(This article is taken from notes made by Niel Arup Mozumder (UK) during a two day workshop with future yoga teachers in Sweden at an Ananda Marga Training Center. The aim of the workshop was to give these trainees a form to use in any teaching situation they might find themselves in with children or adults.)
While doing workshops on using theatre in a variety of different educational settings during the past thirty years, I have observed a marked decline in physical awareness and playfulness among students in western countries and an equal absence of these activities in Oriental and African countries. At the same time participants exhibit a burst of joy when engaged in these activities. I am always amazed that such simple, and apparently rather bizarre, exercises can open a floodgate of laughter and enthusiasm. I ask myself if these people have forgotten how to play or if they have rarely engaged that creative aspect of their personality since early childhood. I question that perhaps the modern global lifestyle and values somehow limit basic human expression of laughter and joy. Could it be that the intensity of materialism has suppressed that spontaneous display of creativity?
Having been “playing around” at this for about a third of a century I have decided to try to write down the system that has evolved. To an outside observer it may appear to be improvised but in fact it is very systematic. Those of us working in the performing arts know that to make an improvised show takes much long preparation and rehearsal than a set piece. From this one can expect to read that preparation is important to the success of any session or project using theatre in an educational setting.
The subject of Theatre in Education is based on some of the fundamental aspects of human nature as it is understood in ancient philosophies.
Expansion – There is an innate desire in all humans to expand our capabilities or our understanding physically, mentally and spiritually.
Service – There is an innate desire in all of us to serve others.
The flow – going with the flow of the cosmos.
The play – This manifest universe is all part of the cosmic play and we are acting out our role in it while our actual goal is something beyond. These aspects along with neohumanist values will be referred to in the description of the exercises done during this workshop.
Getting back to preparation – first of all, and this may seem obvious even though it is often neglected; clearly articulated objectives are the starting point. And for many reasons it is best to write these objectives down. Educational objectives can be divided into five categories:
Inquiry and problem solving skills
For those needing a justification for using theatre in an educational setting, all of these objectives can be reached by using theatre.
In planning for this workshop, each session was divided into four stages:
Disturbing Perceptions: putting participants into a safe situation that disturbs normal ways of relating to others and the phsical surroundings
Physical Spontaneity: including creativity, improvisation and playfulness
Physical Focus: concentration on precise use of the body, moving the body according to a clearly defined image.
Fusion: bringing the first three aspects together in one exercise.
Like any art form, we are dealing with creativity. This section covers exercises to disturb the common habituated ways we have of perceiving our surroundings and our relationships to people and the environment. It is based on the premise that in order to be creative we need to look at things in a different way than we normally do, to think outside of the box. Unconscious habits can keep us trapped in very rational and often rigid logical patterns of behavior. These exercises are used to put us in a different state of being that allows us to see things differently, to break those protective habits that prevent us from doing things in new ways. One can ask any child if it is not fun to learn new ways of doing things, of discovering new possibilities, of finding new ways to express things. Exercises used to disturb perception would include those altering habitual use of the senses of sight, touch, or balance. It may also include exercises that enhance or alter our awareness of ourselves and our environment such as those developed by Moshe Feldenkrais.
These exercises allow one to respond spontaneously, without forethought, all of a sudden. It includes simple games which allow the participants to play. The sense of play is essential to release creativity. These first two aspects of the session will break down social barriers among the groups putting everyone in the same basic condition.
In this stage we try to move with the images related to the theme of the workshop starting with general fundamental movements and then getting more specifically defined.
Finally, all the above activities can be brought together to create a finish to the workshop or session.
Theater in Education Workshop in Sweden
Some basic planning steps were mentioned.
Identify who is in the group (for example, office workers or teachers?)
Determine their needs (relaxation; light heartedness; empathy + service; bringing the mind away from work; refocusing the mind)
Decide how to fulfill those needs (putting in service situations; visualization; slow breathing; meditation)
Plan the workshop (include the above mentioned stages)
The series of exercises conducted at this workshop were as follows:
Have all participants standing in pairs leaning on each other back to back. Normally we meet a stranger face to face and may touch only with the hands. Our normal perceptions are disturbed but since we are not facing the stranger we have to concentrate on keeping them from falling. When relaxed then they turn side to side leaning on the other.
Then walking together noticing that the two go where they go (with the flow) and the individual cannot decide where to go without destabilizing their partner. There is no leader. Concentration is on giving weight to your partner thereby holding the partner up.
A basic counter balance exercise of holding each other’s forearms while standing face to face with the toes just touching then leaning back balancing in a relaxed state. One can then bend the legs to a sitting position and stand up again without pulling one up. Both can sit at the same time still with relaxed arms. Once again concentrating on taking care of the partner not one’s self, serving the partner (service). Fundamental to theatre is serving the situation and not focusing only on one’s self.
