How important is play? Can more creative play help reduce bullying in our schools, and stress in our work place?
Over the past 17 years I have been studying the art of improvisation with ComedySportz, or the art of play, and one of the most powerful lessons learned is that play connects people.
Some years ago, a friend of mine and high school teacher hired me to work with one of her classes. The students were a bit unruly and had become non-responsive to the teacher. My friend warned me that the class would probably be very disrespectful and to be ready for rude behavior.
I was. when the students started to arrive, on impulse I stood in the doorway as the students entered, and introduced myself to them one by one by shaking hands and making eye contact. That action surprised them, they responded with respect and familiarity. Then I introduced the principles of improvisation and began engaging the students in improv/theatre activities.
While we played, we discussed the important verbal and non verbal actions that were happening. The group shared many observations such as how Lori shuts down when she’s surprised in the games, Jennifer gets frustrated and lashes out when the scene isn’t going the way she envisioned, Joe interjects without listening to his partners offers, and Debbie needed to be the star. Debbie was also the class bully telling everyone what they “should” do.
Then we discussed how we can help these issues from happening, and a funny thing happened. The students became the teachers. They opened up, shared and started to understand each other, they worked with Lori instead of surprising her, Jennifer allowed her offers to not always be the lead offer, Joe learned how to wait before adding to the scene, Debbie learned how to support others in scenes and to share in the action of give and take. She also soon shifted her energy from bully to leader, which was a welcome surprise to the teacher and the class.
The class dynamics improved each day during the week I was there and continued for months to come. It would be great to say that it was all because of the amazing ability I have as a teacher, but truth be told, it’s the amazing ability of improvisation and the art of play.
As I’ve been researching “Play” I found this very interesting piece on Playworks. It seems they are on the same path. I can’t wait to meet them some day and learn more about their projects and goals. See for yourself what they’re doing.