Friday, November 4, 2016

INTERPLAY & SCIENCE COMMUNICATION AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL: Becoming the Animal through Use of Creative Forms

TRANSFORMATION OF A CLASSROOM--HOW? These first year college students are fully engaged in body and mind communication information they collected in a homework assignment about animals indigenous to the Emory University's campus. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
Written by Ruth Schowalter, MS Applied Linguistics and Certified InterPlay Leader

InterPlay + Science Communication='s FUN--I'm repeating this mantra regularly, especially when I have the opportunity to teach college students in a science class how to express their data!

This October 2016 signals the third time that I have conducted a two-part storytelling workshop for my husband's first year seminar, "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See," using activities from the improvisational system of InterPlay. Each time, I have had the opportunity to refine my facilitation to provide clearer incremental steps to support the students' easeful stepping into the role of an embodied storyteller.

I envision every student finding storytelling "tools" in this workshop that they can adapt to their own personal communication style. My job is to offer ways for them to play around with expanding vocal and physical range as they express scientific information to an audience of one or many. 

In this blog post, I am offering my InterPlay facilitation experience in the form of photos and photo captions. At the end of this post are links to other blog posts I have written about this freshman seminar, as well as other science communication workshops. Enjoy! I appreciate any feedback in the form of comments here or on Facebook.

WHAT IS IMPROVISATION? WHAT IS INTERPLAY? Desks have already been rearranged from rows to a circle around the perimeter of the classroom when students arrive. After being introduced as a certified InterPlay leader, I invite students to define improvisation and how it could relate to science communication. InterPlay, I explain, is an improvisational system that fosters and supports authenticity. I invite the students to always make choices to participate in the InterPlay improvisational activities in a way that feels good to them. Soon they will be asked to use the available space to "create" or "improvise" ideas related to their seminar, "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not Know." (photo by Tony Martin)
OUT OF THEIR DESKS AND INTO THEIR BODIES. What does the "whole" communicator  look like when fully engaged--physically, mentally, and emotionally? A simple invitation to stand up, warm up their bodies and then partner with another classmate for leading and following at first brings nervous laughter and then.... (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
THE CLASSROOM TRANSFORMED. Within moments the classroom is electrified as students step into the invitation to "play" with one another. Creative move after creative move appears as leadership alternates back-and-forth between the paired students. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
THE ROLE OF THE PROFESSOR SHIFTS. When the professor participates in these InterPlay activities as Tony Martin (far right) does here, the classroom dynamic shifts with the students.  Students have an opportunity to interact creatively one-to-one with their professor in a give-and-take relationship. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EXPANDING THEIR METHOD OF EXPLANATION. After warming up physically and vocally "playing" around with telling short nonlinear descriptions, students return to their desks to take turns describing the nature observations they have recorded in their "sit spot journals," a class requirement. During the semester, they must make a minimum of thirty entries from the same "sit spot" on the Emory campus that they have chosen to observe. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
BECOMING THE TREE. Following the activity of describing their "sit spot," students change partners and are asked to stand up in front of their listening partner (or witness). Choosing an animate or inanimate object from their "sit spot," they then "become" it and speak from its perspective. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
DAY 2 OF THE STORYTELLING WORKSHOP--DEVELOPING RAPPORT. What is rapport and how is it created with the listener? We know that our audience is like a mirror reflecting back to us what we ourselves as speakers are creating. This group exercise of leading and following is an excellent way to "embody" that connect between what we "enact" and its impact on others. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EXPERIENCING NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION. Team "Red Sloth" prepares to move together for this nonverbal exercise. Teammates are asked to assume leadership as the group moves and shifts about the space like a flock of starlings in a murmuration. (photo by Tony Martin)
BODY TO BODY COMMUNICATION. Students experience first hand that communicating effectively without words is possible as each one creates unique movements and other group members follow. The leadership shifts effortlessly as long as a teammate is willing to accept his/her turn when the opportunity accuates. (photo by Tony Martin)
OBSERVATION IS PART OF LEARNING. Team "Red Sloth" observes team "Blue Whale." The process of "embodying" concepts occurs over time and through different practices. Observing others perform activities helps students to integrate their own experiences with the "new" ideas presented. (photo by Tony Martin)

