movement with 3-sentence stories. We sure were making F-ing great art!).
I’m so grateful to this improvisational art form that allows a broad range of experience to play alongside each other (and allows me to improvise as a teacher, too).
P.S. A disclaimer: my new red dance pants are not nearly as cool as the ones pictured here. But I needed a picture for this blog post. And these are pretty hot, aren’t they!? Maybe they’ll be my next pair.
For those of you new to the blog, InterPlay is an uncommon, artful global social movement. It incorporates storytelling, movement, and vocal expression with an emphasis on community and play.
So often InterPlay is taught as a personal development tool, but it is also an improvisational performance technique. Four months ago we added a performance emphasis to the Tuesday night class. Tonight after class, Elizabeth and I went out for dinner and reflection. In the course of our conversation, I asked how InterPlay has made her a better performer.
Eyes shining, she answered that InterPlay has:
Given her access to the full spectrum of expression, especially the fullness of her voice (not an area that usually gets much of a workout for a modern dancer)
Awakened her passion for (and skill with) infusing story into choreography
Helped her embrace silliness on stage, and
Through its affirming community, validated her as a professional artist.
Whew. Talk about gifts…!
And then there’s InterPlay’s uncanny ability to build ensemble. It’s no easy feat to make beautiful art on the spot…but to do it with others, with little-to-no rehearsal as a company…is amazing! And yet the InterPlay company Wing It! (of which Elizabeth and I are members) consistently creates amazing knock-your-socks-off-they’re-so-powerful performances with casts of (gulp!) 15 or more. As an ensemble we’ve learned to listen to each other with a depth, generosity and artfulness that astounds me.
The more Elizabeth and I talked, the more jazzed I got about sharing the InterPlay Performance Technique with other artists! It’s time to be intentional about sharing this hidden gem of a technique with other performers who want to broaden their range.
So get ready, Oakland, California! On Tuesday nights from 6-7:30pm starting January 5th, 2010 we’re gonna bust out some of the meanest, coolest, deepest improv you’ve seen. With an emphasis on storytelling, movement, vocal expression, and ensemble, it’ll be…
Come make F-ing* good art with us! (And if you can’t join us in person, rest assured: you’ll be able to read all about it — maybe even see some of it — on my blog).
We’ll miss Elizabeth for sure, but we’re in for quite a ride in 2010. I hope you’ll join us.
*A note about the swear word: Tonight at class Elizabeth had us dancing side-by-side solos. At the end of performing for each other, someone explained, “This is F-ing good art!” And so it was. And so it is. Can’t wait to share.
Recently, my mom forwarded me the following email:
Could I get instructions for the ice breaker Gretchen used at the retreat? It was the best I’ve ever experienced, and I’d like to use it at work. She was so great!
Awwwww. Nice of this man (I’ll call him Matt) to compliment me and my workshop facilitation. But even nicer that he recognized the power of the InterPlay form of “babbling”.
He’d experienced this unique “icebreaker” during a church retreat (for the ultra cool Covenant Baptist in Houston, Texas), where I’d been invited to teach some sessions on embodied worship.
How to Lead Folks in a Babbling Sequence
Here are the instructions I emailed back to Matt:
Put people in partners
Have them decide who will go first.
Tell them you’re going to give them a topic and they will talk about it for 30 seconds. Tell them you will ding a bell when it is time to switch.
Announce the first topic. Simple ones are best. (For example, have folks describe their car. Or a friend. Maybe their favorite view from a window).
After they have both spoken about the topic, have them thank their partner and find a new one.
Repeat the process two more times.
With the final partner, give them an extra minute to reflect on what it was like for them to talk in these quick bursts about different topics.
If you want to see an example of babbling, watch the video at the top of this post. It’s surprisingly simple!
Babbling Creates Instant Community
I’ll never forget when Phil Porter, one of the cofounders of InterPlay, revealed a discovery of his: community is created when each person in the group hears a personal story from 3 different members of the group.
