Encounters // Model Workshop #3

Michael Sommer, Artistic Director of the German Part of Phone Home, continues the series on best practice in intercultural theatre workshops.

[Workshop conducted with fifteen children and adolescents from East Africa, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and five German adults. Most participants didn’t know each other before.]

As usual, we hand out name badges to all participants before embarking on the “World Ball” game – say someone’s name, throw her or him the ball, who passes it on, trying to speed up, which doesn’t always work ☺. Instead of an impulse circle, we pass on gestures and sounds in the circle, which works really well, which may partly be due to the fact that it’s mainly girls as participants.

[Duration: Max. 15 min., depending on group // Material: Plastic ball]

This game for warming up or powering out your participants has the huge advantage that it can be learned by doing, there’s hardly any explanation necessary. Put on some dancing music, ideally with a clear beat. Now one instructor leads the group in performing a very specific – and potentially humorousdance style (e.g. squatting like a duck, jumping like a frog, doing a jumping jack). Everyone is encouraged to imitate him or her. As soon as the group is going full power, stop the music abruptly. Everybody has got to freeze – if someone shakes, they’re out and become the shake-spotters for the next round. In my experience, those who are out will develop into perfect monitors for spotting their mates’ failure.

[Duration: Ca. 15 min., can be done longer // Material: Dance music, sound system]

In many theatre groups, the following game is legend, and probably known to many people. It is a variation on the impulse circle with a somewhat elaborate choreography. The group stands in a circle; (1) person A raises their hands over their head as if holding a light sabre, aims at person B and strikes down vertically going “chop”, (2) reacting to this, person B quickly raises their hands over their head as if holding a light sabre going “chop”, (3) persons C and D, standing right and left of person B, simultaneously mime striking person B with an imaginary light sabre horizontally in half, going “saw”, (4) person B, arms/light sabre still raised over their head, aim at a new victim and start the routine again with step (1). If someone makes a mistake, they’re out of the circle. This is a very competitive game which in groups that know each other for a longer time can quickly gain cult status.

[Duration: Until people get bored, perhaps 15 min.]

PAUSE: 15 min.

Doing improvised scenes with people who are neither familiar with theatre work nor know each other as a group is certainly a challenge. We tried out the following setups as pantomimes and they worked well in the sense that the participants got involved and had some fun. It was necessary, however, to have the support of some experienced performers to give the individual situations some direction.

(A) The Bus
Prepare some stools or chairs in rows one behind the other – like in a bus. Possibly, a more experienced performer should take the position of the driver. They open the bus, there’s people waiting at a station, they get in, have to pay, or if not, some conflict can evolve, the driver can be competent or not, the bus can start or not, the driver can drive slow – there’s endless possibilities as to what can happen on this journey. In our version, the bus at first didn’t start, and when it did, someone else took the driver’s seat, driving very dangerously which made it necessary for participants to join in the movements of the driver.

(B) The Bathroom
Explain to participants that the situation is a bathroom. They can enter it and do in it whatever it is they do in a bathroom usually. For obvious reasons, the bathroom is a magic place of comedy when people meet in it.

(C) The Bar
While the bathroom attracted more attention from the females among our participants, the boys were rather interested in joining the bartender and getting some booze, whether they had money or not. Theft and fraud was – I regret to say – very common in the various situations that arose in the bar.

[Duration: It takes some time for the situations to be established, one has to invest some time into these exercises, I’d say 15 min. for each one at least // Material: Some basic furniture – we marked each scenes by using cardboard stools, a versatile building block]

Note: This was our first experiment with improvised scenes within the series of PHONE HOME WORKSHOPS. Our disadvantage was that verbal communication with most of the participants was only rudimentarily possible. Thus, we could establish the situation and actually involve all the participants in the scenes, they had a lot of fun, but that was about it. Don’t get me wrong: Getting together, having fun, is an important task when working with people/kids who have been living on the road for weeks and months. Nonetheless, it is also possible to go one step further in empowering workshop participants to express themselves, this exercise, however must remain quite basic if there’s no other verbal input.

With a large number of girls from East Africa participating in this workshop, it was easy for us to get dancing. We formed two lines facing each other, and only in the beginning we had to give some movement input – quite quickly, other participants demonstrated some moves and everybody just joined in. It was a very impressive example of non verbal communication. It faded out into freestyle dancing.

[Duration: Really, find out for yourselves. // Material: Dance music, sound system]

In previous workshops, we frequently had to deal with the problem of distraction – especially the younger boys participating couldn’t keep up their concentration when doing the games/exercises. Having a large number of young women as participants in this workshops made things quite a lot easier. Right from the beginning, it was quite effortless to motivate them – they really wanted to play, to dance, to have fun. Both in the structured games of the first half and in the improvised scenes, we had the feeling that they enjoyed being here, with us, that they accommodated themselves in the Pathos. The most evident hint was the fact that quite a number of them marked their journeys from home to Munich by contributing to our interlinked world map.