Pig catching on 1 March: How to connect across gender, race and generation gaps

Flying pig

You are invited to catch flying pigs with us

In-person pig catching in Johannesburg

Topic: How to connect across gender, race and generation gaps
Date: Friday 1 March
Time:  7:30 am – 10:00 am
Place:  Floor 21, University Corner, above Wits Art Museum, Corner of Jan Smuts and Jorissen, Braamfontein (parking can be booked 8 days in advance)
Facilitators: Tshego Khutsoane, Petro Janse van Vuuren, Les Nkosi, Palesa Xulu
Cost: R280
Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
RSVP: by Wed 27 Feb to petro.jansevanvuuren@wits.ac.za (unless you want parking, then let me know as soon as possible)

Live online pig catching in a Zoom room

Topic: How to connect across gender, race and generation gaps
Date: Friday 1 March
Time:  2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Place:  In Zoom room with ID: 2828282259
Facilitators: Petro Janse van Vuuren
Dress: Comfortable clothes you can stretch and move in
RSVP: by Wed 27 Feb to petro.jansevanvuuren@wits.ac.za

More about the topic

I am tired of people not hearing each other, not sitting down to listen and connect on the level that can bring healing to rifts and wounds. So, Les, Tshego, and I sat down and decided to experiment with stories that might cross these rifts. We are still experimenting, and we are having fun doing it. Come join us and let’s find our way to each other through our stories.

What does it mean to catch flying pigs? Look at this : https://prezi.com/jxgstjc_ckmx/about-pig-catching/

‘Trash, Boer and Brat’ and ‘Through the Eye of a Doughnut’

Two Story shows at the Stellenbosch Woordfees 6-7 March.

Trash, Boer and Brat

The work invites you into stories we tell about how we were moved by fellow South Africans. It plays with dominant and habitual narratives, disrupts boundaries, challenges stereotypes and hopes to move you. It may upset your sense of political correctness and we apologise if it doesn’t.

Where: Pulp Cinema, Neelsie, Stellenbosch
When: Wed 6 March, 13h00-12h00 and Thu 7 March at 11h00-12h00
Tickets: R60
Tickets at computicket, the door, and the Woordfees office: +27 (0) 87 238 2078 or adminfees@sun.ac.za

Director-facilitator:           Tshego Khutsoane
Performer-facilitators:      Petro Janse van Vuuren, Les Nkosi and Palesa Xulu

Through the eye of a doughnut

Stories shatter stereotypes, open us up and move us towards one another. Let me tell you about the year I was the only white student  in Goldfields residence, or the first time I took a local taxi in Johannesburg, or the day I was unmasked as a bigot by a worker from Idas Valley…oh…and about the doughnut.

Where: Pulp Cinema, Neelsie, Stellenbosch
When: Wed 6 March, 15h00-16h00 and Thu 7 March at 13h00-14h00
Tickets: R60
Tickets at computicket, the door, and the Woordfees office: +27 (0) 87 238 2078 or adminfees@sun.ac.za    :

Director:         Tshego Khutsoane
Story teller:    Petro Janse van Vuuren

Whose bed can you hide under?

I was travelling home from a dinner with some friends. Zola*, my taxi driver, strikes up a conversation. Like many drivers he goes for politics. He chooses the classic opening line: “Eish, the country is going down the drain…”
“Really?” I say. This driver looks unusually concerned.
“Yes, there is racism everywhere. And they say the foreigners are taking our jobs.”
“That is not how it works,” I counter. “It is not like there are only so many jobs and only a few people can have them. In a healthy country there are enough jobs for everyone. If the country grows, the amount of jobs will grow and there will be enough for us all.”
He thinks for a while and says: “I did not think I would meet someone like you tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you not afraid to be here with the black government and the politics?”
His question reminds me of another taxi driver on another day – one who looked and talked more like me. His name was Arno. Like other drivers, he also talked politics and it was me who asked him the question: “What do you say about some politicians wanting to drive us into the ocean?”
He answered with a defiant smile: “Hulle moet maar probeer [Let them try].”
This is not my response to Zola. Instead I answer truthfully: “Yes, I am, sometimes, but…” We have stopped in front of my house by now and I wish to end the conversation on a lighter note, “… don’t worry. My friend Bheki* said I can hide under his bed when they come for me.”
Zola does not yet unlock the car doors and I see the conversation is not over. I wait patiently to hear what is on his mind.
As he unlocks the door he says: “You can come hide under my bed too.”

