Let’s catch some flying pigs!

Flying Pig

An online experience for coaches and facilitators

“When pigs fly” is a figure of speech that says something is completely impossible, even unthinkable. For example: “Can people really change for good?” “Yes, when pigs fly.”

For us a flying pig is the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients, students, participants…

Join us in our quest.

We will not only look for flying pigs, we will also research ways to catch them, integrate them in our work and our lives with the help of methods and inspirations from the fields of Applied Improvisation and Strategic Narrative Embodiment.

In this online Pig Catching adventure you will be accompanied by Petro Janse van Vuuren from south Africa  and Christian F. Freisleben from Austria. We will invite you to take a close look at your pig catchers’ wardrobe, i.e. your strengths as coach, facilitator, trainer  and teacher. We will meet three times online, talking, sharing, working and also moving together. The sessions foster insights and inspiration, ideas and dreams, concepts for your work in, changing the world for good.

For more details see this prezi presentation and/or listen to this podcast (Soundcloud / Youtube).

Join us for:

A taster session, where you can learn more about flying pigs and the methods we use

Monday 18th of July, 8pm

A longer journey of learning, laughing and transforming:

Thursday 22nd of August, 29th of August, 5th of September – on all days from 8 to 9:15pm, Johannesburg time.

Before and between these dates you will have time to take a closer look at flying pigs!


In return for our preparation and facilitation of the journey we ask you to pay us whatever amount of money you think it is worth for you and your work.


Petro Janse van Vuuren & Christian F. Freisleben

If you want to join this journey please send us an E-Mail to: connect@playingmantis.net

Why we used Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE) at the 2016 Southern African Knowledge Management Summit

SNE at SAKM summit
SNE at SAKM summit

What SNE did, and did not, deliver


During our planning for the 2016 Southern African Knowledge Management Summit (2016SAKMS) we pondered the current state and needs of the KM network in South Africa. Based on Etienne Wenger’s stages of community development it seemed to us that the current KM network in South Africa represented a potential community, with a desire to coalesce towards community. It was this move to a next stage in the lifecycle of  a community that we wanted to stimulate.  According to Wenger & Snyder (2002) the emergence of the strategic purpose or intent for the community is a core construct in this shift from a potential community to a coalescing stage. The structure, role and activities of the community to-be need to fit and adapt with this strategic purpose.

The discovery of strategic intent or purpose is supported and informed by the finding and recognition of common ground and engaging issues on a communal level. There must be a sense of the development of a shared domain together with the redirection of attention towards seeing own issues as a communal fodder. People also need to see how their passions and desire for community can translate into something useful. They find energy for coalescence around recognising similar problems, passions, and contributions.

These typical aspects of a potential community informed the design for the Summit.

Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE) presented an interesting opportunity as methodology and conversation partner for our summit design. Not only is it a methodology designed for organisation (and per implication community) development, but it would also be fresh and innovative. We were intrigued by the embodiment component especially since the possibility of accessing tacit knowledge located in the body is a hot emergent topic in the KM space.

Initial conversations made us curious about:

  • What knowledge in and about our network can such a process access and externalise?
  • How can it enable the network to shift from potential community to coalescence towards community?
  • What can it tell us about emergent narratives in the KM network?
  • What level of engagement can it elicit from delegates?
  • How can it facilitate the interplay between individual and collective learning?

Read the rest here…

What irks you about trying to change the world?

June Muse Letter

Whether you are on the receiving end or on the giving end of a learning/change process, I invite you to write to me and vent all your frustrations about it. You are welcome to play the ‘meanie’ and let rip – even if just for fun. As they say, many a truth is spoken in jest!

Let me make three points as context to this invitation:

  • Thank you for your engagement
  • Playing Mantis’s service to you
  • Engaging with what irks you

Thank you for your engagement

In my last Muse Letter, I explained that Playing Mantis was going through some changes and I invited you to have a cup of coffee with me to talk about the topic‘What do you think of an ethics of artistry? Can such a business make money?’