The most fundamental movement in the universe is the undulation or wave movement. The wave movement starting with the knees forward, then on up through the hips forward, the chest and head and repeat many times. Then reversing the movement starting from the head back followed by the chest, hips and knees and repeating in a continuous undulation.
Then while walking think about the question that was posed: what normal human actions do we do with the body in similar wave motion? Some of the answers- heading a football, chopping wood, using a snow plough, electric shock, fishing, standing and holding within a jerky bus.
All were asked to make the movement of waves of the sea surging in and out from the beach. All sensed the sound of the sea and the atmosphere of the sea shore.
Using various centers of the body they were asked to move as water (hips), air (chest), fire (navel), and earth (rooted to the floor)
5. Two people hold hands and face each other. One person moves his left leg over his interlinked left arm and the other person his right leg over his right arm. Then they turn back to back still holding arms and pulls out legs. Alter by doing it the other way round. Then have a competition to see which pair can do it fastest! Try different ways you can to interlink body and movement: arm in leg out. (Aspects one and two, disturbing perceptions and physical spontaneity)
6. Making a chair
First in pairs, one person becomes a chair on hands and feet. And the other person sits then stands on their hips.
Then 3-4 people make a very particular chair with one person sitting. Imagine you are collectively one kind of (special) chair. Those making the chair then have a conversation about the life of that particular chair. How does it feel to be that chair? How does the chair feel about the person sitting in it?
7. Movements of materials – Since everything moves, the study then went to looking at the different movement of materials.
A plastic bag was scrunched up and released. Everyone then imitated that movement. Finding how they could move to the image of the plastic.
Then a rubber band was used stretched to the limit of tension and released. And then trying to humanize the movement. What human actions are similar to these movements?
Then the movements of foods cooking, hot oil, over-cooked spaghetti. What human impression or human sensation does that movement give?
Clothing was then scrunched up and released to see different movement of textiles. As each person was a different textile, how would they talk to each other?
8. Putting all this together (Fusion) in groups of 4 or 5 people they were asked to make a park bench and as the parts of the park bench were talking about their experience being that bench in that park they were to relate that experience of the bench to the principles of yama and niyama. They were to present their study to the other groups.
After the first day’s session the participants observed that by playing physically with others a stronger sense of camaraderie was felt in the group. There was a breaking down of barriers, such as shyness and doubt. And neohumanist values were physicalized.
1. Between 4 and 6 participants line up, one behind the other, and the first one in line makes any warm up movements s/he likes while walking, running or jumping and those behind imitate that movement.
After some time s/he stops, turns, and everyone turns around and faces the opposite direction.
The person who was at the back is now leading and while walking sings one kiirtan tune and everyone sings along.
The person at the back, when s/he feels it’s time, comes to the front and faces the leading singer. Everyone turns around again and a new person leads the warm up exercises and so on.
2. A difficult to describe exercise of two people sitting on each other’s lap at the same time. Two people stand facing and place one leg between the legs of the other. When both sit down at the same time they will be sitting on the other’ leg. At the next level, they try to lift foot of the free leg so each has one foot on the ground while sitting on the other’s bent leg.
3. A simple and effective way to find character: Everyone walking around the room with one part of the body leading, first the head, then the hips, then the chest, then the knees and observing how that makes one feel. Just changing the physical position gives one a different psychology. It also changes the voice and the manner of talking.
4. Disturbing perception by looking through a keyhole, a small hole made by almost closing the hand then closing one eye and looking through the hole with the other. One notices different things and looks at different things.
5. Physical spontaneity through a common game of competition. Two people face each other about one arms distance apart. Putting the hands at chest level with palms facing the other person’s, one tries to push the other of balance. First one to move a foot loses.
6. Fusion – Bringing all together by creating a theatre piece. This is system of creating a clear theatre presentation and can be used for many age groups. Each group of 5-6 people chooses a theme. Using the bodies in fixed positions they make one picture defining that topic with each person portraying something. They show that picture to the other groups for comments. Then they make 4 or 5 pictures that lead to that scene, that come before that scene. They show those for comments. Then they add 3 or 4 pictures that connect each of those previous pictures so they have a sequence of about 22 pictures. The action is now very close and the movement between pictures becomes direct and simple. The text needed for each picture also comes easily. Because it is physically clear, the presentation does not get messy and does not demand acting skills even though everyone is acting. The text also becomes precise and effective. This is a very effective system for making a presentation with non-actors.
Throughout the workshop one could observe the emphasis on neohumanist values.