Friday, April 8, 2016

For Ruth Schowalter, InterPlay has alchemical properties

CREATIVE COMMUNICATION CLASS at Clarkston Global Academy 2016. Students take turns witnessing one another.
Interview with Ruth Schowalter, certified InterPlay leader, and M.S. in Applied Linguistics by Jennifer Denning, co-founder of InterPlay Atlanta

In the past few weeks, as InterPlay Atlanta prepared for the one-day fundraiser, "2016 Give InterPlay Day," on April 7th, the certified leaders were documenting their work with people in underserved communities through photographs, writing, getting endorsements, and interviewing one another. Here Jennifer Denning asks Ruth Schowalter questions about her work with teenage refugees in the Clarkston, Georgia, area and the role InterPlay plays in her life. 

Thank you for taking the organizational lead on this for Atlanta this year! Can you talk about your commitment to InterPlay Atlanta?

InterPlay has been life changing for me in the three short years since I “discovered” this gentle improvisational system! (I know InterPlay has been around for 26 years nationally and in Atlanta since 2008) But it was in 2013 that I came across InterPlay on the internet while I was researching the use of improvisation to teach English language fluency and knew it would be a useful tool for my instructional purposes.

From the time I met you (Jennifer), I was enthralled with the forms and principles of InterPlay and began integrating them immediately with my American English fluency lessons for short courses and workshops (i.e., instructing Brazilian educators) at Georgia Tech Language Institute, international graduate students at Emory University’s Goizueta’s Business School, and eventually with teenage refugees in Clarkston, Georgia (the Ellis Island of the south), at the Clarkston Global Academy.
INTERPLAY HAS CHANGED ME. Here I am (fourth from the right) with the participants in my "Creative Communication" class at the Clarkston Global Academy at the end of one of our classes. As I evolved from a "sage on the stage" kind of teacher to a "coach on the side," the forms and principles of InterPlay have assisted me in joining in with my students, being among them, supporting and not judging their efforts.
What I didn’t expect from InterPlay is that its alchemical properties would transform me! We’ve been so fortunate to have you (Jennifer) here in Atlanta providing the structure for us local InterPlayers to “play,” explore, and go as deep as we each desire to understand more about our own body wisdom.

I might proclaim that I am an InterPlay evangelist! That proclamation wouldn’t surprise any of my friends, colleagues, neighbors, or family members. InterPlay offers us all “choices” to the extent that we want to engage in this creative improvisational system that fosters authenticity, freedom, ease, and joy.

It's wonderful to see the pictures from InterPlay at Clarkston Community Center and also to read some of the reflections from your participants. What have been some of your favorite moments teaching InterPlay at Clarkston Community Center?

Unrestrained jubilance! While InterPlay forms are executed in a way that is recognizable no matter where you are in the world, unexpected executions of the forms can emerge because the people are different! The resettled teenage refugees are always exuberant during the InterPlay form, “Walk Stop Run.” As an educator who hasn’t worked with teenagers before, I wasn’t prepared for the boundless energy and chaos that ensues as they whir around the large auditorium with its raised ceiling and large windows emitting warm streams of sunlight on wooden floors. They chatter; they hook their arms and move together; and they mostly run with little stopping or walking. In addition to being wowed by their energy, I was also challenged by accepting their choices and wondering how I might tweak my directions to garner different results.
INCREMENTAL STEPS SUPPORT DEVELOPMENT OF CONFIDENCE. In this photo, you see students telling longer stories and "embodying" them.
Offering the students in this “Creative Communication” class the opportunity to play around with vocal and physical range has created punctuated moments of delight for me. More than one student has “popped” out of their comfort zone to speak louder or to create an imaginative body movement to accompany their name or tell a story. As I observe the classmates “witness” each other’s “creative communications,” I see them being both supportive and encouraged. These particular moments also encourage me because they reinforce my ideas about the role our community plays in our lives. Our actions can make one another stronger.