*All names changed

Thus and other stories at the Stellenbosch Woordfees

Seriously, though,

·         how are the tensions among races, genders and generations in your organisation?

·         will your people hide each other under their beds in a pinch?

·         want support to work through difficult conversations?

·         need help understanding one another?

We are here to support you.

1.    Book us to perform our interactive theatre piece “Trash, Boer and Brat” at your event.

2.    Book a workshop and let us help you work through sticky matters so you can get on with your job.

3.    Come train in the tools and techniques to do it yourself.




What is applied performance?

What is applied performance?

Applied performance is a cross disciplinary field that uses performance process and practice, be it acting, music, dance or other forms of art, backed up by socio-political theory to address social and political issues. The purpose is to make a change and bring about sustainable transformation.

At Playing Mantis we have developed applied performance processes specifically suited to organisational change and development. Its rootedness in the arts ensures a holistic learning process that is experiential and that can bring about systemic change.

Delegates telling stories

Its use of narrative strategy and story telling also allows organisations to reframe their own narratives and reimagine their strategic objectives and ultimately their future. Applied performance is particularly valuable for culture change processes and is essential for organisations that are serious about transformation towards gender and racial equality.

Our applied performance model is called strategic narrative embodiment. The art forms that it most depends on is theatre, story-telling and improvisation sometimes inviting elements of visual art, dance and music. It functions on the levels of design and technique to help change makers create processes that really works. Read more.

How to use stories to make learning stick

Over and over you may have heard or experienced how a story can really make an idea stay with you. You have heard someone relate something that had happened to them and you retell it struck by what the story says about your world and its people.

What about stories that you remember from childhood or from literature? They create metaphors and symbols that we use in everyday life to refer to some kind of truth that we learned through them. The proverbial goose who lays the golden egg, or the black sheep in the family. What about Afrikaans people saying “ek is nie die vark in hierdie verhaal nie” (I am not the pig in this story).

Stories make learning stick because they involve the left and the right brain, they excite the emotions and they connect concepts with one another in surprising but memorable ways. They make what is abstract suddenly concrete and doing so creates aha-moments that stay with you over time. Stories even give you practical solutions and show you things you can do to make your life different.

There is another untapped but extremely powerful way in which stories can make learning stick – not through their content, but through their structure.

If you have read the Bible, or studied Greek mythology, or heard fairy tales from your grandmother, studied some Shakespeare at school, or just seen a few Hollywood films, you would recognize this structure right away. It is the dramatic structure underlying almost all stories and serves the purpose of taking the main character in the story on a journey of self discovery and personal growth.

Stories take the hero on a journey of learning – a kind of learning that not only sticks with him/her the hero, but impacts their entire community and often the land itself: they lived happily ever after,  their people prospered, and their land was fruitful.

A story is designed to teach the hero lessons that will stick – can the same structure do the same for you and your team, client or audience?

There are three levels on which this story structure works: the fictional, the personal, and the communal.

1. The fictional level

When you read or listen to a story you can distinguish the elements of the structure quite easily. Knowing the elements can then help you understand the story and use it to make your own stories.

2. Your own life journey.

Whenever you experience change, uncertainty, or heightened emotion, Once you understand stories, you can apply their meaning to your own life. your story is moving through one of the stages of story structure.

3. The growth of a group, company or community

Entire communities may go through change and again the same pattern is recognizable. You can therefore use story structure to understand and shape the growth of a group, company or community.

