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Theatre for Community, Conflict and Dialog

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 9 months ago
I have been gingerly putting my toe in the water of theatre games, as a dynamic way to support conversation between students from different neighborhoods and schools, who don’t normally have the chance to interact. In the summer of ’06, I participated in a workshop called “Theatre for Community, Conflict, and Dialogue,” which I loved, and this summer I wanted to learn more about methods for enabling person-to-person sharing that bring out dimensions of each individual that aren’t usually invited in to the educational context. The more I learned of these methods, the more I was moved by the playfulness, curiosity, and creativity that spark out from each individual when people step into artfully designed interchanges with one another.
I was shy about learning theatre games, as I have no theatrical background and my fellow players are mostly professional performers. Maybe I would have chickened out on my intention to do another summer workshop, but when I made my first tentative call, the person at the other end of the phone said, “You’re a Parker teacher? Well then, you have to do this workshop – Parker should be continuing Paul’s work.” “Who’s Paul?” I asked. It turned out that the workshop was at Paul and Carol Sills’ Wisconsin farm, and that Paul was the founder of Second City – and a Parker alum. I was mildly interested. Then Carol explained that the workshop was focused entirely on the games developed by Viola Spolin, Paul’s mother, who had evolved the field of theatrical improvisation from games collected by her teacher, Neva Boyd. Now I started getting really interested.
Neva was a colleague of Jane Addams at the Hull House, and her focus was on collecting the folk games and songs of the many immigrant groups who came through the settlement house.   Her collection of these games honored and celebrated the diverse ethnic heritage of these immigrants -- but Neva’s work was not archival in purpose. It was vibrantly social, in the most progressive sense of the word – the immigrants would teach one another their traditional games, and through this play, organically develop real appreciation for and non-political solidarity with one another. 
Theatre games were a vital part of Hull House’s work in creating space for people to come together across race and class lines, to have fun and to join forces to effect social change. The neighborhood work at Hull House was a close cousin to the work happening across town at the Laboratory School and at Francis Parker School, where schooling was infused with real-world relevance and activity. It was a revelation to me to learn that theatre games might help us tap into Parker’s progressive heritage. It seemed to me that integrating them into our Community Action program would enable us to do our part in continuing Hull House’s work of bringing people together from diverse neighborhoods and backgrounds to enjoy and learn from one another.


  My week at the Sills’ farm was utterly invigorating. Carol set up the players at beautiful Russian dachas and Swedish cottages in the local countryside, where we all cooked and ate together after our days of play. The workshop was held in a breezy barn with a big blue circle on the floor and rickety benches that we broke from time to time in our running games. Our teacher Sparky Johnson taught Viola’s and Neva’s work lovingly. He would often quote Viola, “When you’re nervous, feel your feet!” “Take a ride on your own body!” “Out of the head, into the space!” We spent all day every day practicing these things in myriad configurations, dancing, feeling-not-thinking, playing with sounds, words, and stories. The play freed up space inside me and made everything come alive with possibility. It quickened my curiosity and enabled me to appreciate the uniqueness of my fellow-players.  I can’t wait to see how these games play out in the emerging cross-neighborhood relationships of Chicago students.
--Shanti E


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