Sunday, October 23, 2016

Light Gets In: A Workshop with Leah Mann

LIGHT GETS IN with LEAH MANN. The Mask Center, Little 5 Points Community Center, October 2016. (photo by Ruth Schowalter).
Ring the bells that still ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen

Written by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader
On Friday, October 21, metro-Atlanta folks were invited to spend two hours with international performer and InterPlayer Leah Mann to explore the “cracks” in their lives—inside and out—and to examine “pathways of light” coming through to heal those fissures.

Hosted by InterPlay Atlanta at the Mask Center in the Little Five Points Community Center, Leah used the container of InterPlay as a way to launch a group of a dozen participants into investigations about their lives and the wider world in the workshop, “Light Gets In.”

In the first hour, Leah led us gently and incrementally in warming up our bodies and voices. Along with using the “primary colors” of movement—thrust, swing, hang, and shape—we were offered the opportunity to reflect on our emotions and situations in our lives associated with these movements. Leah explains, “I combined some of the ideas of Julie Motz, reiki master and author, about where emotions flow or are held in the body.”

Following this deep investigation into our bodies and spirits through movement, we then found ourselves making a community sound standing around in a circle, with some participants creating new sounds while others became historians repeating rhythms or words offered by others.

In the second hour of our workshop, with thoroughly warmed up bodies and voices and after connecting with one another, Leah guided us into making inquiries and collecting data about ourselves, our communities, and the world on the complicated theme of “systemic shatterings.” In word, sound, and movement, we explored our “groan zones” and “shatter zones.” We created a “scar inventory” and played around with “sitting in my discomfort.”
SHATTERINGS & THE CONCEPT OF "KITSUGI". In pairs, we told organic stories about things in our lives that remained broken or had been repaired (photo by Ruth Schowalter).
SCAR INVENTORY. With a witness, each of us had an opportunity to dance with our scars (photo by Ruth Schowalter).
SITTING IN MY DISCOMFORT. Leah invited us to "sit in our discomfort," explaining that it is important to be patient and to be awake for the next right step as we awaken to systems in the world that are breaking down and need to be dismantled (photo by Ruth Schowalter).
During our “babbling” or “short telling” sequence, many of us gratefully received Leah’s offering of the concept of the Japanese art form of “kitsugi” (mending pottery with gold) as metaphor for healing that which has been broken. The broken vessel is not only stronger but also has more value.

Two hours were too short to travel this trajectory of “shatterings” in relationship to our personal experiences and current events. I wonder what other discoveries I would have made had we been able to spend a third hour together! What stories might I have heard from other participants or would I have shared of my own. Leah expressed her thoughts on this: “It was just two hours. I think a minimum for this sort of exploration could be three hours or longer. A ‘walk about’ on a theme like this could have taken more than an hour.”
LIGHT GETS IN PARTICIPANTS WITH LEAH MANN. (photo by anonymous workshop participant)
There is mystery in movement, voice, story, and shape and stillness. Leah Mann is a magician, a genius, and a gentle guiding force—one who can create the container for play, insight, and healing to occur. Thank you Leah for this offering to the InterPlay Atlanta community and metro-Atlanta area. I hope you will return and spend more time with us on this theme, “Light Gets In.” It is important work!

“InterPlay has been a huge part of my personal development work as an activist, artist and human being. The system is a powerful platform for deep inquiry.” –Leah Mann

About Leah Mann: Leah lives in Vashon, Washington, but has strong ties to Atlanta, having moved here after her father retired from the Army. She returns regularly to visit her mother, who lives in College Park and to continue her work as the co-founder and artistic director emeritus of the urban outreach program, Moving in the Spirit. Leah now co-directs Lelavision Physical Music. With her partner Ela Lamblin, she tours internationally, performing a hybrid genre combining kinetic music inventions animated through music and dance in simultaneity. She teaches movement, rhythm and instrument making from ordinary objects with a wide variety of populations from a base of improvisation informed primarily by the InterPlay technique. Check out her website:

Friday, October 21, 2016

INTERPLAY--A Way to Embody and Express Engineering Research Effectively and Easefully

"INCREASING YOUR ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL SPEAKING SKILLS USING IMPROVISATION," OCTOBER 15th, 2016 WORKSHOP. Ta dah! Here are some of the 28 participants at the conclusion of a 5-hour workshop on a Georgia Tech game day Saturday. An exciting odyssey of expression was traveled in this short intense gathering of graduate engineering students!
Written by Ruth Schowalter, MS Applied Linguistics, Certified InterPlay Leader, and InterPlay Art and Soul Creativity Coach

Whether you are a scientist or artist, lawyer or educator, performer or poet, administrator or physician, you can benefit from a more fully embodied engagement to your life. -Celeste Snowber

How might engineers begin to enjoy communicating their ideas to colleagues, professional audiences, and the world at large? The typical stereotype of the engineer is of a person far more engaged in the head, mining the mechanics of algorithms and linear thinking slumped over a computer than that of one who inhabits a "body," reveling in spatial creative thinking and wanting to physically interact with a curious public. End result? These engineers are not only miserable when they have to present their research, but they are also judged as POOR communicators.

