April 08, 2009

Bamboozle Training at Birmingham Rep Part Deux

Back for the second day, the first thing we did was relay to a member of a group who couldn't be there yesterday what we have covered. Two offers that stayed with me were two members of the group describing how inspired, excited and hyper they felt after yesterday's sessions. I think this reflects the power of drama workshops themselves to evoke a feeling of inspiration and empowerment, through providing a fear free space in which participants can explore stimulus and extract meaning relevant to their own ways of knowing/understanding life.

Yesterday we spent some time exploring the idea of language in drama workshops, we continued on this theme today, specifically how language can be used to help create that fear-free space (which for me is synonymous with the concept of the ensemble) which Bomboozle theatre feel is so key.

Chris gave us a list of top ten language tips. Some of these covered the same area in terms of process and effect, so I will group them together in a way that makes sense for me:

1. We/us not you/I

This guideline is something we found tripping us in practical exercises, and it can become inhibative if you get obsessive with it. But although "Today I want you to tell me everything you know about asylum seekers" and "Today were are going to share everything we know about asylum seekers" is a small change, it makes a HUGE difference. Chris pointed out it also gives you a way to guide the group and input without making a value judgement about their input (or lack thereof) because everyone is working in collaboration on a task. For example, teacher's input doesn't reject or 'overrule' young people's input if the group is a 'we'.

2. Pace pace pace and lead

This has connections with the idea of matching - you begin by going to where the young person is at, settling the group into a shared reality "We're here, in the school hall, on a Tuesday afternoon, some of us are a bit fidigity after lunch, but as we settle into our chairs we begin to remember the story we were looking at this morning..." Chris described it as finding a way to be 'with' a group, and then leading them forward to a new exercise/idea. This method is also very representative of Chris's ethic of taking time within the drama until everyone is a space to move forward.

3. Language of Beliefs

I'm grouping together several different techniques here. Again, Chris suggests beginning with where the young person is at: "I know you don't want to... (sit with the group right now, for e.g.) but what would it be like if you did?" or, more firmly: "but what will it be like when you do?" This phrase removes any element of conflict, and so without pressure invites the young person to consider a different experience to the one they are currently having, to explore the possibility of changing their beliefs about their behaviour.

Chris doesn't claim this as infallible, but does report a high success rate of using the language of beliefs in this way, he suggests several other variations, that make connections between belief and imagination. For example:

"If there was a miracle tonight and... what would it feel/look/sound like?" (this focuses on the benefits of changing a particular belief)

"What would have to happen for you to..." (in this example, imagination is used not only to identify where you want to be, but ways of getting there)

4. Persuasive Language

Initially I struggled with this, as it did have a feeling of using 'salespeak' in an educational context. Which for me has all sort of uncomfortable connotations of invisible curriculums. However, in the light of my earlier questions (see Molly Whuppieentry) about ways of maintaining discipline and focus in a classroom I recognise the value of these techniques in encouraging behaviours that maintains a fear-free space for all members of the group. These techniques include appealing to a young person's sense of justice in three steps:

"If... then... does that seem fair?"

The qualification of "does that seem fair?" is an important one, Chris pointed out. If the young person doesn't recognise this as fair, you have to take the time (there it is again) to negotiate what they recognise as a fair response to their behaviours.

Chris also values the use of even small verbal changes, recognising the use of language can effect how our unconscious minds interpret a statement. For example '... isn't it?" makes it more likely the young person will agree with a statement (not that you want them to agree with everything, but useful if you want to take them somewhere in the drama that needs a certain level of shared reality first). While using "Please walk" rather than "Don't run" is more likely to succeed, because the former doesn't involve the introduction of the reality you don't want to exist, i.e. - the young person running. 

I shall leave it there, because using language to examin how you use language is something that ties my brain into knots after a while. There was lots of other content at these training workshops I haven't included, but I hope what I have touched on gives a flavour of how the past two days have both inspired and challenged my practice.

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