Good Games For Great Relationships: Strengthening Interpersonal Communication Through Applied Improvisation
|Workshop design and facilitation|
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT
The concept that play has serious learning value in American social-emotional development and education was originated by social service worker Neva Boyd, who was prominent in the first half of the 20th century and very involved with the playground and recreation movement. In her essay The Theory Of Play she wrote that through games "children learn language skills, socialization, cooperation, and even morality, because all must agree on the rules and abide by them for a game to be any fun. And the act of playing changes the participant. Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination." One of her students, Viola Spolin, became "the drama supervisor for the WPA Recreational Project in Chicago where she worked with children and recent immigrants in low-income neighborhoods," according to her biography on www.violaspolin.org. "She felt the need to establish a form of theater training that incorporated what she’d learned about the benefits of play that could reach across divisions of culture and language. Lectures about traditional theater techniques were useless with children or adults with limited English skills, but when those lessons became the focus of a game, the students were able to incorporate them organically full of the spontaneous physical expression needed for true theatrical communication."
Play may be even more important for adults than for kids. According to the article "Why What You Learned In Pre-School Is Crucial At Work" in the New York Times blog The Upshot the greatest job growth is in fields that require strong interpersonal skills and the ability to collaborate with others. “Although research usually emphasizes the positive effect of play on the developing brain they have found that is important for adults too. Without play, adults may end up getting burned out from the ‘hustle-bustle business’ that we all get in involved in,” says Marc Rekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Boulder, in "The Serious Need For Play" in Scientific American. "Adults who do not play may end up unhappy and exhausted without understanding exactly why.”
Human In Houses
- Warm up the group to action
- Play with nonverbal communication
- Play with the theme of people co-creating
- Group breaks into groups of 3 and form a circle of these trios. The middle person in each trio stands with arms down and plays the role of "human." The other players on either side each extend their arms above the head of the middle player, forming a kind of "roof" over their head and play the role of "house." The director stands in the middle of the circle. If the director calls "Humans" all the people in the role of human have to move into a different trio, while the "Houses" remain in place. The director tries to take the place of one of the humans so that one person is left in the center. If the director calls "Houses" the players in the role of "House" have to find a new place to be a part of a House. There will be one person left in the middle, who calls "Humans" or "Houses" while game move forward. Then a third choice is added - the person in the middle can call "Tornado" and everyone has to find a new spot as either a house or human.
- Express personal feelings in a safe game
- Follow cues from a leader and practice close listening
- Take focus and give focus to others - essential relationship skills
- Practice close listening
- Practice responding to others' cues
- Explore giving and taking focus
- Practice taking focus;
- Practice giving focus to others;
- Practice allowing ourselves to be impacted by others;
- Share spontaneously and practice allowing ideas, memories and associations to rise up and share them;
- Freeze respectfully when someone else takes focus;
Everyone walks about the room not making eye contact with others. The director demonstrates by saying FREEZE - upon which everyone stops walking - and sharing some personal reflection about the work done in the group that day or a memory that is triggered. When the sharing is over, the director says UNFREEZE and everyone walks about the room again until someone says FREEZE and shares something of their own. The game continues until everyone has grabbed focus at least once or twice.
- Explore a dynamic interaction between 2 people when one is clearly guilty of something;
- Explore how an interaction that could turn into a conflict can be creatively redirected;
- Explore the power of non-defensive responses to being in the wrong;
- Experiment with being impacted upon by the emotions and cues of others;
Suggestions for these scenes:
The guilty person smashed the car he/she was not supposed to be driving.
The guilty person is getting fired for his/her mistakes or poor performance.
The guilty person was dog-sitting and the dog ran away.
The guilty person cheated on an exam and is being expelled from school.
Read more: Gamechanger: Using Improv Games For Therapeutic Goals Workshop Handout
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer who is President of Lifestage, Inc, a NYS-approved provider of Continuing Education for Social Workers (provider #0270). She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a game wrapped in a storytelling show that features true stories told by people from all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds, told live, without notes.