If you understand how the story structure of the hero’s journey works, you can use it in the lives of other people to play an important role in their growth. You can

  • shape information to fit into a story so that people are inspired to change;
  • use it to design presentations and proposals
  • design and organize workshops  and events that will help people open up to new ideas and change.

The three levels of the story’s function is very hard to separate from one another. The hero’s personal journey is woven into the journey of her own community.  In your own life too, the stories you read influence and mirror your life and your life influences and mirrors the lives of those around you. If you understand how this works, you may be able to use stories to manage your own growth and play a great role in shaping the stories of those of others.

Playing Mantis offers a one day workshop on Story Strategies for Facilitators where we explore how to use the structure of story as tool for designing learning experiences that will make the learning stick.

Personal Success Story Workshop – What’s your definition of success?

I just completed a blog post on why acting is more effective than thinking when it comes to achieving success. I realised that the very same information is as relevant to the Personal Success Workshop of the past week end as to the story class about which I was writing. So I am posting it again from the perspective of the definition of success. Or perhaps you rather just want to go straight to the notes for the Personal Success Story workshop.

When I asked participants in the Personal Success Story to form a continuum showing to what degree they are ready for transformation, most of them placed themselves close to the side that indicates they are sick of being where they are and in dire need of change.

Transformation becomes our definition of success as we embark on the success story together. Success very rarely have anything to do with external changes, but always refer to an internal shift or transformation that then has a direct effect on the outer world of the hero. The lonely Shrek in the first movie makes friends and finds true love not because someone outside of him started to care for him, but because he started to care for them. He chose to go after Fiona while still believing that she thinks he is an unlovable ogre.

There comes a point in everyone’s story, fictional or real, where a shift in perspective is crucial for successful transformation. In real life people look for this shift by reading books, attending seminars, talking to their friends and mentors, going to church and googling for info on the net. Yet all the info and talk and thinking in the world do not bring them to the point of making that internal behavioural shift – that moment that causes them never to be the same again – the moment that embodies their definition of success.

Then that same person goes on holiday, or has to deal with the death of a loved one, or a wedding, or they play a game of soccer with friends or they go for a hike in nature, or they create a piece of art, or join a dance class or just have a great meal with friends and suddenly old things have a new colour.

All these are examples of experiences that bring change: experiential learning. If transformation is your definition of success, these are the kinds of experiences you seek. Typically they have the following 4 aspects in common:

  1. A change of scenery/setting
  2. Involvement of the body i.e. movement
  3. Emotional connection i.e. a heart response and
  4. The presence of others – including the presence of nature or the creative muse

I went to my kinesiologist 2 months ago with a most debilitating pain in my back. She says to me: you think and struggle too much in your head and do not move enough in your body. She prescribed a half hour of walking twice a week so that my mental struggles can come into perspective and move from my head into my body.

Although these shifts can happen to anyone at any time, there is a particular moment in a story designed for it. A place in the story where it is most likely to occur because of all the story stages that preceded it. This moment is typically two thirds into the story just before act three. Some writers refer to it as the pause before the climax that calm before the storm. It is the moment when the hero seems to have lost and the journey seems to be a failure, then something happens that allows him/her to see the bigger picture and the greater good.

This is the moment where Shrek in the first movie realises it is no longer about getting his swamp back, but it is now about getting his love back. It is where Brave Heart realises it is no longer just about his family, but about is entire tribe.

I saw shifts occur in all the Personal Success Story workshop except for the one who was on the furthest end of the continuum regarding his need for change. This participant also happens to be Burgert, who is my business partner, and whose definition of success for this workshop would not have been personal success, but the successful completion of the workshop in creating transformation for our participants.

Congratulations to all of you who were brave enough to come to this very experiential workshop and allowed the processes to impact your lives. I trust that the experience will reveal its layers of truth for you ongoing over the next few months so that you can achieve the change that matches your definition of success.

Click her for the Personal Success Story Notes

Petro Janse van Vuuren


Story class 1.5 Why we miss you when you are not there

We ended our previous story class with 5 of the 6 characters (one was away) ready to embark on the search for Duke Tamuz. One, Fair Lilly, would stay behind as contact to this side of the gate, Bluh would stay as guardian of the gate and three would desend to the Underworld in search of the Duke.