I had beautiful conversations with Christian Freisleben-Teutscher, Graham Williams, Wilhelm Crous, Katya Ratcliffe, Wendy Cooke, Josh Ramsey, Steve Banhegyi, Bobby Gordon, VasinthaPather, LurindaMaree,and others. I also tip my hat to the Playing Mantis Pig Catchers

ho happily engaged with the questions, as well as many of my students at Wits.

Because of these conversations –

  • Christian and I will launch an online Pig Catching group (for coaches and facilitators who want to change the world for good).
  • Graham, Steve and I have collaborated with a few others to design a leadership retreat for battered bosses.
  • Vasintha and I are talking about a cohort of people like us who use playful methods for serious business.
  • I found someone who can redo my website in response to these changes (please be patient, he works full time and is doing this for me as a favour).
  • Wendy and I have begun to laugh together.

Most importantly, though –

I have a much clearer picture of what Playing Mantis could offer.

Playing Mantis’s service to you

Playing Mantis wants to help thought leaders like you to change the world with the help of Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE).

With the Strategic Narrative Embodiment model you will find courage to play spontaneously and passionately, to connect with yourself and the people around you and to transform your everyday life into a force for positive change. And then to do the same for your clients, your team and your community.

Let’s return humanenessto the workplace and transform the world of work into a healthy thriving place where generosity, collaboration and social justice can be a reality!

So, our service has three parts:

  1. Your personal transformational story (strategic narrative) embodied in your own work.
  2. Helping your client find and embody their transformational story.
  3. Creating a community of thought leaders who learn from each other’s stories and collaborate to change the world.

Engaging with what irks you

True, I could cook up a million benefits of SNE if I wished, but who says it would mean anything to you? So, that is why I want to know what it is that irks you.

If you let me see into your frustrations with your own or others’ attempts to change the world, we could find ways to reduce the frustration together.  You could think of it from any [ers[ective that makes sense to you: the one who tries to change something or someone, or the one who is being asked to change.

  1. Set your watch for three minutes.
  2. Rant without stopping.
  3. Mail it to me as is.

Give it as it comes. Be nasty, funny, satirical, ironic or just plain mean–as long as you enjoy the game. I will listen to what you care about and the values that lie beneath the storm. I will feed it back to you just as in the facilitation game ‘The Rant’. It will help us discover what is important to you and address the frustrations together.

By all means, use the game in your practice and see what happens …

If you know the exercise already, tell us what it does for you and your clients.

Bonus facilitation notes for using ‘the rant’:

Sometimes I give two people who really have it in for something a rope to tug at between them. I might also give each member of a group a rolled up newspaper and instruct them to hit a chair with it. I let them imagine their frustration sitting on the chair and motivate them to attack it with as much vehemence as they can muster. Notice, it is not an imagined person on the chair but an imagined issue.

I once did this with a group of health insurance agents from one of our prominent medical aid providers. They had a blast! Then we sat down and recorded all their grievances about their work, along with positive suggestions to management about solutions. The work was productive and meaningful because emotions had been cleared and the things they really cared about were articulated, then heard and seen.

Of course, some people enjoy this exercise and others hate it. They hate it because they see themselves as positive, peace-loving people. Others hate it because they have to work so hard at keeping those emotions down that allowing them to bubble up can be painful. Keep it light and only use props if they seem appropriate.

Back to you

Please set the timer and rant, then mail. I can’t wait to hear from you!!!


Book me to tell a story, design a conference, engage people in your vision.


Simply invite me for a cup of tea.


Website Reboot

The Playing Mantis have been running since the start of Playing Mantis 7 years ago. In this time it has had several updates but since recent changes a new update is necessary. This means, that for a while at least, things might look a bit funky or become a bit strange. But the hope is that once this strange times has passed that the Playing Mantis site will be a much more user friendly and focussed website.

