Ball presented challenges we hadn't dealt with for some time: a lack of engagement and commitment from some, others taking over, folks acting as if we were playing dodge ball and trying to make their classmates look bad... It was pretty much a mess. Although I usually set a goal of 25 or so, I decided to set a challenging goal of 43. We couldn't get there.
We processed what was happening together. And then we mixed up the configurations and tried some more. My side coaching included,
If you hear my voice standing out from the crowd, y'all need to be louder. This should be one voice.
Balance commitment and 'taking over'--but don't shy away from it.
Look like an improviser. Be ready.
The student's notes included,
Make your partner look good.
Everyone count together.
This is NOT dodge ball, people.
Ball is a passing game.
After 20 minutes, I asked if they wanted to skip Ball for the day. The far majority of the players WANTED to keep going, to figure it out as a group and to surpass our goal. And I decided to mess with them a little bit.
Rather than fully processing the numerous social interactions and status plays that were happening amidst Ball, I decided to delve into a little Status adventure of our own. I first did this warm-up activity with John Remak in his Foundation One class at BATS Improv in San Francisco. It made me think about characters--and myself--in new ways back then, and it offered my students plenty of insights as well. All in less than ten minutes.
To explore the subtler nuances and non-verbal interactions embedded in the status of relationships, I randomly assigned half the class to Look (make comfortable eye contact with each person they passed) or to Look, Look Away, Look Back (to look down or to the side after first making eye contact, and then to try to regain that initial eye contact with each person). They walked around for a while, and I side coached:
Slow down as you walk. This is not a race.
Take a moment to connect with each of your fellow players.
Be real and notice how you're feeling...how your character is feeling.
After a few minutes (and a few pauses with side coaching comments followed by re-starts), they switched roles. We then went straight into a processing session. My notes from the students' debriefing comments follow. I think they speak for themselves.
Carrie: What did you notice as you played both of these roles? How did it make you feel?
Jennifer: I found it easier for me to Look, Look Away, Look Back...and I also found myself smiling a lot, in kind of maybe like an uncomfortable way.
Jimi: It felt kind of weird for me to look away, because I don't usually do that.
Eric: I wanted to add onto what Jimi said. It was just weird when you look away and you know that, like, someone is still watching you. It's kind of creepy.
Jimi: ...When you look away, it's kind of like you're exposing yourself to...
Carrie: What did this make you think about? Why did we do this?
Diana: It made me think about...if you're, like, walking up to friends, you're more likely to keep longer eye contact than someone that you're nervous around.
Kiana: It made me think of status, because when you looked up and looked away and looked down, it made me feel like...like you shouldn't be looking at that person 'cause they're higher status. But if you looked up, it's like you can't believe you brought yourself down low enough to look at them.
Sage: I think it's like a lot of other improv games...just basically to raise your awareness of people and your surroundings.
As always, I am left with a feeling of inspiration and wonder after an improv workshop with my students. They not only appreciate a chance to connect and reflect, but they rise to the challenge of doing so in meaningful ways. Speaking of challenges, we ended this morning's class with a big, "Wooooo!" Surpassing our goal of 43, we all transitioned into the next class with smiles on our faces. Fifty-four...oh, yeah.