Let’s play with our racism

Five people in a tableaux showing various responses to the workshop: Four with open arms, many open palms and one person on the floor her head threaded through someone's leg.

An open space session I facilitated at the G I I symposium on Friday morning 17 May.

How I introduced the session:

I am a racist. Not because I intentionally discriminate or harm people outside my own race, but because I was brought up in a racialised system. Because of this, I may behave and speak in a discriminatory and hurtful manner without noticing. Some call it “unconscious bias“. I think it is time we take responsibility and become conscious.

To experiment with new and unfamiliar behaviour, we need a safe space to fail. What better way to create such a space and to experiment with new behaviours then through improvisation?

So, five of us got together and played with our racism. This is the session design, but it does not contain people’s stories. These remain confidential.

Session design

This session was designed using one of the techniques from the Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM suite. We call it the ‘Pig catching signature move’ – it is designed around the archetype of the flying pig, but for this session, we used it to play with racism – an equily illusive concept. The structure is great for working with any number of abstract ideas. For a full description and facilitator guide for the technique, contact petro@playingmantis.net

Note: All sessions are designed according to the SNE STORI-model (What is STORI?)

SNE = Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM (What is SNE?)

S – Strategic intent

The strategic intent is set at the start and ‘parked’ outside the space to define it, but not drive it.

Facilitator note: Setting up the strategic frame is the most important part of holding the facilitation when working with applied performance. It is the contract that helps us know which possibilities to choose and work with. These possibilities arise each time an individual interacts with the story in the room. The disruption itself is welcome and part of the point and it is framed and made sense of through the lens of the strategic frame. This strategic frame along with the ‘rules’ of the various exercises hold the safety and structure of the work where there is hardly any particular content or ‘script’.  Also, when working with something as complex and potentially triggering as racism, these structures and safety measures are important.

We were clear about our frame as we set up the open space session: To play with racism so we can better make sense of our own relationship to it.

We further refined these intentions by sharing stories of racism where we ourselves were either a perpetrator, witness or victi of racism. These stories clarified to us our individual stance for the session.

Four people in a tableaux: One person on the floor looking up hlding something on her lap, the others standing. Two with open arms, one with hand on his chest.
What we got from this session

T – Transition

Facilitator note: When we work with the arts in OD processes, it is really important that people transition from their minds only to include body and emotions, from past and future to the present and from individual mindset into collective mindset. Also, people need to practise following the ‘rules’ of the game. These ‘rules’ keep them safe when we let go of our scripts and experiment with new ways of thinking and doing.

 

Walking exercises are great for this.

Examples:

http://www.playingmantis.net/walking-exercise/

http://www.playingmantis.net/exercise-walking-with-enlarged-body-parts/

O – Open experimentation

Pig Catching Signature move:

  • The facilitator asks people to work in pairs. They should try to work with someone they are curious about.
  • Each person thinks about the character of racism in their own story. They will represent this form of racism as a character with body, movement and voice..
  • Flow is as follows:
    1. Person A uses movement and sound to show their racism character to person B.
    2. Person B mirrors the character back as accurately as they can.
    3. Person A looks to see if it expresses what they want it to and offers an adjustment, or simply enlarges what is already there.
    4. Person B mirrors this adjustment or enlargement.
    5. Person A again adjusts and enlarges.
    6. Person B again mirrors.

Note: Sometimes it is useful to allow participants to interrupt the mirroring for a short clarifying conversation, especially if B battles to express the essence of the racism character as A sees it. However, the showing and moving is always more important than the talking.

  • A and B swop roles working with person B’s racism character.
  • Facilitator asks participants what this is like for them and gets a few responses.

Note: Participants who do this for the first time may need to talk about its awkwardness, or how impactful/difficult/funny it is. Debriefing these feelings is important to help them engage with the next step which takes them deeper.

  • Facilitator now asks participants to show each other how they usually react to their racism character – or how they reacted that day when the story happened.
    1. Person A: ‘When my racism character goes [show character as refined through previous round] then I go [show their own response through sound and movement].
    2. Person B: ‘When your racism character goes [mirror character] then you go [mirror movement and sound].
    3. A adjusts or enlarges only their own sound and movement, not racism character too.
    4. B mirrors
    5. This happens three times as before and then they swop. Again a short conversation in between may be useful, but keep it short.
  • Now each pair will work with one story at a time as follows: Person A play themselves while B play their racism character. The racism character begins with the sound and move assigned to him. Person A reacts as rehearsed but now they let the scene play out. The pig reacts again and Person A responds until it runs its course. Run the scene again but Person A chooses a different reaction – again the scene runs it’s course. Repeat three or four times until A is satisfied that the scene has been transformed.
  • Repeat with B’s story.

Note: The partner plays the character so that the person whose story it is can try out alternative ways they could behave.

R – Reflection

Have a conversation with each other about what this experience was like and what it means for you in relation to the intent you set for the session.

What gift did you receive from your partner in the interaction?

What shift can you see occurring in relation to your real life situation?

What else we got from this session

I – Integration

Talk about possible changes in attitude or action you can make as a result of the interaction between you and your racism character.

In our session, we used images to express 1. What this session gave us. And 2. What we want to say to others about racism, We also had three people join us at the end who witnessed the final conversation and also provided their embodied responses to what they heard.

 Facilitation note: People can end up sharing very deeply with their partners and a round of appreciation is essential to allow people’s gratitude to be expressed.  On another note: ot ALL the integration necessarily happens in the space of the workshop, or session. It is worthwhile drawing participants’ attention to this.

Improvisational mindfulness in action

Session design –  Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium on Wed 14 May.