Thanks for sticking around for the ride.

Oh, and yes, this is Gerhi Janse van Vuuren writing. I am Petro’s husband and webmaster in charge of this reboot. Please blame me for all the things that go wrong. Petro will take the credit.

Pig Catching on 22 April: The Rapid Role Recast

Flying Pig

Flying PigPetro have been invited to run a session at the 2016 Be the Difference Knowledge Management Summit.

On Friday I will test a Strategic Narrative Embodiment technique for the summit called “rapid Role Recasting”. For the first time, instead of using participants to embody their own stories, I will be using actors from Drama for Life. Rapid Role Recasting is aimed at understanding where we come from and where we are going. Perhaps more importantly: what is the next step on the way? We can decide on the day what ‘we’ means in this context e.g. coaches in general or pig catchers in particular?

It is about understanding our role in the bigger picture.

Watch this space to see how the experiment went and what Elmi Bester, the summit convener who will be attending on Friday, says about it.

Topic:    Rapid role Recasting: the thing you (or your client) need to do when you (they) don’t know what to do next.

Date:     22 April 2016

Time:    7am for 7:15 to 9:15  Research conversation (for all who are  interested in Strategic Narrative Embodiment)

9:30-12:30 Pig Catching

NOTE: the Pig catching session will start at 9:30 sharp to make the most of our time.

Facilitator: Petro Janse van Vuuren assisted by Drama for Life actors

Cost: R250 (Includes a write-up of the session)

Venue: 305 Long Ave Ferndale

Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in

Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival.

RSVP: by  Wed 20 April

Other Pig Catching dates this year:

22 july
7 Oct

9 Dec

Please diarise!

Join our group on Facebook:

About Pig Catching:

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.

Bring your curiosity, your open minds and your questions.

Join us on Friday if you dare…



‘I’m curious’

Possible outcomes:

  • Learning to ask curious questions.
  • Building listening skills, especially listening without judgement.
  • Appreciating diversity.
  • Expanding your point of view.


In pairs, participants have a discussion about a controversial topic, each taking an opposite point of view. Participants are only allowed to ask curious questions about their partner’s point of view.

Time: 5 – 15 min
Number of participants: In pairs

Game flow:

Ask participants to pair up. Instruct them to pick a controversial topic of which each chooses an opposite point of view. One participant shares their point of view and the other participant is only allowed to respond with curious questions. It helps if they start their questions with the words ‘I’m curious …’ Tell them to be careful not to disguise their own point of view in the form of a question. The questions must come from genuine curiosity and not from judgement.

Debrief questions:

  • What struck you about this exercise?
  • What did it feel like to ask only curious questions?
  • What was it like being listened to in this way?
  • How was your listening different than usual?

5 Differences between Motivational Speaking and Strategic Narrative Embodiment

ATKV Jeugleiersimposium

jeugleiers_dv4_0Dit was my voorreg om hierdie week, Maandag en Dinsdag, as spreker op te tree by die ATKV se Jeugleiersimposiums by die Goudini Spa naby Worcester en Buffelspoort naby Hartebeespoortdam.

My onderwerp: Vyf soorte weerstand teen leierskap en hoe om dit te hefboom. As jy daar was kan jy die opsomming hier aflaai in die vorm van die skyfie reeks wat ek gebruik het. As jy nie daar was nie, sal dit maar min sin maak vir jou.

Vyf soorte weerstabd teen leierskap


It was my privilege to speak at the ATKV Youth Leaders symposia on Monday and Tuesday this week at Goudini Spa in the Western Cape and Buffelspoort in Gauteng.

My topic: Five types of resistance to leadership and how to leverage them. If you were there you can download the slide show above. If you were not there, it won’t make much sense to you.

Insights from this experience:

Five differences between motivational speaking and Strategic Narrative Embodiment

For those new to this website, Strategic Narrative Embodiment (SNE) is an applied theatre process that uses story and embodiment strategically to effect change in organisations and leaders.

