Thursday, October 29, 2015

IMPROVISING ON THE TOPIC OF AGING: Soulprint Players Rehearse for Upcoming Performances

SOULPRINT PLAYERS REHEARSE.  An improvisational troupe, the Soulprint Players rehearse in order to be familiar with the "forms" of InterPlay and to "play" together and develop what InterPlay calls a "group body." Here Jennifer Denning, the director, tells a three-sentence story on "aging," the chosen topic for the 3-hour rehearsal. (all photos by Ruth Schowalter)
by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader
THE INTERPLAY WARMUP.  Generally, every InterPlay gathering includes a warmup in order to be present and to access the bodywisdom we all have. InterPlay activities play around with the entirety of being human, uniting the body, mind, heart and spirit.
Soulprint Players are excited! As we celebrate our second year of existence, we are preparing for two upcoming performances in the month of November. Happy Birthday Soulprint Players and thank you Jennifer Denning for creating us!

This Sunday afternoon, Soulprint Players will join other artists at the Pine Lake Art Salon, in Pine Lake, Georgia. Those of us InterPlayers who are in the performance troupe know that the theme will be on "The Day of the Dead," an appropriate subject matter since it will be the day after Halloween and approaching the Mexican celebration of cleaning cemeteries and building altars for their deceased. However, the topics we will use for improvisation will be given to us from the Pine Lake audience.

So what does it mean to prepare or "rehearse" when you are an improvisational InterPlay troupe? It means getting performers together so that they can be familiar both with the InterPlay forms and one another. Let me explain using our 3-hour rehearsal from this past Sunday, October 25th.  

After assembling at the Mask Theatre in the Little Five Points Community Center in Atlanta, Georgia, at 10:00, we pulled the topic of "aging" from an envelop filled with topics that Jennifer created with us for our rehearsals. Then we began to "play" around with ideas related to aging such as limitations, gifts, and retirement.
FULFILLMENT. In pairs, we witnessed one another dance or move in whatever way we chose to do in response to the word "fulfillment." My partner, Marie (right), who I witnessed, experienced an expansion and embodiment of the richness of her life.
LIMITATIONS. Here three Soulprint Players, Lesly, Lynn, and Joyce, improvise a "side-by-side" movement story on the "limitations" of aging.
TWO NEW SOULPRINT PLAYERS. We are so excited to welcome two new members to Soulprint Players (left)--Vivian Slade, one of the three Pacha Mamas, and Wade Levering, percussionist.
THREE SENTENCE STORY ON AGING. Sharon Levering is the last storyteller in an InterPlay form, "Pittsburgh Form" crafted by the Pittsburg InterPlay performance troupe. She is telling a story about reclaiming bright red lipstick after an odyssey of wearing it, not wearing it, and being a makeup artist and putting it on others.
For me, just being an InterPlayer has allowed me to dive deeply into the issues of my life in a creative and community supported way. Then being an InterPlay "performer" has given me still another dimension to explore a variety of ways to tell my stories and what I want to say publicly. 

It was such a rich experience to explore the theme of aging in our Soulprint Players' rehearsal. I found that I was able to "exform" some frustrations I have about having gathered 57 years and then also recognize and claim the "gifts" that come with my aging. And the jewels given to me by the other InterPlayers in their stories about aging! 

What a privilege it is to have the profound experience of feeling "like" everyone else while being "different." We connect through the similarities and respect one another for our differences. The principles and tools of InterPlay are magical! And Jennifer Denning is an incredible director, who is also able to be vulnerably present to share her own stories.
You will want to attend one of our upcoming performances and see what you made contribute.  Join us this Sunday, November 1st at Pine Lake, Georgia, for the Art Salon (free) or the following Sunday, November 8th, 5:00 to 6:00 PM at the Holy Comforter Episcopal Church for our performance with International InterPlay Leader and Storyteller Masankho Kamsisi Banda. Suggested donations are $10 to $50 pay what is affordable and be generous if possible. Donations will be used to support InterPlay sessions at The Friendship Center of Holy Comforter.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Art of Being Human: InterPlay Atlanta at The Friendship Center

By Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader

Beginning in October 2015, InterPlay Atlanta began offering InterPlay sessions twice a month at The Friendship Center, an outreach program of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, a diverse worshipping community in the heart of Atlanta.