What are the possibilities for these engineers to communicate more successfully and with passion once they are given some improvisational tools? What if engineers were to "open" to their own life stories, gestures, and "bodily" understandings? What might they create or co-create? How differently might they express themselves personally and professionally?

GREETED BY BUZZ, THE GT MASCOT. Our 5-hour workshop convened on a football game day in the Mechanical Engineering building. The campus was abuzz with football fans barbecuing under trees around academic buildings and in parking lots filled with recreation vehicles. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
What do I mean by "bodily" understandings? Celeste Snowber in her book, Embodied Inquiry, expresses the concept this way: "A return to celebration of our physicality awakens the juices of a creative life. Life in and of itself is an art form and living artfully and aesthetically is central to being responsive to a life. The body in all of its fullness is a gift that allows us to walk, run, flop and fall along the journey that is set before us." 

Let me restate this concept in my own words based on my experience of teaching international graduate students at Georgia Tech for two decades, being a visual artist, and certified leader in the improvisational system of InterPlay. The parameters of communicating effectively does not begin and end when it is time to present research results to colleagues, potential employers, or lay people. Effective communication is an outcome of a life fully engaged in physically, mentally, and emotionally. That is, what you are, you communicate.

If we want our engineers, biologists, physicists, etc., to inform us about their deeply complex ideas and outcomes, we educators must assist them in becoming more fully human. We can invite them to integrate their "head" with their "bodies" and "hearts." This integration can be achieved in playful incremental steps!

An example of what these incremental steps might look like can be seen in the Saturday, October 15th workshop I facilitated on the Georgia Tech campus for graduate students in Materials Science Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Convening from 9:30 to 2:30 with breakfast and lunch included, we did the following:

1. Warmed up by doing InterPlay physical exercises to Jami Sieber music
2. Played around with saying our names using vocal variation (speed, rhythm and pitch) and physical actions
2. Developed rapport by leading and following intervals
3. Told nonlinear stories in 30-second and 1-minute intervals, implementing physicality and emotions (enthusiasm)
4. Embodied some of the six skills of English rhythm and intonation (pausing, linking, stress, reduction, focus, and rising/falling intonation.
5. Walked out the rhythm of a poem (student led)
6. Practiced embodied intonation in the improvisational activity, "Yes, and..."
7. Integrated physicality, English rhythm and intonation, and emotions in a big body story explaining research to a lay person
8. Practiced summarizing ideas and increasing physicality
9. Played kazoos to experience the heft of breath of intonation using the GT Fight Song and have conversations  
DEVELOPING RAPPORT. Through a series of leading and following exercises, participants had the opportunity to connect with different participants while embodying creative choices of their own and that of their partner's. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EMBODYING THE RHYTHM OF THEIR SPEECH. Both native and nonnative speakers of English participated in this graduate science communication workshop. Everyone was asked to prepare a 150-200 word paragraph explaining their research to a lay person. Here they are applying the rhythm and intonation skills presented earlier in the workshop in a "solo" walk around the room. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
GAINING CONFIDENCE AND INCREASING EXPRESSIVENESS. In incremental steps, these researchers decreased their reliance on written text. They moved from reading their paragraph, to "just saying" it, to reducing it to 3 sentences, and finally to one sentence while networking and meeting each other. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
This improvisational workshop using the tools and principles of InterPlay succeeded in physically enaging these engineering graduate students from the United States, Iran, Peru, Colombia, Korea, China, Vietnam, and Brazil. Some noticed feeling awkward and challenged. Some experienced release from stress. Others enjoyed connecting with classmates they never have a chance to talk with on a day-to-day basis. 