  1. Strategy and narrative, but no embodiment

At its most interactive, speaking still only works with strategy and narrative, not with embodiment. Unfortunately, it is the embodiment part of the model that invites people to question the dominant narrative. Without it, people get to think, but they struggle to break the requirement of acceptance of the narrative that goes with speaking. The speaker may, in his talk, question the dominant narrative about his topic, but then his story becomes the new dominant narrative and audience members are primed by the genre of speaking to accept it. This was very notable this week where the topic was resistance, but there was no resistance to the topic.

  1. Whose opinion matters

Motivational speaking is the genre of convincing and propaganda. Strategic narrative Embodiment is designed to allow the audience, or rather participants, to make meaning of the ‘story in the room’ for themselves. Speaking centres on the opinion of the speaker, SNE attempts to elicit the opinions of the participants. It does so by inviting participants’ entire bodies into the conversation, not just their intellects. In this way participants can access resistance that does not necessarily surface as clear thoughts, but only as discomforts in their bodies e.g. knots in their stomachs, frowns on their faces and so on. Making sense of these questions can have a far deeper learning result than a mere hearing of a talk and a later dismissal of it because somehow it did not gel.

  1. The seat of knowledge

In motivational speaking the speaker is the seat of knowledge which he more of less downloads into the receptacles that are the members of the audience. In SNE the facilitator structures conversation, but is mostly there to listen and allow others to speak. This is always hard for me because I have such clever things to say and I love to coin quotable phrases. However, this week my clever phrases left even me cold. The ideal would be for the speaker to voice her story, but then to allow participants to interact with that story in order to make sense of it for themselves.

  1. Opinions or stories

Motivational speaking, even the interactive sort, finds it easier to elicit opinions and much harder to invite story sharing. SNE is designed to invite the latter. There are exceptions to this difference. I have seen amazing story tellers whose example of vulnerability and authenticity on the platform unlock people’s own stories and can, therefore invite deep connection, but not necessarily a questioning of dominant narratives. The stories shared still link to the new dominant ‘story in the room’ as presented by the story teller. Resistance to this story is then often read aspeople trying to be difficult, or unwilling to be moved or to buy in. Somehow the SNE tries to create a safe space for diverse points of view without getting into a debate or intellectual voicing of opinions. It wants to invite diverse stories and make it safe for every point of view.

  1. Time and value.

Motivational speaking takes less time that SNE and gives the illusion of being value for money. On Monday I suggested to the organiser of the symposium that I run a fully interactive session instead of a talk. They preferred the talk for its particular content, but the organiser also remarked somewhat tongue in cheek: “After all we are paying you for your input.” Organisers seldom value a facilitator’s ability to shape and draw meaning from participants, they want to pay for knowledge. This is an illusion, though, because people hear what they already believe and unless you allow them to put what they believe into direct embodied interaction with what others, including the facilitator, believes, these believes do not change. Learning only really happens when people connect the ‘story in the room’ to their own stories. I know of few more powerful processes to do this through than embodied participation.

I still believe that speaking has an important part to play, but I have discovered that it meaves me unmoved for the most part as the speaker. If it leaves me that way, what impact does it have on my audience? Perhaps it is just me and I have to accept that I will have to leave the speaking to people who are moved by it themselves.

Read more about this on  jy personal blog: No more model citizens!

Pig Catching for Coaches and Facilitators on 4 Dec


Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

Please note: No pigs get harmed, our pigs are purely metaphorical and they have wings.

Bring your curiosity, your open minds and your questions.

Join us on Friday if you dare…

Topic:    Moving PeopleFlying Pig

Date:     4 December 2015

Time:    7am for 7:15 to 10am Pig Catching

10:30-12:30 Research conversation (for all who are  interested in Strategic Narrative Embodiment)

NOTE: We will start at 7:15 sharp to make the most of our time.