The tools and principles of InterPlay continue to surprise me in the way that they meld and fit the needs of different communities. One might say that InterPlay celebrates the "art of being human" in the way that its forms and principles honor each individual in each setting and catalyzes creativity. The Friendship Center is an inclusive community that promotes the mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of adults marginalized by mental health challenges and by poverty who visit Holy Comforter to volunteer, work, learn, listen, and worship.
InterPlay Atlanta is grateful to be a part of the rich programming at The Friendship Center that includes “Greenhouse and Gardening,” “Wellness and Recovery,” “Recovery through the Arts and Food.” Find out more about The Friendship Center by clicking here.
GATHERING TO INTERPLAY. Jennifer Denning, certified InterPlay leader (left) waits for other participants to arrive before beginning the second InterPlay session at The Friendship Center of Holy Comforter in October. (photo by Ruth Schowalter--identification of participants forthcoming)
The Reverend of Holy Comforter, Alexis Chase, is familiar with the improvisational system of InterPlay from firsthand experience, and she invited our certified InterPlay Atlanta leaders to her community for sixty minutes of play on Thursday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30 AM every other week. After attending our first InterPlay session, which took place right there in the church, she expressed the good that she saw InterPlay contributing to the participants, and we asked her to write her observations down which resulted in the following testimonial: 
Reverend Alexis Chase

“So often, in the lives of those living with a mental health diagnoses and living in poverty, there is very little autonomy, very little choice. The gift and benefit of having Interplay here is that while playing everyone is given a chance to choose, they are all given a chance to express themselves. During Interplay our participants can watch, participate, dance, move, babble, or sit and their expressions are valued and lifted up. One recent participant said it was the best form of physical activity he had all week.  The creativity and free expression Interplay encourages fits with and enhances what The Friendship Center already does well.”

Masankho Kamsisi Banda
Our connection to Holy Comforter Episcopal Church deepened as the decision was made to bring Soulprint Players, InterPlay Atlanta’s performance troupe, for the performance, “The Art of Being Human,” on Sunday, November 8th, at 5:00 PM, to celebrate this community and to raise funds for ongoing InterPlay sessions. Then as Jennifer Denning, the director of Soulprint Players, was developing the concept for the November 8th performance, she was delighted to discover that the International InterPlay Leader and Storyteller, Masankho Kamsisi Banda, was going to be visiting Atlanta and would be able to be a guest performer at this celebratory event.
SOULPRINT PLAYERS & MASANKHO. InterPlay performs "The Art of Being Human" at the Friendship Center of Holy Comforter Church.
We look forward to our connection continuing to deepen with this community in the upcoming months and invite you to join us for our November 8th performance from 5:00 to 6:00 PM at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church at 737 Woodland Ave SE, Atlanta, Georgia, 30316. Suggested donation: $10 to $50 (Be affordable but generous, as $100 in donations will support one month of InterPlay at The Friendship Center).
ENERGIZED. When asked how they felt at the end of the InterPlay hour, one of the participants answered, "energized." (Photo credit and identification of participants forthcoming)

Creative Comunication Class Begins at the Clarkston Community Center

CREATIVE COMMUNICATION CLASS. InterPlay Atlanta is bringing the gift of InterPlay to the Clarkston Youth Initiative in the form of a Creative Communication class. Here eight teenagers, who elected to be a part of this after school program, participate in the "I Could Talk About" InterPlay warm up as an incremental step toward developing story telling skills. (photo by Andrea Waterstone, Art and Education Director at the Clarkston Community Center.)
By Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader

Since June, InterPlayAtlanta has been visiting one of the most diverse cities in the United States—Clarkston, Georgia, on Saturdays once a month, bringing 30 minutes InterPlay’s improvisational community building tools to its market, where members of its refugee community and long time residents sell home made products and locally grown produce in the midst of festive activities (read these blogs, here and here ).
In October, as a result of funding raised in April 2015 on the national “Give InterPlay Day,” (Thank you everyone!) and the developing relationship with the Clarkston Community Center (CCC), InterPlay Atlanta was able to accept Andrea Waterstone’s invitation to participate in the Clarkston Youth Initiative.
SWINGING AT THE CCC. Part of creative communication comes from using our bodies. Embodying the language, the idea, the message you want to communicate is so important since nonverbal communication is such a large part of how we deliver our ideas. (photo by Andrea Waterstone, Art and Education Director at the Clarkston Community Center.)
Andrea, the Art and Education Director at the CCC, built the Clarkston Youth Initiative, which is a nine-week after school program for teenagers who voluntarily elect to attend courses three afternoons a week from Monday to Wednesday, 3:00 to 6:00 PM. In addition to the InterPlay course developed by me, “Creative Communication,” participants take a variety of other courses: computer technology, bicycle maintenance and safety, art and yoga, and gardening.
WALK STOP RUN. Art and Education Director at the CCC Andrea Waterstone joins the Creative Communication InterPlay class for the activity, "Walk Stop Run." This InterPlay form offers participants individual choices while still being a part of the wider class  community. Any time during this activity, a person can choose to move and how fast they move or still while observing others move. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
What might a nine-week InterPlay course entitle “Creative Communication” look like?  Here is a partial description I crafted to explain what we would be doing:

Creative Comunication: Playing Around with What You Have to Say

In this class, you will have fun playing around with expressing what you have to say or not say while working in pairs, small or large groups, or alone. Using the improvisational system of InterPlay, you are invited to speak without preparation and to make things up. In addition to expanding your story telling abilities, you will learn other ways to communicate using movement, voice, and stillness. Whether you are shy or outgoing, you can learn how to succeed at getting your message across more effectively and enjoy the process!
BABBLING. Another incremental step towards telling longer stories, is the InterPlay form, "Babbling." Here the teenage participants take turns talking about a topic for 30 seconds while the other "witnesses" or just listens. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
I’m so excited to be exploring the possibilities of “creative communication” with these teenagers from countries such as Bhutan, Nepal, Haiti, and Thailand. After meeting with the on two consecutive Monday evenings, I have already seen a shift in attendance. Enrollment in the Clarkston Youth Initiative went down from eight participants to four. The teenagers have the challenge of transporting themselves from the Clarkston high school to the Clarkston Community Center by themselves. Some are walking. It is no easy task to continue taking classes after being in school all day. The teenagers, who are showing up, want to learn and expand their skills. I’m experiencing them as very special young people with focused energy! What a privilege to engage them in the fun and sneaky deep activities of InterPlay!
In the upcoming weeks, I will be sharing photos of our “Creative Communication” class and what we are learning as we play together.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Atlanta Dreaming: InterPlay Atlanta's First Untensive

by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader
InterPlay Atlanta Untensive 2015, Atlanta Dreaming. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

The weekend from Friday, October 16th to Sunday, October 18th, 2015 was dreamy for those who participated in InterPlay Atlanta's first "untensive."  Led by Atlanta certified InterPlay leaders, Jennifer Denning, Christine Gautreaux, and Ruth Schowalter (me), we explored many aspects of dreams through movement, voice, storytelling, and stillness.