Two students, one from Iran and another from Colombia, discovered they did similar research and sat down immediately after the workshop for a deeper discussion. Students from the United States had the opportunity to be with international students in a different way and to confront their own challenges of communicating in English

The feedback that brought me the greatest joy? One Korean student approached me before he left to express a relief at being invited to play! I had informed everyone that I was a "recovering serious person." He said he would like to be one too!
IMPRESSIVE BUILDINGS FOR ENGINEERS ON THE GEORGIA TECH CAMPUS. It was such a pleasure to be invited into this engineering complex on the GT campus to assist these scholars in building their communication skills and encourage them to engage more fully in their lives as a way to enhance their effectiveness and joy. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am happily grateful to Celeste Snowber, who I just discovered, and her most recent book, "Embodied Inquiry: Writing, Living, and Being through the Body." Part of the wider InterPlay community, Celeste is a dancer, writer, poet, and educator at Simon Fraser University, B.C., Canada, where she is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education. As usual, I am forever thankful to co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for the improvisational system of InterPlay and how they facilitate friendships and collaboration among national and international InterPlay communities. It is with deep gratitude I acknowledge Karen Tucker, director of the Georgia Tech Language Institute, for her dedication to expand her understanding of ways we might communicate and hence the LI's programming across the GT campus. Many thanks to Amanda Gable (MSE) and Jeffrey Donnell (ME) who facilitated this improv workshop for their graduate students. And thank you Tony Martin for being my driver and relieving me from the worry of driving on a GT football game day.

Monday, October 17, 2016

CREATIVE COMMUNICATION (InterPlay): Adding Visual Art and Writing

WHAT IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO CREATE? After warming up, saying our names, talking about what brings us love, ease, and grace, and playing following and leading, my class of resettled teenage refugees sat down to draw and write. (photo art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
Written by Ruth Schowalter, certified InterPlay leader, MS in Applied Linguistics and ESL, InterPlay Art & Soul Creativity Coach
Hurray for CREATIVITY! Hurray for PLAY! Hurray for COMMUNITY--one in which we can CREATE and PLAY.

As a visual artist, lifelong educator and certified InterPlay leader, I have taken InterPlay, an improvisational system that nurtures authenticity, to the Ellis Island of the South, Clarkston, Georgia (see this blog).

On Monday afternoons, I arrive to facilitate an hour-long class "Creative Communications," with resettled refugee teenagers from countries such as Nepal, Burma, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Using InterPlay as the foundation for this after school program in the Clarkston Global Academy, I engage these teens in movement, storytelling, voice, and shape and stillness.

As a 3-decade-long English as a Second Language instructor, a goal I integrate with play and creativity is verbal and physical expansion. Inviting the teens to experiment with volume, pitch, and speed as well as gestures, I encourage them to use English (or their own language) to offer what is unique to them. In this way, voicing their names become subtle or exaggerated dances. Talking about an ordinary day at school becomes an enthusiastically expressed story. The InterPlay forms offer adventures in being oneself and connecting with others.

CREATING WITH EASY FOCUS. What can a minute of ease offer to your creativity? Playing in community is a powerful way to access what is yours to claim. What is it your body, mind, heart, and spirit want to express?  (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
Yesterday, I decided to add drawing and writing to our creative communications. "What is possible for you to create and communicate," I asked them, "when you are using easy focus?" Wheee... (Easy Focus is an InterPlay principle that gives us permission to release expectations or "hard focus" and enjoy the process of creating/being).

Students gathered around a long narrow table, selected a colored marker and were asked to draw a shape, then to repeat that shape again and again, changing direction and size. Music from Eric Chappelle, swirled around them. Two InterPlay volunteers, Carolyn Renee and Lynn Hesse, engaged in the activity too. As facilitator, I had the honor to witness.

The teens relaxed into their assignment and increased the speed with which they drew their shapes. As they filled their 8" x 11" page, I encouraged them to find another color and to use that as "spice." When everyone was slowing down, I asked them to turn their papers over and write three words or more that were coming into their minds. And then, if they wanted, to write a sentence.

The energy was just right. I observed a confidence in their actions, a certainty in what to write, what to create. Ta dah!  That is what is POSSIBLE IN PLAY in Creative Communication Class at the Clarkston Global Academy.

InterPlay activities comprised the concluding 15 minutes of class, supporting an embodied way of sharing the newly generated "visual and word art." 
SHARE YOUR IMAGE IN DANCE AND WORDS. In pairs, the teens were invited to communicate their drawing through movement, however they wanted to express their multiple shapes. Then to use words from the back of their drawings or any new words that came to them. (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
EXPRESSING IN THE LARGER COMMUNITY. How to share this newly created work with the larger community of the class? InterPlay has a form, "Walk Stop Run." With ease, the teens made their own choices of when and what to share with others. They chose to walk, stop, run, or show and speak about their work. The fun engagement was phenomenal! (photo art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
One of the greatest gifts I received from this hour of creative communicating was when I heard one of the young women from Nepal read her sentence aloud: "I love myself, and I am enough!"