This session was designed with the action learning cycle in mind: starting with an experience followed by a theoretical framing.

Note: All sessions are designed according to the SNE STORI-model (What is STORI?)

SNE = Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM (What is SNE?)

Diagram showing How story moments are used to design a session.

 

Join us this Friday 31 May for an online experience of the same process

S – Strategic intent

The strategic intent is set at the start and ‘parked’ outside the space to define it, but not drive it.

Group intention:

We are here to discover what improvisational mindfulness is like and to understand how it relates to contemporary forms of mindfulness

Individual intent:

Each person set an individual intention for the session – what they want out of it. This intention is written down or tucked into a corner of the mind where it can be retrieved.

T – Transition

Exercise’s help transition from the mind only to include the body and heart, from individual thoughts to collective energy, from the past and future into the present.

Walking and shaking

As we walk and spread ourselves randomly in the space, shake out the imaginary grains of sand from your joints starting from the toe joints and moving gradually up the body to the jaw joint. Participants can imagine the sand making room for warm comfortable lubrication of the joints.

Nudge hello

Participants are invited to become aware of each other and make contact using small nudges. Use any part of the body to exert a small amount of pressure as you gently nudge each other, leaning into the nudge for as long or short as you please and always making sure both partners are only going as far as is comfortable for both. (Contact improv style)

Pair breathing

Find a partner, stand back to back and become aware of your breath. Breathe into your back so that your partner can pick up the rhythm of your breathing. At the same time concentrate on picking up your partner’s rhythm. Gradually find a collective rhythm so you breathe together.

Group breathing

Two pairs now come together. Again, stand so that you can become aware of one another’s’ breathing. Find a collective rhythm. You may begin to move in pulse with the rhythm with movements as big or small as you want to. Find a collective movement and rhythm.

O – Open experimentation

In this section we use longer form structures to deepen the experience. Here we use a structure from the SNE suite of techniques called ‘Moving story structure’

Moving story structure – Shortened version (complete instructions plus reflective worksheet available from petro@playingmantis.net)

Step 1:

  • One by one participants find a position that symbolises what they want (based on the intention set at the start of the session) . Add to the image one body at a time until everyone is part of the image. Breathe three times as a collective to set the position. AS you breathe imagine that your body is filled with soft cement as you breathe in and imagine how it sets as you breathe out. When you are finished, step out of the ‘statue’ you have created and turn back to look at it in your imagination.

Notes:

  1. Urge participants to stay in each moment breathing deeply three times. Make sure they allow themselves to fully experience the position. When they leave the position, they must look back on it in their imagination. This helps with objectification and distancing. It means they gain insight into their inside.
  2. About the breathing: I like to facilitate each of the three breaths slightly differently:

Breath 1: Just breathe and imagine your body is filling with cement and it sets on the out breath.

Breathe 2: Imagine that the cement flows to the extremities of the body – toes, finger tips, crown…

Breathe 3: imagine that it flows to the centre of your heart, your bones your soul.

Step 2:

  • Find a position that symbolises the obstacles you face when you try to achieve your objective. Again, do it one body at a time. Breathe three times to set the position. Again imagine it as cement setting and once again step out of the ‘statue’ and look back on it.
  • Move through A and B a few times with complete awareness.

Note: Encourage participants to move with awareness and care. Let them move between the first two positions a few times aware of the other bodies and their influence on your story.

Step 3:

  • Find a third position – one that embodies how you usually react when you come face to face with your obstacles. When in position C, breathe three times as before.
  • While in this position notice what kinds of things you usually say to yourself here.
  • Think about what this reaction costs you and how it might benefit you.
  • Step out of the ‘statue’ and look back on it.

Note: Once they have decided on position C (Step 3), let them stay in the position and listen to what they may be saying to themselves about being here. 

Step 4:

  • Take up position B. Feel the discomfort and notice where your body feels stretched or uncomfortable. Move from B through C to A. Repeat the sequence B – C – A. Repeat with awareness and experiment.
  • Note: This is the “Yes and…” moment: accepting our default responses as part of our story. You will now change the order of the positions. It no longer goes A – B – C, or even C – B – A. The “Yes and…” sequence is B – C – A. Let each participant find the impetus and the solution for the next step within the flow between B and C. Let them move and experiment a few times e.g. play with speed and weight, move like a clown, a child a length of silk – get suggestions from the participants.

Step 5:

  • Finally, take up position B one last time. This time move through B, C and A, but do not stop at A, Move through A, allowing the body find the next logical place for it to settle into a final position D. What would you find beyond the fulfillment of your original intention? Find the answer in your body, not your mind.

R – Reflect

Allow people to make sense of the experience verbally in writing or conversation. Also help them distil moments of significance.

Reflect in pairs/groups (depending on time)

Share your experience with a friend. What did you learn about how you might get what you want? What did your body teach you about the journey to the fulfillment of your intention?

Slides

Using the slides in the presentation make sense of the experience by comparing improvisational mindfulness to contemporary mindfulness.

Slides: Improvisational Mindfulness.ppt

I – Integration

Participants imagine how they might use what they have discovered in their outside lives.

Picture cards

Give each participant a picture card from the Playing Mantis Picture card set. Participants are asked to explain to each other in pairs and then to the group how this card describes exactly the action steps they need to take to experiment with improvisational mindfulness in their own practice.

Close.

Join us this Friday 31 May for an online experience of the same process

Free online course

To learn more about Strategic Narrative Embodiment TM, why not send me an email and I will sign you up for the free online component of the training course: Strategic Narrative Embodiment – Transformative facilitation for organisations. It is a university accredited short course.

Read all the details here.