It has been such a delight to see a natural-born InterPlayer emerge from the group. One Nepalese young woman volunteers at every opportunity to tell a big body story, to do a DT3, to engage in the mystery of communicating something about herself even though she doesn’t know what the outcome will be! I am so appreciative of her courage to improvise and the fun that she experiences and demonstrates to our class.

How does InterPlay help the teen refugees at CCC become more confident communicators?

What is confidence? And how do we recognize it when we see it? I’ve been playing around with this concept for years as an instructor of English as a Second Language at the Georgia Tech Language Institute (I taught there for 20 years and now work there contractually).

I know that creating an environment in which students feel comfortable to take risks and make mistakes is key to developing an adventurous communication style. The improvisational structure of InterPlay offers the structure for creating this “safer” environment. Let me explain a few components here:

Incremental Steps—Confidence is built in the students one step at a time, beginning with “short tellings” and lengthening to longer storytelling moments engaging skills such as speaking slowly, speaking with enthusiasm, using a made up language, or describing something from a perspective of a child, expert, etc…. These incremental steps are sneaky and before they know it, students are engaged in telling their stories in ways they never thought possible.

Easy Focus—InterPlay participants are given clear directions but encouraged to soften their “gaze” or “focuser” and to discover how they want to execute the directions. In other words, the directions provide structure but the individual finds what they need to say or do within or outside of the structure. Giving students permission to be themselves and make choices is empowering.

Witness—Being seen and being heard without interruption is a powerful experience for anyone, especially if you are doing it in a language that is not your native language and in an adopted culture. InterPlay has us “witness” one another, creating a “sacred” place for these resettled refugees to tell their stories in English in a fully embodied way. To “embody” a second or third language is empowering. To have someone see you do that is positively re-enforcing.

Noticing and Affirming the Good—InterPlay is critique free! Instead of my writing down a list of things for students to improve in their pronunciation, organization of ideas, or nonverbal skills, I along with all of the paricipants applaud the accomplishments! Very good. Very good. Hurray! The students practice acknowledging what they are experiencing in their individual bodies, to ground the learning in their whole person—body, mind, heart, and spirit. This kind of affirmative noticing results in increased self-awareness..

Respecting an Individual’s Choice—Participants are asked to choose what is best for them as they “try” new behaviors “on.” That is, students are given freedom and authority as to how they want to execute the directions. Taking actions based on their own internal authority certainly helps develop confidence.

The practice of having these occur in the “Creative Communication” class is challenging and definitely a work in progress!
WORK IN PROGRESS. CPACS supervisors watch while I begin a typical "Creative Communication" class at the Clarkston Global Academy. We begin each class by saying our names, making short physical actions, playing with our voices, and sharing short snippets from our individual lives. We play around with expanding vocal range (volume, speed, and pitch) and physical range. The class is always a work in progress.
What are some of the greatest gifts you have personally received from your involvement with InterPlay?

Great question Jennifer! Although InterPlay has informed my life in many ways--too many to name, so I will speak about two here.

Before InterPlay, I had never heard of the phrase “kinesthetic imagination.” What I found out is that I am very much a kinesthetic person and that is the way I experience the world. InterPlay really helped get me out of my head and intellect and to connect with my body. For example, last year, I collaborated with fellow InterPlayer on art performance piece, “Embody the Mother,” during which I danced and painted on stage. To prepare for this performance, I danced every day before painting three “quick” paintings. Creatively I was able to lead with my body, to have the ideas, brush strokes and images be generated through movement. Movement continues to impact my visual art making.

Another gift I have received from InterPlay is the concept of “exformation” and a way to achieve it. This tool is a way of releasing excess information from our “bodyspirits.” Whether this information is deemed good or bad, we can let it go from our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. For those of us who are particularly kinesthetic, it is so much fun not to mention cathartic. Since 2013, I have been doing lots of exforming and my body loves it!

Why are you supporting InterPlay Atlanta on Give InterPlay Day?
I love InterPlay and have become a part of a warm local, regional, and national InterPlay communities. I know that InterPlay offers us all a sustainable way to be our authentic selves and still be present in our communities.

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