Many thanks go to Jes Gordon, whose Intuitive Painting class taught me some simple ways to engage people in drawing without judgment. As I explore ways to use music with lyrics, I am grateful to Soyinka Rahim for her album "BIBO LOVE." During this class, the teens happily took turns leading and following to "BIBO Funk" with such joy and fun moves. I am so appreciative to the CPACS facilitators and the Clarkston Global Academy educational program director, Justine Okello for supporting this Creative Communication Class. Recently being joined by volunteers from the InterPlay Atlanta community has filled me with such a feeling of bounty. As always, I want to acknowledge InterPlay co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for this community building improvisational system and all that they do to make it accessible to everyone.

That's InterPlay Atlanta from the perspective of Ruth Schowalter! Comment below. I invite you to answer these questions: What is possible in play for you? What is your truth that you want to share in the world?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Celebrating Al Lingo - 2016 Spirit of InterPlay Award

Dear Friends,

Next Saturday we gather at the Alternate Roots office for our 2016 International Day of InterPlay.   In addition to celebrating with InterPlayers around the globe for this FUNdraiser we will be recognizing Al Lingo with the "Spirit of InterPlay Award" for the creative gifts of peace, play, connection, advocacy and heart that he brings to multiple communities in the Atlanta area. 

Al Lingo - 2016 Spirit of InterPlay Awardee

Al is a lay Dharma Teacher in the Buddhist tradition of Plum Village and a Protestant Minister.  He facilitates the Breathing Heart Sangha in Decatur, Georgia.  Al has presented retreats for mindfulness practice combined with the psychosynthesis program, "Unconditional Love and Forgiveness" in the United States, Europe and India during the 1990's and into the first years of the twenty-first century.  In the 1960's he joined Martin Luther King Jr. as field staff in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference civil rights campaigns in Florida and Alabama.  In the 1970's and 1980's he served as a faculty member of the Ecumenical Institute and the Institute of Cultural Affairs in Chicago, Bombay, Manial, and Nairobi.  

Al is a faithful participant in Atlanta InterPlay events and is also a terrific performer with the Soul Print Players.
Al at a recent "Protection not Protest"
finding ways to "Get in the Way" for Justice
I had a great conversation with Al this morning and wanted to share with you some of the things we talked about:

Why are you an InterPlayer?
It Liberates my creativity.
For me it gives confidence in doing something together with other people that's new.
I've Observed how it liberates individuals in a group who otherwise wouldn't have that benefit.

How did you come to InterPlay?
Gretchen Wegner, a friend, decided to do InterPlay out in Oakland and my daughter is one of her best friends.  Gretchen inspired us including my daughter, who at the time was a nun, doing work out in Oakland with people in prisons and other settings.   I met the Atlanta InterPlay group when my daughter was going through leader training and then I attended my first InterPlay session with the co-found, Phil Porter and I saw dignity and beauty that came quickly.

What inspires you?
Releasing wisdom with spontaneity out of myself and recognizing my joy when I see spontaneous beauty being released by and with other people.

What are your favorite activities?

Being quiet, Being engaged with nature in plant, animal and human forms.
Finding ways to communicate unconditional love.
Finding gratitude again and again for my friends and enemies.

J.T. Johnson & Al Lingo 

How did you become an activist?
I became an activist in my late teens when I realized that people in need required attention whether they were in a Polio hospital or dying of MS as a young person. or when I identified oppression of racial prejudice in me, in my society and at my University of Texas and when I discovered how naive my idea of activism was and that it required a greater discipline and community cohesion in order to be expressed in a better way.  All of it was a reflection as a reaction to growing up in a conformist society with all its lies about consciousness.  This catalyzed me and my life into an adversarial and advocacy for a few of the severely oppressed people in the world - especially American black folks who symbolized the possibility of me participating in not only their liberation but my own. What inspires me today is being a resister to a war on deep human consciousness that is being waged in our society by the very few to dominate the very many.

If you could sit down to dinner with 3 people who would they be?  
Jesus of Nazareth
Shakyamuni (Buddha)
Mother Theresa

What recent story do you have to share?

5 things I gave to a young black teenager going off to college for the first year that I'm also writing down and sending to my grandson:
Some guidelines from an elder:
May you always smile regardless of circumstance of happiness or sadness.
May you strengthen and relax your own being before you address another.
May you practice saying NO again and again- thus protect your integrity and preserve your power!
May you practice saying YES first of all to the good in yourself, secondly to the good in others and thirdly my you practice saying YES to situations in life where you have to struggle to see the good.
May you practice a time of quiet in your life on a regular basis and ask yourself the questions:
What have I learned? What I have left incomplete or undone?

