I have spent the last few years observing some great teachers facilitate workshops. Various people from a variety of disciplines and interests with the same goal: to create a framework in which their participants can evoke or create ideas or material. After reflecting on their teaching, I have found two things these teachers all have in common: patience and listening capacities. During my time spent with the GeriActors and Friends, I had the opportunity to witness Stuart Kandall, Shula Strassfeld, David Barnet and numerous students and guest artists who have worked with us throughout the years. This is a reflection of some incredible facilitation I have been experienced.
The concept of patience is more than the willingness to wait, but also the willingness to speed things up if necessary. To be patient with your students when their pace hasn’t matched your trajectory or with yourself if your pace isn’t on par with your students. The willingness to break away from plan and humbly say, “I’m not entirely sure where to go next” and be able to follow your impulses or check in with your students what the next course of action should be.
During a drama exercise called “When I open my door, I see…”, the participants are meant to be able to imagine a place of significance to themselves and be able to share a story about this place. The facilitator must choose their pace and words very carefully to evoke the imagery of the door. What it looks like, the texture of the door, the age, the size, the smell, anything necessary to evoke this door for the participant. The next step would be to evoke the physicalization of feeling the door knob and opening the door. This imagery is absolutely necessary for the participant to enter this organic imaginative world. The next step is absolutely crucial, one must give time for the participant to breathe and discover the actual place. They usually come in fragments, one detail at a time.
The patience comes when the facilitator must demonstrate this exercise in the beginning, to have the patience to not artificially choose something, but to be able to slow down and live the actual experience. To frame the exercise that way allows any kind of possibility and the ability to experience it with the student. When the participants have finally opened the door, to have the patience to allow them to discover the place. To be able to ask exactly the right questions to prompt specific details: the geography of everything, the little details of their location, etc. When they have finally discovered their place, providing them the language to describe while giving them complete freedom to say anything they’d like.
The patience goes hand in hand with a facilitator’s capacity to listen to where their participants are at. Simple clues such as whether they are breathing, their capabilities, their energy, comfort, interest or engagement levels provide you imperative information to what your next step should be. That fine tuned ear is something that can only come with practice and observing great masters at this craft.
I had the great honour of witnessing Shula Strassfeld facilitate one of Dance Exchange’s signature improv duet exercises “1-10”. In this exercise, one person begins by creating a shape with their body, once they have found that shape they will say “one”. The second person will respond by creating a second shape and saying “two”. This continues until the partners reach ten.
The beauty of this exercise is that the possibilities are limitless. You could add certain restrictions or factors to focus on. For example, you could ask everyone to play with the possibilities of space and contact or to only create movements that are abstract or pedestrian. It takes someone with a very keen ear and eye to read where everyone’s bodies and potentials lie. If someone is insecure about moving in front of an audience, you may have two groups perform at the same time instead. This way the student is still dancing and learning essential dance improv skills while learning that dancing in front of an audience isn’t that scary at all.
I think what makes these experiences so interesting and challenging at the same time is that the skill of facilitation can only be achieved by practicing and witnessing masters of the craft. Much of the work comes from intuition and intuition cannot be learned but practiced. It makes for an exciting endless journey of constant observing, reflecting and practice.