That Wild Energy

Meg came back! Hooray! Just in time for more new faces and lots of giggling. We had about ten women today, which is such a great sized group. When the class is larger (15 to 24 women), it becomes difficult to invest enough energy in every single person. With ten, I feel like I can get to know each woman in the hour and a half we share.

I remembered a fun exercise we did in an Intro to Theatre class at Clean Break. I passed around a roll of toilet paper and told each woman to take as many squares as she wanted. Once we all had our squares, I then informed the group that everyone had to say one thing about themselves for each square. Some women had taken five, others had only torn off one. Somehow the use of toilet paper makes this simple little sharing really funny and kind of unexpected.

The group then got into groups of three and found three things (in 30 seconds!) that they had in common. Each group shared and then we did it again, only this time those things had to be more specific and no one could use any that another group had said. Again they shared and then they had to do it again! More specific and no repeats! I was persuaded to give them a minute this time. They then had to pick one of them and act it out for us to guess. One group had us baffled – they kept pointing to their arms and skin tones, then finally one of the women took it into charades, acting out the first part of the word. She grabbed her imaginary pick and headlamp and started swinging away. “Miner?” She nodded enthusiastically. We couldn’t get past “miner” though and she finally blurted out. “Minorities! We’re all minorities!” In the first round, one group of women declared, “We’re all Hispanic, we’re all cute and all of our men are in prison!” then burst into laughter. Lots of laughter and wild energy in the room today. Focusing was difficult but I prefer the laughter and energy to sullen refusals.

After that, one of the women who was in our summer workshop asked me to sing a call and response song that I’d brought in last June. I need to remember that sometimes the familiar is also fun. I tend to try and always bring in new new new games and exercises, forgetting that gaining mastery over something and knowing how it goes is also a valuable tool and a good way to get buy-in from women in the class. This same woman was also familiar with the “These Hands” exercise that I did with the class today but she was happy to do it again and seemed pleased that she knew how it went.

“These hands have made lots of tortillas.”
“These hands have played itsy-bitsy spider.”
“These hands have crocheted a blanket.”
“These hands have held my baby.”
“These hands have worked on an assembly line.”

I love this exercise because it can tell you so much about what a person has done and what is important to her without ever asking directly. 

 I had planned to do “These Hands” and then write a group poem from it but we ran short of time so instead, after we added movements, I asked the women to group themselves according to which movements went together. I then told them that they could use the lines from the exercise (“These hands have…”) and the movements they’d come up with to make a small performance piece. I left it pretty open ended (one woman told me that my instructions made her head go a little crazy) – just use the words and the movements in any way you like to present it to us.

It worked really well. In about five minutes, each group came up with a piece that used repetition, linking or fluidity to tie their words and movements to each other. We presented to each other and everyone seemed pleased with their mini-plays.

 We ended the class early so the women wouldn’t have to face the horrors of sack lunch. I guess if they don’t get out by a certain time, they aren’t allowed to eat in the cafeteria and get the baloney sandwich lunch I’ve seen them eating. Although we may not be able to end early every day, we got to a good stopping point and ended with smiles and thanks on both sides.

-Katherine Craft


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