What does the InterPlay Spirit Award mean to you?
It means that perhaps my friends will recognize in their lives the gifts that they are to others.

We hope to see you all at noon on October 1st to celebrate InterPlay and the Soul Print Player's performance:  "The Art of Play:  A Civil Right,"  Al Lingo and the power of play in making a difference in our world.  Please RSVP to or at the event page and let us know you are coming since lunch will be provided.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Reflection on InterPlay's Art & Social Change Program for Millennials

by Foluke Beveridge

Had I never experienced InterPlay before, I would not have known WHAT I was letting myself in for at this program and might never have been involved at all. God forbid! Since I’ve had a few interactions with InterPlay and InterPlayers, I knew that I sought more ideas of how the InterPlay philosophy translated to starting important dialogues. I found that and more at InterPlay’s Millennial Training in Arts and Social Change.

Millennial InterPlayers Neesha and Kelsey enjoying lunch (prepared by Kelsey) with InterPlay co-founder Phil Porter during Arts and Social Change

I got to go to California for the first time; I made friends/family; I found focus sessions; I was free to roll around on the floor and make noise, encouraged to breathe, pushed myself to experience new things and had an overwhelming feeling of being taken care of, mind, body and spirit. It was painful and wonderful, I cried and I laughed, I got better at listening to what my body told me. I listened to the point that I knew it was time for me to make a huge decision: I cut my hair. It was product of the burden of maintenance and the burden of beauty (or conquering the fear of somehow losing it) and after being around a group of spirits who really saw me, I realized that I could relinquish my hair.  At 26, I really cut it for the first time in my life and I love it. I love and thank my new family for being part of that transformative process.

Now that I’m back in Atlanta (sighhh), I look forward to finding ways to incorporate InterPlay into my personal life as well as in my professional life as a teaching artist at Moving in the Spirit and becoming more involved with the Atlanta InterPlay community.


My first week in Oakland, I had the pleasure of experiencing “Wing It,” InterPlay Oakland’s performance group. I was so inspired and my spirit so moved by the experience (especially on the heels of my first few days of Arts and Social Change) that I felt that the only way to release it would be to write. The following is what came out.

"I Am InterPlay"

Whirling whooshingness in my spirit,
That thing I've been seeking
That freewheeling, free feeling
I'm out but have never been more inside of my body
Something, some holy spirit rushing inside that leaves behind it
A wisdom, two wisdoms, three wisdoms. The wisdom where thought is merely the vehicle to get it out, not the means to lock it in
Oh, the slipping sliding and getting loose and more punch than a bowl of juice, of course
Eating delicious and being yummy
Taking care and being the care
Oversharing. But not because it's just enough sharing and no one can escape your (or my) willingness to share because you're (or I'm) open and upon entry into the space you (actually you) become fair game to be open with
And breathe when you can't afford to take breath for granted when life has carved a space in your chest and steals your breath when you need it most and hides it there. Away from you. Inside of you.
When I play, I can go in after it.
When I play, I can enter in.
I am InterPlay.

Saturday getaway at Montara State Beach in Pacifica with Millennial friends. Samaya (InterPlay Leader Soyinka Rahim's goddaughter) plays in the surf!

Saturday, July 30, 2016


written by Ruth Schowalter, MS Applied Linguistics and ESL, Certified InterPlay Leader
Greetings and welcome to a glimpse of my experience "Interplaying" around with teaching advanced-level American English fluency to international students entering a two-year MBA program at Emory University here in Atlanta, Georgia!

Our nonverbals govern how other people think and feel about us.  
Amy Cuddy, Harvard Social Psychologist

Physicality is basic
PhilPorter, co-founder InterPlay

“Shake one hand. Shake the other hand. Shake your foot. Shake your other foot. Shake what you have been sitting on….”

With these instructions from InterPlay’s warm up activity, I begin each Advanced Oral Communications class with business professionals from Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Colombia. As they shake out their bodies facing one another standing in a circle freed from the confines of their desks, I observe the stress disappearing from their faces and smiles appearing.
“I’m not used to moving,” one participant from Korea told me. “I’ve been sitting at a desk for seven years.” Ranging in age from their mid-twenties to forty-something, these newly arrived internationals experiment with “embodying English” using the improvisational activities from InterPlay to enhance their language skills before starting their two-year MBA.

To find out more about how Ruth Schowalter uses InterPlay to teach American English Fluency, go to her blog, Coffee with Hallelujah:

THE EMBODIMENT OF AMERICAN ENGLISH: Increasing Fluency Through Physical Activities