This advice was a revelation to me, one I have tested out hundreds of times since. And it’s true. So often we think we need fun, unique games to serve as icebreakers. But really, people just want to feel connected to each other. And connection happens through personal stories.
Plus, as I mentioned in the video (above), we can reveal a great deal of information about ourselves in 30 seconds. Just the other day in an InterPlay class, my partner described the view from a window. From this seemingly innocuous topic, I learned:
she used to live in Minnesota, she lives in the second floor apartment, she really likes cats, she knows a lot about trees, she lives with a male significant other, she and her partner enjoy being silly together.
Wow! That’s a lot of stuff crammed into 30 seconds.We’re bound to find something we have in common there. (I like to be silly and I have lived in Minnesota!). The more we find in common with the people in our groups, the more connected we’ll be.
The Mundane Details Contain the Juiciest Nuggets
Another piece of InterPlay wisdom: Profound truths are embedded in mundane, daily details.
So often group facilitators try to get their students to “go deep” by having them share big deal reflections with the rest of the group. What are you most afraid of? What brings you the most joy?
In InterPlay we ease into the deep stuff. Why force people to share their intimate details so overtly? Instead, just have them, for example: describe their kitchen! A gay man might quickly have to choose whether he’ll reveal that his male partner does all the cooking. Or I’ll reveal that I’m still single at the age of 36, living with roommates. And we sometimes share meals.
These seemingly mundane details contain the nuggets of some of our deepest human experiences: loss, love, pain, surrender, courage. All that comes out?! But all I did was ask them to describe their kitchen!
What Should We Babble About?
Babbling is so quick and easy. Anyone can talk for 30 seconds. I’ll end by leaving you with a list of possible topics you can have folks babble about. Enjoy all the stories!
Describe the view out a window
Describe your desk at work
Describe the place you feel most relaxed
Describe one of your friends and what you like about them
Describe your car
Talk about things you did for fun as a child
Talk about things you do for fun now
Describe in excrutiating detail how you got here today
Describe what you ate for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) today
Describe two objects in your living room and how they got there
Describe the contents of your refridgerator
Etc, etc. Add your own ideas by commenting! (The comment link is, strangely, up at the top of the post).
I’m guaranteed a good giggle whenever I stand palm-to-palm with another person in an InterPlay context. There’s something about a partnered hand dance that gets me every time!! Just watch the video, above, and you’ll see what I mean.
The hand dance is one of the most basic InterPlay forms. It builds on the idea of the one hand dance, which I blogged about recently. However, unlike a one-hand dance (which you do by yourself), a hand-to-hand dance is done with another person. As a result, it can be unpredictable. I never know exactly what the other person will do, or how I will respond. Talk about being in the moment!
Now, I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my life hyper focused on myself (“Am I being a good person?”) or on other people (“How are they responding? Do they like me?”). During a hand dance, these two perspectives soften a bit. Instead, I’m focused on our hands, on the adventure that is unfolding between the two of us. And so often, what unfolds is hilarious! And surprising! It makes me laugh out loud! Laughter is such a precious resource; I treasure when it erupts.
I also treasure the opportunity to have safe, affectionate touch with other human bodies. Physical contact is, after all, a minimum requirement for health and happiness. Too often in American culture our needs for physical contact get met only in the context of sexuality. Those of us without a regular romantic partners often get little physical affection, other than an occasional hug or hand shake. Before InterPlay this used to be true for me, too. But now I have a weekly space where I am guaranteed some fun, playful physical connection with others. It rocks!
Plus, there is something about hand to hand contact that is, quite simply, profound. Amidst my giggles, there are moments of awe, connection, affection, hope. For this reason, I try to build a hand dance into every InterPlay class I teach. I hope you’ll come play sometime on Mondays in San Francisco or Tuesdays in Oakland. I look forward to the mini adventure that will ensue when our hands meet palm to palm.