I arrived at the class this week, knowing that lollie the dancer would not be present and I have made room for her absence in the planning. Just then 2 more participants excused themselves. So we started our journey to the Underworld with only 3 people, one of whom was not present last week.

How does a facilitator respond to absenteeism? This question is crucial because life happens and you need to be adaptable. This does not mean there is no cost  to all involved. I thought it may be useful for myself as well as for the participants and everyone else in similar circumstances to see why we miss absent people so much.  What is the cost of absenteeism for all sides and what the responsibility of each agent is to minimize this cost.

Let me clarify the context in which these costs are applicable: Learning situations that

  1. are collaborative and rely on team work
  2. seek to ignite creative thinking and problem solving
  3. are designed over a period of time to build one on top the other towards a  particular desired outcome (not stand alone lessons)
  4. employs experiential interactive methods where the learning is not found in notes and reading material.

For a soft ware company such a process could be a 2 day sprint for designing a particular piece of software. For a theatre company it could be rehearsing a play, for a business it could be strategic planning for the coming year.

People who excuse themselves from the process typically think they are the only ones paying a price and they weigh that cost and decide that they are willing to pay it. They are yusually unaware of other costs they are paying and the costs for the other agents:

Silenced voices

Absent participants silence their own voices which means they lose the chance to make choices that wilol impact them and may therefore lead to frustration when having to deal with others’ choices on your behalf. This means you also lose a sense of freedom and control.

Present participants lose the chance to learn how to integrate a large variety of different ideas (because some voices are silent). This means that one of the main objectives of the process i.e. learning to listen to diverse ideas and collaborating  is lost.

Yet, no one feels the high price of silenced voices as much as the facilitator to whom the inclusion of voices and the importance of the collaborative effort carries the  most value. The facilitator has probably spent years in training learning how to be a true facilitator that does not provide answers and does not influence the out come of the project with their own agenda. Facilitators typically have to unlearn the urge to be the saviour of the group and provide the answers and learn the ultimate value of only creating the space for participants to find their own voices and hear their own answers. Absenteeism therefore asks the facilitator a very hing price.


Absent participants lose a certain amount of trust from the present participants. Often this loss is very big and frustration can be very high. Other times, as in our case, participants are very forgiving and flow with what happens and still a small amount of trust is always sacrificed.

The facilitator therefore need to make provision for this loss of trust and find ways to mend the schism on top of having to rework the plan and make other adjustments.

Lost time

When next a participant who was absent rejoins a group, it will take 15 to 20 minutes to reintegrate the participant into the group. This usually is not a problem, because everyone takes that amount of time to get back into it and they enjoy the chance to share where they are with the member who was absent.

However, when half your group was not there, it will take 15-20 minutes for every absent member. In our case that amounts to 45-50 min i.e. more than half the class time. The reason for it taking so long is that for every extra participant the amount of relationships that need to be re-established after absence increases exponentially.

For the facilitator this creates more frustration than for the participants because she carries the responsibility of keeping the big picture and overall learning process in mind. Somehow, somewhere this lost time will have to be found.

Prescription instead of diversity

All the lost input impoverishes the final product making it less enriching, less inclusive and far less aesthetic. Overall, when voices are kept silent and group decisions are left to a few, the process becomes scripted by the present participants. And script leads to prescription and this in turn leads to a loss of diversity, colour and depth. The whole process looses levels of meaning and of beauty.

In our case this is especially true because one of the participants is working with an existing story in mind. This is not a problem so long as there are enough voices that force her to stretch the boundaries of her story. But with 3 people absent and only one friend who was also present the previous class, the story suddenly became the dominant voice and this raises red flags for me as the facilitator.

On one hand the facilitator is grateful for a participant with a strong idea of where they want the process to go. At the same time it creates a dominant culture that is hard to penetrate once the absent voices as back again.

