We had so much fun today! I’m going to leave the task of fully describing today’s activities to Michelle, but I did want to write about it a little bit. Michelle ran an improv sequence that began with the Humpty Dumpty rhyme and ended with a talk show involving Humpty, his wife, mistress, mom and homeboy.
We began with Role on the Wall, where Michelle actually drew Humpty Dumpty on the white board and we brainstormed all the characters in his life, what each of them might say to Humpty sitting up on that wall, and how all of that is making Humpty feel. Like my last entry, I’m just going point out a few key moments and let Michelle go more in depth about the sequence and her experience running it.
The wall: Michelle told me that when she did this exercise with other groups, they often have the people in Humpty’s life trying to help him get off of the wall, to come down and save himself. The wall represents suicide, is an ending. In our group, getting over the wall became the key narrative and the wall was the barrier to freedom. Everyone in Humpty’s life was trying to help him get over the wall or scolding him for not being able to get over it or yelling at him to come back and support his children. Beyond the wall was freedom. Michelle had wondered if using the starting point of Humpty Dumpty would be engaging enough and I told her, “They will put their own stories in it, no matter what you bring in,” and I was right. Humpty wanted to be free.
Bitches: Oh my goodness, it can very hard for me to listen to the world “bitch” said so many times and so casually in an hour and a half. Humpty had his bitches so everyone talked about them, in those terms, most of the class. One woman, a total hippie and tree lover, turned it around at the end and made Humpty a Mormon bigamist who called his wives his, “women of spiritual beauty” or something similar but there were still multiple women around Humpty. I let the discussion happen but at the end of class, I pushed back a bit and started asking about power dynamics.
“Who has more power in Humpty and Mrs. Dumpty’s relationship?” I asked.
“The wife, ’cause she controls him and has all his kids,” was the general answer. Ms. S, a formidable woman in her own right had taken on the role of Humpty’s wife so she stood as a strong advocate for her the entire class.
“Who makes the money?” I asked.
“He does but she controls it.”
“Does he hide any of it from her? Does he give any of it to his girlfriend?”
“So that gives him some more power, right?” I said. “And what happens if he leaves her and doesn’t pay his child support? What does she do for money?”
“She hustles. She goes on TANF,” were the replies.
“Does that give her power?” I asked.
“Hustling does. She can get her own money and do what she wants.”
“But what if she gets caught?” There was a brief pause and someone mentioned something about a probation officer and everyone laughed.
“And what about being called a bitch? Does that give him some power over her?”
The women all said that they wouldn’t let their partners call them bitches, although one woman said that she felt totally comfortable calling her male partner a bitch because that’s how he acted sometimes.
“I wish we had more time to discuss this,” I said, “because I’m really interested in that word and how we use it.” But we were at the end of class! I’ll definitely keep coming back to that because it comes up so often. The class was so quick to assign Humpty all of these typically negative male stereotypes and then defend them vigorously, that I would like to delve more into gender roles.
The talk show: The culmination of the sequence was a talk show that Michelle and I hosted, a cross between Oprah and Jerry Springer. I really appreciated the chance do a different kind of low pressure performative exercise than what I usually bring in. I also got to perform a bit, which this diva always loves. The game show format would be a fun bit to actually perform in front of an audience. I’ll have to think about that…
Next week we’ll be continuing in this vein, using role on the wall to create a character closer to the real life and adding some writing exercises into it. This could get very good very fast.