PRESENTING RESEARCH? YES! Does this look like students are having fun? Is any learning going on here? Are both presenter and audience engaged? Is the transference of information occurring? Do you think students are having the opportunity to teach something they know with enthusiasm? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES! (photo by Tony Martin)
WHAT ANIMAL AM I? At the conclusion of our two-part storytelling InterPlay workshops, we gathered in a circle for a guessing game. Each student had researched a different animal indigenous to the Emory campus and had kept their animal "top secret." In this activity, students took turns presenting a behavior and one informational sentence (or hint) about their animal. Everyone repeated the animal behavior and tried to guess the animal. Often several other hints had to be provided before the animal could be identified. The students' enthusiasm, lack of self consciousness, and engaged presence was very rewarding to the professor (Tony Martin) and me, the facilitator.  (photo by Tony Martin)
THE EMORY CAMPUS. Here is the Math and Science Building, the site of our storytelling InterPlay workshops on this sunny fall week in October 2016 on the lovely Emory campus. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
TELLING A STORY FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE! I'm so grateful to these trusting students who allowed themselves to be engaged in improvisational exercises. Here we are embodying a squirrel. Students chose a living animal or inanimate object from their "sit spot" on the Emory University campus to embody in this freshman seminar, "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See." In the first workshop, I introduced InterPlay babbling and big body stories. I loved seeing the students' confidence grow as they had fun moving from partner to partner. At the end of the class, each student shared what he/she had chosen to embody from his/her sit spot and create a movement for us to repeat. Lots of deer appeared, a fish, two dead trees, a blade of grass, a clam, etc. The movements were inventive and fun to follow!(photo by Tony Martin)
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to InterPlay co-founders, Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter for this sneaky deep improvisational system that fosters and supports authentic communication. Deep gratitude to my life partner, Tony Martin, who is an excellent science communicator. He has helped me grow in my communication skills and capacity as an instructor. Thank you for making education and science outreach fun! You inspire me!

Other blogposts about my work with InterPlay and “How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See”

April 11, 2016

November 6, 2014

Other blogposts on how I use InterPlay for Science Communication and Outreach:

October 2016

March 2016

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October 1st An International Day of InterPlay

Dear Friends,
As October winds down I'm thinking about how rich this month was with InterPlay.  It all started on October 1st with the International Day of InterPlay- a FUNdraiser.

We gathered at the Alternate Roots Office to celebrate InterPlay in Atlanta and across the world!

Jennifer, Christine & Ruth doing a side-by-side story to embody what Atlanta InterPlay has been working & playing with in our community!  

The SoulPrint Players, under the direction of Jennifer Denning, performed.  Here Vivian was the lead for a Foundation Decoration Song about doves/peace.

We had a "Hoopla!" to celebrate the recent Life Practice Graduates.  Karimah is dancing through the hoop!

We celebrated Al Lingo, 2016 Spirit of InterPlay Awardee!

Al telling us a big-body story about his Civil Rights work.

We connected via the internet with InterPlayers around the globe.  Here is Ruth excited to connect with Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of InterPlay in Oakland, CA.

At the end of our celebration we went outside and participated in  a social action project coordinated by Ruth, Carolyn Renee and Callahan with the Red Sand Project to remember those who have fallen through the cracks with human trafficking, homelessness, etc. 

I'm so grateful for all of our guests that attended and played with us.  I want to give thanks to everyone who helped and supported this event especially my co-organizer Jennifer and Sharon who came and made the space beautiful! Thanks go to Alternate Roots for the use of their beautiful office and for granting us a Rhizome grant to help with food. Grateful for the money we raised that goes to support regional events including our upcoming leaders.  Thanks go to Dean Hess & Tony Martin for taking great pictures & Lachlan Brown for being out go-to tech support again this year.  And more than ever so full of gratitude for this beautiful community of Interplayers.  

In Peace & Play,


P.s. Click on the link to the video that shows more fun pictures!

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.