Loss of transformational power

All the lost time accumulates toward the end of the programme and shortens the time for applying and integrating  the outcome into the real life situation it was designed for. This is probably the most important reason why you are missed when you are absent. Yet, only the facilitator is fully aware of this cost.

How many times have you attended a course or a workshop that left you with the question: So what? How do I use this in my everyday life?

Most processes are well designed around the climactic moment of insight and learning. Many processes fall short on the responsibility to help participants apply that insight and build it into a customised plan for their real life contexts. But if a process have that planned into it, absenteeism can greatly impact on the time set out for it towards the end.

In our case, we would feel the impact most on the second to last day when we are supposed to reflect on the journey and shape it into a tellable story. If there are too many loose ends this will create anxiety, frustration and possibly loss of closure and satisfaction. This means that the transformational power of the process is watered down because it is left unfinished.

IT also means that the transition back into one’s real life context is not cushioned with no buffer. This leaves the participant vulnerable to the very problems they came to the workshop to solve. I recently added 3 hours to my Personal Success Story workshop because the cushioning or return phase of the process was just not enough. Too many people left feeling vulnerable and without clarity as to the path ahead.

My solution for the story class:

Can everyone who was absent please come an hour earlier (6:30) tomorrow so that we can all be closer to the same page when the rest arrive?

This way the only cost is to the absent participants in terms of time and inconvenience and myself as facilitator. But this cost is minimal since I score in contact time and in regaining the momentum of the story.

Keep Them Safe – Introduction

KTS Banner displayed in every community
KTS Banner displayed in every community

Since September last year (2009) a handful of people including myself, started to dream about a mammoth project that will stretch across the entire Stellenbosch district during the Soccer World Cup. While many saw either dollar signs or red flags, we saw a great opportunity for transforming our communities by focussing on kids and young people.

What if we could use world cup fever (or fevah) as a Call to Adventure and community transformation?

The Keep Them Safe project was born.

Today I am thrilled to report that there are holiday programmes running in 13 communities across Stellenbosch targeting kids and young people. The programme is called ‘The Perfect Pitch’ , it will run for 4 weeks and is entirely managed by teams of people from the communities themselves. Today I begin telling our story.

The purpose of the story

From the start I was privileged to contribute my knowledge of story and mythic journeys to help design the entire project as a journey of growth and transformation for all involved.

The story structure of a mythic journey has as its main purpose the transformation of the hero, also called protagonist. The entire story is designed to fulfill this function and every character in the story play his or her role in such a way that the hero can grow. The only difference between the hero and anyone else in the story is transformation and everything and everyone else is there purely to contribute to this.

It follows therefore, that it may be possible to use the structure of story to design a journey of transformation for other people. If you understand how to design a story so that the hero transforms, you can use this knowledge to design events and programmes that would let the participants transform and grow. This is what we did for Keep Them Safe.
Using the 5 basic stages of the mythic journey as well as its sub components, we designed such a journey of growth. As you read about my process, keep in mind that the same principles will be true for any other programme or event you want to design.

The title of the story

Before getting to the first stages, we must first determine the title of the story. The title refers to the protagonist and the challenge of the journey. To keep titles short, one or the other usually valls away eventually, but to get to the final title, both elements need to be clarified. A good example is Sleeping Beauty i.e. the girl who needed to wake” or Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Many stories only have the name of the protagonist e.g. Hanzel and Grettel , others only have the challenge e.g. Titanic. Of course stories have other titles too, but the most common titles are the ones referring to the protagonist and his challenge.

Early on we discovered that The Keep Them Safe project has two titles referring to two different protagonists and two different challenges. Since then I realised that this is true of most projects and it is essential to take the two (and sometimes three) stories apart.

For us the stories were:

Keep them Safe: The story of community leaders working together to keep their young people safe.

The Perfect Pitch: The story of young people creating a perfect pitch for their own lives and their communities.

Today is the first day that these two stories are in exactly the same stage i.e. The Journey itself. So with both stories now running on their own and gaining momentum, let me tell you how we got here, and why the two stories did not overlap until today…