Facilitator: Hamish Neill (from Drama for Life)

Cost: R250 (Includes a write-up of the session)

Venue: 305 Long Ave Ferndale

Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in

Coffee, tea, muffins and fruit on arrival.

RSVP: by 1 December.

More on the topic:

What is this shift in leadership and Organisation Development that everyone is talking about?

Some call it a change from Command and Control to Sensing and Responding

Others say it is Autocratic to Participative Leadership

Some try to explain it by using metaphors for the kinds of Organisations we want e.g. no more machine like organisations, rather organic ones, or ones that work like the human brain. Still others say an organisation should be looked at as  a work of art…

There are also those that talk of a Vision and Values based culture versus a virtuoso culture, or a profit focussed organisation versus one that aims for a triple bottom line i.e. people planet and profit.

Whatever the shift is that our new changing world is asking for, we are the ones that support the transformation.

In this session, we will continue our foray into the symbols, metaphors and images that make up our understanding of this shift with Hamish from Dram for Life. In doing so you will also get insight into the tool called Image Theatre as a means for extracting and eliciting stories from participants.

Read my reflections on our previous session here: Can Image Theatre help us change organisational life in South Africa?

Join us on Friday if you dare…

Can Image Theatre help us find ways to change organisational life in South Africa?

Does this pig have wings?

On Friday 18 Sep 18 facilitators and coaches from the Playing Mantis Pig Catching group came together to experiment with Image Theatre.

Pig catching is what facilitators and coaches do when we search for that moment of shift and transformation that helps people move.

Image Theatre is a form of applied theatre designed and practised by Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal. It uses body images to express collective perspectives on a chosen issue and to explore ways to transform these perspectives and experiment with alternative ways to act.

What we want to do

Our intention for the workshop is to explore the shift in Leadership styles and Organisation Development that we are noticing and that many of us are supporting. The shift seems to be characterised by a movement from command and control styles of leadership to participative sensing and responding styles; from looking at organisations as machines to seeing them either as living organisms, complex networks like the human brain or works of art; from organisations that focus on a single bottom line (profit) to one that has a triple bottom line (people planet and profit).

We are particularly interested in a transition in South Africa from organisations that cam rise above colonialism, apartheid and corruption to ones that work towards social equality, prosperity for all and happy working people from leaders to workers – in short, organisations that support the South African 12030 vision.

We choose to work with Image Theatre as methodology this time in order to explore the metaphors, symbols, language and images that help us talk about the shift and about our vision for leaders and organisations in South Africa.

An account of a transitional moment – a flying pig:

Image 1 - SilosWe are halfway through our workshop and we are exploring one of the typical ways in which organisations are described: the silo syndrome. We work in groups of 4 and begin to build group images. We do not go one person at a time. We simply step forward all at once and create the image. While we

maintain our image the facilitator (Hamish Neil from Drama for Life) asks us to look around and see all the images in the room.

In most groups people are standing either with their backs to each other, but touching, or facing each other but standing separately, doing their work. Hamish instructs us to reverse everything we are doing and create the opposite image. He gives a countdown and everyone moves together. We find ourselves in an ideal opposite configuration. Most people are standing in circles hugging each other. In two of the groups three are turned towards one another hugging or reaching out while one person is turned out and doing something different from the group.

Everyone gasps or laughs. “Does this always happen?”

“Yes,” I say, “people always end up in circles holding hands or hugging. My instruction to Hamish was to make sure we do not end here.”

Hamish invites the two groups where all are turned in and hugging to explore this image. “Stay there for a while. How does it feel as time passes? Still comfortable? Without breaking the configuration, start moving across the floor. Now jump. Go get the photo copier and fetch the printing…

Everyone is laughing.Image 2 - Hugs

Moans and groans emit from the groups.

“Too much breathing into the centre.”

“I am worried about the garlic I had for supper.”

