Thursday, February 4, 2016

Playing with NOTICING: Creative Communications at Clarkston Community Center, Georgia, USA

TEENAGE REFUGEES COMMUNICATING CREATIVELY. The improvisational system of InterPlay provides forms that help expand one's expressiveness while cultivating authenticity, especially if your participants are mostly teenage boys from African countries living in Georgia, USA, and communicating in their second, third, or fourth language. Here, in this photo, the class members in "Creative Communication" were invited to experiment with telling stories standing up and playing around with volume, pitch, and speed. Afterwards, we did some NOTICING....but what is noticing? Well, that is the topic of this article! So read on. (photos by Ruth Schowalter)
Written by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader and InterPlay Art and Soul Creativity Coach

 “I felt free,” one of the teenage refugees said after our InterPlay warmup and “Walk Stop Run” that we did during our Creative Communication class at the Clarkston Community Center. “The stress is gone,” another student offered to our group. “It was like play,” still another commented. We were doing what we do in InterPlay--NOTICING.

NOTICING plays an important role in InterPlay. Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, the co-founders of InterPlay, explain in their easy-going whimsical manner: “We do stuff and then notice.”

But why?  Why NOTICE the stuff we do? And what role might NOTICING play in assisting these teenage immigrants to express themselves more authentically in their new language--English--and new home here in Clarkston, Georgia, nicknamed the Ellis Island of the South? To answer these questions, I am going to delve into InterPlay training documents and see how I might extract well-written explanations on NOTICING (thanks Phil and Cynthia) and paraphrase them meaningfully to fit my particular situation with these teenage refugees. Here goes….
ANY NOTICINGS ABOUT BABBLING? Right now,  I am learning how to relate "public speaking" skills (which these students are very interested in) to the InterPlay form, "Babbling," which they are shown doing here in this photo. Basically, "Babbling" is a short telling on a given topic, during which participants are invited to "just talk" without any need to organize or stay on the given topic. Their partner "just listens," or "witnesses." NOTICING, I explain is checking in with their "Speaker Self" and seeing what they are experiencing in their body, heart, mind, and spirit. Doing this noticing, they have the opportunity to begin envisioning and owning themselves as a "speaker" with an "audience." In InterPlay, we are enthusiastic supporters of incremental steps! 30-second stories expand to 1-minute stories, which grow into big body stories and many other dynamic speaking avenues!
In InterPlay, we regularly create experiences for participants to have and discover certain “things” for themselves rather than lecture and tell them what we want them to know or feel. So we facilitators don’t announce that the activity, “Walk Stop Run” is going to be fun (It may well not be fun to someone.). Nor do we give people “permission” to do anything other than walk, stop, or run. Instead, we give simple directions in order to get everyone engaged, put on music, and see what happens....

Extraordinarily (or maybe it is just being human), people start lifting their arms, raising their legs, and any other movement they might feel like doing. Some start copying each other and moving together. Groups of three might skip around the room arm and arm. Others may lean together while they are stopped.

MAGIC happens! And for my group, this magic happened!
WHAT DID YOU NOTICE ABOUT WALK STOP RUN? As their InterPlay facilitator, I noticed that among the Creative Communication students during their "Walk Stop Run" that there was a strong burst of energy and certain kind of abandonment--creating movement beyond the directions of walk, stop, and run. I was "wowed." It was magical!
And what does this MAGIC have to do with NOTICING?

After “Walk Stop Run” concluded, we gathered to do some NOTICING, which these teenage participants are still learning how to do. I explain to them that each individual describe his/her own experiences (not somebody else’s) and “look for the good” although negative observations will be affirmed as well.  Someone might mention that he/she feels energized while someone else feels tired. 

This proclamation of “tired” happened in the first Creative Communication class last week with other others nodding their heads in agreement. I acknowledged all of the students’ fatigue, knowing that they had been in high school classes all day and it was then 5:00 pm. Many had at least two buses to take to get home before an evening of homework. My affirmations support their body wisdom and could lead in the future to a discussion about what choices they can make to get some needed rest.
PLAYING AROUND WITH FOLLOWING AND LEADING.  What did you notice when you were a leader? What did you notice when you were a follower? The students' responses varied. Some felt comfortable and even liked leading. Others were more comfortable following.
Again, you might ask why? Why NOTICE? Because of the benefits! Let’s explore what some of these benefits of NOTICING might be:

There is something called INTERNAL AUTHORITY
In this case of expanding or bending the rules in “Walk Stop Run,” the topic of  internal authority versus external authority is elicited. Instead of the facilitator giving permission to “do anything you want”  (external authority) during the activity, participants learn for themselves (internal authority) that they have the freedom to play with movement in the company of others. NOTICING helps us explore this concept of internal authority and our experience related to it.
WE HUMANS ARE LAYERED AND COMPLEX. Noticing after a Babbling exercise, requires students to express a different layer of experience. When Babbling, a speaker is accessing and using information that they have learned from being in the world. But when noticing afterwards, the speaker is accessing and communicating personal information being felt in that moment in their body, heart, and mind. Noticing is one way intimacy is created between InterPlay participants with simple and safe parameters.

What we experience in any one given moment is not simple. NOTICING helps us capture these complex feelings and ideas and begin the process of articulating them. And the really great concept in InterPlay? You don't have to be able to articulate an experience, "to have it."

Having participants NOTICE is a way of getting them to pay attention to the validity of their experiences and what they know for themselves. As they practice NOTICING, they build up their confidence in their inner wisdom. NOTICING is an opportunity for everyone to HONOR themselves. The ability to express these NOTICINGS authentically becomes a possibility.

NOTICING in the community of the InterPlay play group allows everyone to learn from one another and to discover that people have similar and different experiences of the same exercise. InterPlay offers the opportunity to respect how individuals learn what they need or want from a particular activity.

As we continue learning InterPlay forms and tools in this Creative Communication class during this spring semester, I look forward to seeing what we can discover and NOTICE together. What is authentic communication and how can it be played around with?
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Andrea Waterstone, Arts and Education Director at the Clarkston Community Center, and Stephen Young and his associates for inviting me to bring InterPlay to this special group of teenage refugees. Thanks as always go to Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for creating such an elegant improvisational system that is respectful to the individual and fosters freedom. Most important of all, thank you to the students who engage in these activities with trust and enthusiasm.