Today was an interesting day for me as I was more a participant than a leader through most of the session. Meg and I have discussed our overarching goals for the project, and one of hers was to lead a more comprehensive movement exercise than she did in the last five week project. Today was her day; she ran most of the class and I mainly participated, keeping my antennae up for the group’s mood in order to contain the space and encourage everyone.
As a facilitator, I am patient and understanding – a little bit too much, at times. I tend to not get aggravated or upset when people don’t want to participate or when they need a little nudge. I am all smiles and gentle encouragement (or jumping around dancing encouragement on my high energy days). As a participant, however, I am much more easily annoyed or upset by people’s non-involvement. Today I had a brain flip – my tolerance took a dip and I wanted everyone to throw themselves into the exercise, much like I tend to throw myself into things.
Fortunately, I caught this impulse in myself and was able to examine it without throwing some kind of hissy fit and yelling “Respect Meg, guys! She’s brought something really awesome in for us to do!” In our last group some of the women, impatient with their fellow group members, did just that. This is why we come up with a list of agreements at the beginning of the project. At first, these are easy to maintain. Everyone’s a bit on edge, still figuring out what this whole theatre thing is about. Later, as everyone becomes more comfortable, the definition of respect and participation can change a bit. When is teasing okay? Is chatting when someone else is speaking ever acceptable? What are Meg and my boundaries? What are everyone else’s?
Several women always come in a bit skeptical and reserved. They participate to some degree in everything, but we do need to coax them along. One woman in particular grumbles that I like to pick on her, but I really enjoy seeing what she can contribute when she decides to. As a facilitator, I respect the challenge. As a participant, I just want everyone to get along, have fun and create something wonderful together. When that doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen smoothly, I get frustrated and angry. My dual masks today (facilitator/participant) made me consider, again, the goals of the project as well Meg and my roles.
The women have to be there. If they are in the PRIDE program, then they must come to our class. They volunteer for the PRIDE program, certainly, but we started this class after the women had already joined PRIDE. They didn’t really sign up for a theatre workshop. Meg and I come in with what I consider a gift, but is it fair to expect them to welcome us with open arms? As some women have said, this isn’t really their thing but we ask them to participate nonetheless to see if they get anything out of it. In the group, there are varying levels of willingness and openness and we try to accommodate them all, while pushing for everyone to go deeper into the exercises.
I strongly believe in this work and its benefits. I see joy, I hear laughter, I witness songs and stories, I watch as women connect with their fun, silly and serious creative selves. For every woman who holds back, three launch themselves forward. I must remember to walk that fine line between coaxing and forcing. Between invitation and demand. Between patient facilitator and pouty participant. It’s good to learn this and good to stretch myself. Our last go round at the jail felt much more harried and experimental but this time, we are giving ourselves the space to really figure out what we want to do and how to do it.
One of the women asked me for a mailing address so she can write to Meg and me when she is transferred to the state jail. She wants to put us on her action plan for when she’s released. “You brought the word ‘wonderful’ into my life,” she said. “I didn’t ever have that before.” I need to get a PO Box for Conspire Theatre – although I can use ACOT’s mailing address, they’re far away from me and it will be more difficult to regularly check with them. The smallest post office box is $20 for 6 months. I’m going to purchase one today – if anyone would like to donate that cost, you can click on our How You Can Help tab to donate. This will enable me to keep in contact with the women who don’t have access to computers.
After we created our fantastic movement pieces under Meg’s direction (I’ll let her talk about them further in her post), we ended by playing my favorite game, Wah!, and calling out our final word for he day. Super excited! Energized! Serene! Blessed! Good words to end on. On Friday I’ll bring in scenes to work on. I’m interested to see how the women work with words that someone else has written.