Baggage // Model Workshop #2

Michael Sommer, Artistic Director of the German part of PHONE HOME, continues his series on best practice models in intercultural theatre workshops.


[Workshop conducted by Ramadan Ali with 18 children and adolescents from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and nine adults from Germany. Most participants didn’t know each other before.]

After getting together in a circle and trying to get a grip on the huge variety of names by saying someone’s name and then throwing them the ball, Ramo leads the group in a classical warm-up. He makes us form perfect circles with knees, hips, chest and shoulders individually, which is quite some fun to begin with, but when he speeds up the exercise by encouraging double time, he might have distributed hula hoops along with that. Counting the number of circles in German (eight in one direction, eight in the other) serves as an additional language learning input.

[Duration: Depending on group size and age, all in all not more than 20 min. // Material: Ball]

There’s endless variations on the theme of the impulse circle; after passing around the impulse in the form of a clap, Ramo introduces three more impulses: (1) Imitate a rabbit’s ears with both forefingers to your head, flex the fingers and go “Wewe” [/wiwi/], which passes around the circle in one direction, (2) Do a cutting movement with your right arm diagonally downward going “Bang”, passing this on in the other direction around the circle, (3) Hold both flexed arms vertically in front of your face, shielding yourself by going “Boing”, which sends the impulse back in the direction it came from.

[Duration: 15 min.]

Note: In our workshop, these two basic sections took an amazing 40 minutes, which was quite long, but possible, as the participants’ attention did not wander too much. After this, however, we took a break with some grapes and cookies.

PAUSE – 15 min.

The following section requires some verbal explanations, so it is only possible to carry this out if you can at least basically talk to your participants. In our case, Ramo, speaking Arabic and Kurdish, which is similar to Farsi, was able to communicate with nearly all participants.
Ramo explains the topic we would like to explore together: Baggage. “Imagine you are about to embark on a journey to a distant planet. What are you going to take with yourselves? Draw the three most important objects.” So off we go, drawing and in some cases writing little pictures of the objects we are going to take along. This takes some time, and there’s a lot of talking between the workshop participants going on; the nosier ones ask the shier ones about their pictures, they start to talk about their homes and where they are from, and after quite a while, everyone has finished his or her contribution, including signing with their names. The pictures are collected in a suitcase, Ramo draws one at random and asks the artist to introduce us to his or her work.

There were some very moving pieces of baggage among them: “Sari” (“sand from home”); a dove, because we keep them as pets and you can exchange messages by them; “My mother’s ring, which I lost in the Mediterranean Sea.”; “Jeddara” (a typical Syrian food); “The watch my uncle gave to me.” – and of course a whole bunch of footballs, photographs of friends. Interestingly, none of the kids drew a mobile phone. Although the occupation with these pieces of baggage took more than an hour, all the participants remained very concentrated – one of the reasons being that everyone stood in the focus of attention on stage and got their deserved applause for sharing their work.

[Duration: Variable, in our case ca. 70 min. // Material: Pens, felt tips, paper, a suitcase]

Note: Ideally, and especially if verbal communication is possible and the group are familiar with each other, the material gathered in this way could form the basis for other work. One could improvise scenes with a number of these objects; one could do pantomimes with them; one could try to impersonate them. In our case, it would have been too much for the participants to dwell further on the subject.

Mark the “mirror line” as an orthogonal from the edge of the stage by chalking it down or sticking a tape line on the ground. Invite two participants to come on stage – one of them is the “original”, e.g. the one on the right side, the other is the “mirror image”. Have the original improvise a situation or just move around a little; the mirror image has to imitate his or her every move. After a while, change sides.

[Duration: Depending on number of participants, a couple of minutes per person, but they usually find their own timing. // Material: Tape]

Note: You can further develop this by taking away the mirror line and the strict distribution of original and mirror image.

What is football but dancing with a ball? As soon as we put some music on, most of the kids either start to dance or play a little football. Especially playing football is, I find, a perfect way of giving a workshop a nice emotional fadeout.

[Duration: As long as people have fun]

By contrast to our first workshop, Ramo’s schedule contained a considerably smaller number of activities – which on the other hand lasted longer than the exercises we did in the first workshop. The focus of our attention was on exploring the topic of “Baggage” – which did not primarily take place in a theatrical form, but was then presented on stage. Introducing the topic by getting participants to draw was a clever move to make them think differently – as was the way of putting the question in the first place: By inviting them to think about a fantastical journey, they came back to their own experience in a kind of “safe mode”. Both elements – namely combining theatre exercises and creative arts techniques as well as inviting input from participants by transferring their authentic experience to fantastical settings, thus triggering positive emotions – served as example for us when devising later workshops. Although not impressive in its setup, this simple workshop succeeded brilliantly in creating an atmosphere of welcome and leaving us with some very pregnant “pebbles” for the mosaic we are going to create in PHONE HOME.