We explored the dreams we have at night, expanding them with music, dance and companionship. We played around with our life-long dreams from the time we were five through the present time. As we deepened in our play on the second day of our "untensive," one participant announced that she was "InterPlay Drunk." Others expressed a profound understanding of what occurs during an "untensive" or continuous "play" over one weekend. We have a saying in InterPlay: "To understand InterPlay, you have to do InterPlay."

We also examined goals or dreams we have for our future and embodied them through movement, taking incremental steps and leaps--and celebrating our achievements when we imagined we got "there." Oh we whooped and hollered and cheered. We leaped and jumped and clapped our hands. 
Incremental Steps and Leaps, Atlanta Dreaming 2015. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

Part of playing around with our dreams included drawing and envisioning our dreams in lines and shapes. The drawings then inspired story telling and getting support for our dreams and then concluded with a "Walk. Stop. Run." with our drawings. 

Envisioning and Shaping our Dreams Through Drawing. Then Walk, Stop, Run. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
After a Friday evening and an all day Saturday at the First Christian Church in Decatur, we moved Atlanta Dreaming to Little Five Points Community Center on Sunday. Meeting from 9:30 to 12:30, we built an altar with participants bringing items and images they wanted to honor considering their dreams.
Then we warmed up before conducting a "bodyspirit" hour, during which everyone had an opportunity to choose InterPlay forms to express whatever was on his/her mind or bodyspirit. We concluded our time together with some stillness and one hand dances (solo, pairs, whole group).
If you would like to see more about our Atlanta Dreaming 2015, here is a three-minute video:

Stay tuned for Atlanta's next "untensive." We will do this again and hope you will join us!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Thank you Lesly Fredman, InterPlay Atlanta’s Spirit Awardee 2015!

LESLY FREDMAN, InterPlay Atlanta Spirit Awardee (2015)
Interview by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader

On Saturday afternoon, October 24th, 2015, Atlanta InterPlay is excited to honor Lesly Fredman the “Spirit of InterPlay Award” for the creative gifts of art, play, connection, and heart that she brings to multiple communities in the Atlanta area.

Those of us living in the metro-Atlanta area are so fortunate to have Lesly Fredman in our lives. She is joyous, deeply intuitive, vastly talented, and really smart! Actor, director, dancer, writer, editor, improvisation teacher, InterPlayer, and creativity coach, Lesly playfully engages with people in her multiple Atlanta communities, meeting each person where they are with a big resounding, “YES.”

A Bouquet of Dancing Flowers for Peace. Lesly is the Russian Sunflower (second from the right)
And she cross pollinates--bringing her Dancing Flowers For Peace and improv students to Atlanta InterPlay and InterPlayers to her improv classes and Dancing Flowers’ warmups. Present and loving, Lesly’s laughter and keen mischievous playfulness inspires us all and serves to connect us in ways that are deep, fun, and meaningful. 

A week before celebrating Lesly with the InterPlay Spirit Award, I met with her for this interview so you readers could experience some of her exceptionally fun spirit. Enjoy!

Tell me your thoughts on creativity. I believe that the creative spirit is the best part of our nature. I call upon mine constantly as guide, playmate, benefactor, partner. My desire to coach arose from my adventures as a producer/director, teacher and performer, but it originated in a fierce pledge I had made to myself long ago: that I would never turn away from my commitment to using every skill and talent I possesses for as long as I live. 

Proud as I am to tell the story of my mother singing in nightclubs in New York with her sister, I remember the regret with which my mom spoke of not studying opera when she had the opportunity. My father, who wrote eloquent letters to the editor and memorable postcards, inexplicably turned down a job as a sports writer for a newspaper. Maybe my mother wouldn’t have been an opera star or my father a Pulitzer Prize winner, but they still might have known the thrill of the ride, the joy of answering the call. 

And that is the heart of my coaching: to honor the creator inside those I work with, play with — to assist, challenge, support, and champion them, all the way to the thriving point. (This answer came from Lesly’s introduction on her website.)