“Can i please just go back to being a silo.”

It is clear from the activity that no-one can get any work done in this configuration. They are increasingly uncomfortable and getting too hot.

We can understand why silo’s happen.

We acknowledge that there was no big stick beating people into silo’s. It happens because it works on some level.

This ideal image is often a respite from the original problem image, but not sustainable. By working with the image its unfeasibility as a long-term solution is recognised. As with the original silo image, is important that this image too is arrived at through spontaneous action and not planning.

Now we are instructed to work together to discover what image goes in between the first two. What is the image of transition between, in this case silo’s and huggy-huggy. We are given some time to talk with each other and work this out. When we have our transitional image, each small group shows it to the large group one by one. Again on lookers say what they see before the group responds.

“Can we also explore what the next step could be after ‘huggy-huggy’, instead of exploring transitional images?” someone asks.

Hamish answers that this is not usually helpful because it does not take us into difficult places. It does not help us process. From the ideal embracing image, people might just go back to the silos because that is what they know. It is true that people want respite from the silo’s and the isolation, but they can’t sustain it, so they may just go back. It keeps us in dreamland where we can plan and desire and vision things that do not get real. We have to take them where it gets messy so that they can find something new, something that is not there, something that can bring shift.

“Is this about ‘thesis, antithesis and synthesis?” comes another question..

Hamish answers: “Be careful to try and neaten up the mess too quickly. It is not helpful to begin to judge and see some images as ‘better’ or ‘more synthesis” than others yet. Just stay in the direct response and action space without making sense of it yet. Stay in the bodies, don;t go into the head yet.

From the transitional images we learn that here there is the most aImage 3 - interconnectednessmount of eye contact, dybamic movement and interaction. There is more laughter, more frustration, more mess and more noise. There also seems to be a theme of disconnection and reconnection running through. Two of the images resemble dancing and the other two show lots of open arms but not so much touching.

We decide to pick up this exploration again next time we meet on 27 November. We want to go deeper into the transitional images and understand more about how they might inform our own transitional work.

Join us on 27 November for Moving people Part 2.

Time: 7 to 10 am

Venue: 305 Long Avenue, Ferndale, Johannesburg

Where does Strategic Narrative Embodiment Techniques (SNETs) come from?

When we (Petro and Burgert) started Playing Mantis 6 years ago, we thought that, because our work comes from Applied Theatre its power to bring about transformation and learning is implicit. Stories move people more easily than pie charts, we reasoned, and if people get to try out solutions before they have to implement them, their implementation runs smoother. But we were wrong.

And when people in business started talking about VUCa (the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous nature of our world) we thought this strengthens our position. VUCA requires people to be more agile, innovative, collaborative and engaged – the very same things that we know Applied Theatre methods can provide. And still we were wrong.

We were wrong not because our processes don’t do what they say they can, but for a very different reason.

For long years past leaders and organisational structures have not been designed for quick adaptation, collaboration or innovation. They are designed for stability and predictability so that each person understands their place in a hierarchy and performs their function optimally

This means that not only must our techniques be validated in terms of how well they can help people collaborate and innovate, they must also ‘fit’ into the perception that the industry has of techniques that will be successful.

In response to this state of affairs, we have designed as set of facilitation tools: Our SNETs: Strategic because they are employed with a particular purpose as negotiated by the contract between practitioner and client; Narrative because they are derived from mythic structural patterns and archetypes and because they work with the stories of people about themselves and their world; Embodied because they depend on the projection of characteristics of abstract ideas into pictures, objects or the physical bodies of the participants.

They have been designed for you, the facilitator, coach, consultant OD practitioner, HR or L&D person. As such you understand both the needs of your clients and their contexts as well as the importance of innovation, collaboration, engagement and agility amidst complexity.

Read more about our Playing Mantis Essentials Course in Coaching and Facilitation using Strategic Narrative Embodiment Techniques.