"Pick Me Eyes," Counting Together, and "Ball is a passing game."
What helps "Ball" work? We explored this question yesterday morning...as we were stumped at "13" and suddenly jumped to "39". Yee haw! Was it a magical button of cooperation that I finally pushed? Nope. As about three kids said at once in our post-game, quick processing session, "We all started counting together. That just made it work." I agree with them...kind of.
There were three elements that coalesced to enable our class to succeed in ball yesterday morning.
1. I introduced "pick me eyes". (Thank you, Lisa Rowland.) It's amazing how much effort we put into forming the mask that says, "Ignore me, please," or "Oh, please, not me." Why are we afraid of being noticed? It's incredible to see the change that can take place when we encourage players to change this mask to a face that says, "Oh, please, pass it to me. I'm ready."
2. We all started counting together. The magic of whole-class engagement. It makes the biggest difference. A few lonely voices just don't work.
3. "Ball is a passing game." (Thank you, Dave Dennison.) Instead of throwing the ball AT someone, instead of randomly throwing the ball into the ether and expecting someone else to handle it once it's left your hand, we can make this game work if we pass with intention. This one piece can transform your work as an improviser...as a student...as a member of any community. This concept allows me to introduce a tremendously important principle of improv: "Make Your Partner Look Good / Work As An Ensemble" (More on this later!)
Someday, I'll write an entire book about the importance of playing Ball. However, I wonder if only I'll read that book--I can geek out on this stuff for days! It's just astounding to me how such an insanely simple game can embody so many lessons for the stage and for life. The surge of energy we feel in the room as we click ON from haphazardly tossing a ball into suddenly becoming a team with a common, focused purpose is nothing less than magical. We suddenly WANT our classmates, our fellow players, to succeed; we move beyond wanting to be the center and move into being a part of a successful group. Looking ready and open, counting together, passing to each other: This is how a classroom should be.
We had so much fun playing with these games the past two days. It's a perfect way to jump into exploring some essential content...and laying the groundwork for meaningful scenes.
I provided some specific guidelines for all narrative games. Every story had to:
- Have a protagonist who
- Changed over time and
- Learned a lesson.
(Ha! They get to learn about main characters, character development, and theme in one fell swoop while having fun. Tricky, eh?)
- Word-At-a-Time Story: This is a great context for introducing being spontaneous and in the moment; it's also about co-creating something with a partner. Sometimes, your word is exciting (Dinosaur!). However, sometimes your word supports the rest of the narrative. (It turns out, "the" is a pretty darn important word.) Telling a word-at-a-time story teaches us about listening...and about saying what comes next. We don't need to be clever; we just need to say what comes next.
1. I start by telling a whole group word-at-a-time story in a circle. Ask for something (a color or an occupation or a type of food) and then make up a title to your story. Ours was "The Purple Jacket". Perfectly simple and open to possibilities. I reminded the class that our job was to tell a story with a protagonist who changed and learned something...and that word-at-a-time stories are often big "Woo hoo!" experiences. Ending with "...The moral of the story is..." is often quite helpful.
2. Kids then partner up and tell a new story (I give them all the same title) in partners. I modeled telling one with a particularly enthusiastic player. My body language showed my level of enthusiasm and engagement--knees bent, strong eye contact, etc. Try to avoid pauses. Just say what comes next. Aim for a 2-4 minute story, and end with "...The moral of the story is..."
Have partners choose who is A and who is B. Tell them who will start, to keep up eye contact, and to tell the whole story.
Side-coaching suggestions: "Keep strong eye contact." "Make sure your character changes!" "Find an ending soon...what's the lesson?" "Be louder." "Don't think. Just say what comes next!"
Process for a couple of minutes to find out what felt good and what was challenging. Ask a few kids to share their stories' morals. They will be thrilled to do so!
Switch partners and do it again. And again. :)
- Story Switch: This is very similar to word-at-a-time.
1. You'll start in partners with "Voice Mirroring". Encourage intense eye contact and tell kids to silently say what their partner is saying in their mind, anticipating what might come next. This will help them develop their connection to their partner before sharing the construction of a story.
2. Next, have them choose who is A and who is B. Decide who will start the story. Let's say B starts the story this time... Let her/him go for a minute or so before yelling, "Switch!" or dinging your little bell. This will allow the player to really get into the life of the protagonist and start developing a setting...and maybe even a problem. Side-coach to encourage this player to name the protagonist and provide lots of sensory details.
Yell "Switch!" a few times, reducing the amount of time between each switch until you start prompting them to come to a close with the story.
Switch partners and do it again.
2. After workshopping this for a bit, move it into a performance game. Ask for four volunteers to come to the "stage area" while the rest of the class becomes "audience players". Find a title and "conduct" the story by pointing to each player in turn. Sometimes, you'll switch in-between sentences, sometimes in-between words, and sometimes it'll be smack dab in the middle of a word. Have fun with it!
Do it a few times so a bunch of kids get to perform.
Play with these games and report back to let me know how they go. I'd love to hear back from ya!