Talk to me about some of the reasons you are an InterPlayer. InterPlay can be exhilarating. It allows us to be graceful and gracious and mischievous. And it’s about movement from the outside that stirs us inside and expands our reach physically, mentally and spiritually.
InterPlay Atlanta, Second Saturday. (Lesly is center second row in red pants)
What inspires you?   Art in any form that takes my breath away. The annual announcement of the MacArthur fellowship awards. Being in conversations with other people's imaginations. Saxophone players. Nature at its most spectacular.

Favorite activities. Sister trips. Sharing absurdity and laughter (lots of it!!) with my partner Matt. Adventures with my friend Jesse. Reading. Making up characters and taking them out to restaurants.

Four objects you can’t live without. Books. Lipstick (for decoration). My Toyota (until I can get a transporter). Screened in porches.

Books on you’re reading now. Alexander McCall Smith’s Le Popo Agency,
Something about everything.

What does this InterPlay Spirit Award mean to you? I feel very honored to be recognized for being playful! I love that over the years I have had the good fortune to welcome more and more playmates into my life.  And I am thrilled that creative play is being valued as an essential ingredient for well-beingness!
FLOWER GIRL. Lesly playfully embodied being the Flower Girl at her friend's wedding this past summer.

Thank you Lesly!
InterPlay Atlanta is excited about celebrating Lesly with this spirit award on the first International Day of InterPlay Celebration and FUNdraiser. Lesly, along with other exceptional people across the United States and around the world, will be acknowledged for their creativity, leadership and the way their life reflects the spirit of InterPlay. Yay Lesly! We hope you will come to applaud her contributions to us all who have been impacted by her considerable gifts.
Here are the details:

1:00 to 3:30 P.M.

The Social Hall at
Decatur First Christian Church
601 West Ponce de Leon
Decatur, Georgia 30030

Ample parking is available. From the church parking lot, enter the first door you come to, which will be indicated with an InterPlay sign. The Social Hall is at the end of a long hallway on the left.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

InterPlay, Grief & Gratitude

By Jennifer Denning

“The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them.”
 - Francis Weller

I am grateful for grief. To be more specific, I am grateful for the moments when grief penetrates my heart. It can happen when I’m reading. It can happen when I’m watching my children. It can happen when I’m InterPlaying.

A few years ago I was leading a one hand dance, and I told my partner I was dancing on behalf of my father who has Alzheimer's. When I spoke this I was feeling it more in my head than in my heart. I was caught by surprise when my hand moved and my tears flowed. My love and grief for my father came rushing to the surface. It was a moment of opening.

my mom & dad & me

When playing with the Soulprint Players for the last year I notice the story I am telling many times in different ways is the story of my 11 year old daughter being on the cusp of adolescence. It is an exquisite griefjoy to watch her grow.

At the InterPlay Leader’s gathering this summer my sadness around my father’s continued decline rose up out of the silence and danced with me for much of the retreat.

InterPlay creates space to feel the unfelt things. Why does this matter?

To be fully human requires a willingness to hold the full spectrum of what it means to be alive. That includes dancing with the knowledge that our time here is limited and letting that knowledge soften and open us. That reality is a lot for one body to hold. I imagine that is why so often my grief rises up in the InterPlay community. In InterPlay I know I am free to be witnessed in my grief without anyone being required to fix it. “Being with” is the greatest gift.

We don’t need to manufacture grief. But we can look at creating space in our lives to feel and honor whatever feeling is living in us. Movement, song and story are sweet balms that can allow us to access and honor the gifts of our grief.

Yahia Lababidi said, “To hurry pain is to leave a classroom still in session. To prolong pain is to remain in a vacated classroom and miss the next lesson.” Playing with grief when it comes is a way to stay in the “classroom” for as long as we need to. Sometimes it takes a long time. We can let go of outer expectations of how long any grief moment should last. We can return again and again to what our bodies want to tell us in each moment. We can rest and feel supported in community. We can give thanks.