Building On Each Other's Ideas--at the heart of narrative

Stories are about interaction.  In building relationships and watching them evolve (with our families, at work, in the grocery store...), we create narratives every day.  As a teacher, I feel honored to be the person to help my students tell their own stories and connect to the stories they read.  As a coach, I aim to support my students in co-authoring stories in improv scenes.

Which role do you tend to play?  Are you often the leader, the one whose voice is heard most often?  Do you always think you're the protagonist in the story?  Or do you usually defer to those around you as a supporting side character?  When you have the chance to play improv games, to engage in scenework, to reflect on your role in the workplace or at home, consider who you tend to play.  And then try to play someone else.  There is value in all-of-the-above.

When I coached two different workshops at K-8 charter schools recently, we spent a substantial amount of time co-creating narratives--one in gibberish and one using word-at-a-time strategies.  Engaging in these activities illuminates opportunities for learning about ourselves and interpersonal relationships.  I found it interesting that some felt they were "in charge" of the story if they were speaking English rather than gibberish, while other dyads felt that the person speaking gibberish tended to drive the story with the emotional content they introduced.  In creating word-at-a-time partner stories, certain participants' stories ALWAYS contained similar content.

I do not mention these examples as criticisms of the play.  Rather, they are my observations of the power of individual tendencies to affect group interactions.  Yes--we are valuable as individuals.  And yes--we create pretty amazing things as members of groups.

Check out this cool article from an NPR story highlighting a recent study on group intelligence from Carnegie Mellon University:

- I am a Tree
I believe I described this game in a recent blog post, so I'll be brief here.  The basic idea is that there are three people in the center of the circle (or on "stage") at a time.  The first person says and shows, "I am a _____," the next person says and shows, "I am a ______ (related to the first thing)," and the third person says and shows, "I am a ____(related to the first TWO things--joining them together.)  The first person then says, "I'll take the (chooses person #2 or person #3)", and returns with that person to the circle.  We start the next group of three with who is left in the middle.

For example,
Person 1: I am a tree.
Person 2: I am a squirrel.
Person 3: I am an acorn on the tree that the squirrel's eating.
Person 1: I'll take the squirrel.

Person 3: I am an acorn.
Person 4: I am a sunflower seed.
Person 5: I am possibility!
        And so on...

- Orlando Monologues
I just learned this from a fellow player in a class I'm taking at BATS Improv: "Performing the Harold."  My description is probably different from how other folks do it, but that's what's it's all about, right?

Ask for a personal object from the group/audience.  Three people then take on characters' perspectives and perform monologues inspired by the object.  As in I am a Tree, the third player's story will likely connect the other two, creating one collaborative narrative.

Example: The first character reflects on his love for the woman who wore this shoe.  The second is the perspective of the shoemaker.  The third shows the experience of the woman who owned the shoe.

Whether in gibberish, saying a word at a time, or adding-on, co-authoring stories offers opportunities for synergistic group moments.  As we connect with each other and share the stage, we can grow as a community of a community of learners.

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