Lessons observing great facilitators.

     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.

Our January Beginning.

It’s our first day back from the Holiday break.

     As we ease our way back into the rehearsal room, warming ourselves up with familiar exercises: Martha, One to Ten, Ta-Da-Da, and of course, sharing stories, we begin to get back into the swing of things.
     Today was also the start of many new exciting things. Sherry Smith, one of the graduates of David’s Intergenerational Theatre Class began the rehearsal with an incredible 15 minute vocal warm up. Stayed tune as Sherry will be starting an 8 week vocal research/intensive with the seniors on how vocal exercises can rehabilitate the aging voice. January will also be the start a movement residency with local choreographer Amber Borotsik and Music improviser Karen Porkka. Of course, we will be building a play to tour for our performance season starting in March. We have a busy start of 2016.
     To end this blog off, I wanted to share this poem. It was found by our friend and vocal expert Sherry Smith.

I am not old

I am not old, she said
I am rare

I am the standing ovation
at the end of the play

I am the retrospective
of my life
as art

I am the hours
connected like dots
into good sense

I am the fullness
of existing

you think I am waiting to die
but I am waiting to be found

I am a treasure
I am a map
these wrinkles are imprints
of my journey

ask me

You are invited to the GeriActors & Friends December Party!

The GeriActors & Friends have been working hard these last three months creating their next performance. It covers a vast array of topics: Racism in the 40s, Epic train stories from England, A little white lie and a squashed penny.

Join us Tuesday, December 8 at 1:30pm in the Fine Arts Building at the Univeristy, Room 2-43 to see our first showing of this incredible piece.

This event will also feature this year’s students from David Barnet’s Intergenerational Theatre Class Drama 427/507 who have been instrumental in the creation of this new piece, bringing their energy, openness and expertise.

The first hour will feature a fun and energetic storytelling workshop by the GeriActors and Friends and the second hour will be the performance followed by a talkback. Our world renowned coffee break will be included of course.

Feel free to comment below or contact Becca at geriactors.friends@gmail.com if you have any questions.

Come share a cup of tea and a story or two with us. We would love to see you there.


Emily St. Aubin – A Friend of the GeriActors

Editor’s note: It’s always a gift when former GeriActors or Friends reconnect. This is a post by Emily St. Aubin, a former Friend and one of the editors of our blog. To receive a copy of Sharing Our Stories, please email: geriactors.friends@gmail.com

Emily St. Aubin
Emily St. Aubin

How were you involved in the GeriActors?

I first got involved with the GeriActors as a graduate student in the Intergenerational Theatre seminar in Fall 2013. I quickly fell in love with the company and continued on as a company member for the winter touring season. During the spring, I collected stories told by participants in our outreach programs for a book, Sharing Our Stories. This project was supported by CSL (Community Service Learning at the University of Alberta and the Boardwalk Rental Communities Learning and Change Award (BRCLCA). 

What are you doing now?

After GeriActors and my master’s degree, I moved back to Ontario to complete a Bachelor of Education with a specialization in Arts and Community Education (ACE) at Queen’s. It’s a fantastic program for anyone who is interested in the roles the arts can play in schools and communities and having worked with the Geris definitely enriched my experience in ACE. Right now, I’m living in Ottawa and am taking some time to figure out what my next move will be. I know I want to continue to be involved in education, community based art, and camping/ outdoor education,  so we’ll see where I end up!

How has the GeriActors influenced your current work?

The Geris reminded me of how much we all need to play – especially as adults. This fall I facilitated camp programs for adults and as we played together, I was often reminded of the Geris. Working with the Geris also instilled an appreciation for “talk time” in me. A good chunk of the Geri rehearsals are taken up by their signature elegant coffee break and this is so important. Having time to just talk, eat, and get to know each other is invaluable in community building.

What do you see for the future of intergenerational art?

I think intergenerational art is in a really exciting place right now since all it can do is grow! I’d love to continue to see collaboration across art forms, communities, ages, and experiences. Something I think the GeriActors do really well is build meaningful relationships that extend beyond artistic practice. People come to create plays and in doing so also make friends. I think that is at the heart of all community based arts practice.

GeriActors and Friends – Artifacts Exercise.

Editor’s note: The GeriActors are back in rehearsal creating material for our Christmas performance in December. Here is a blog post by Bill Yong.

     I had always been curious to see the treasure box excerise. Much of the GeriActors and Friend’s early stories were prompted by an artifact. This Thursday, with new members of the GeriActors, we had an opportunity to do this activity.
Table full of artifacts
     It started with members bringing in artifacts that evoke memories for them. People brought barbies, a beer stein, old dolls, toys, photographs, a handwritten notebook and placed it on a table.
     After being given the prompt to let the object evoke a story rather than trying to find one after picking an object, the group began their journey of discovering their item. Some would spot one and immediately know it was the one, some would sift through several, feeling the texture, playing with the artifact before moving on or making a decision.
     Certain people found inspiration in one artifact and formed a group, while others found their own unique artifact and formed another.
It was electrifying witnessing how a certain item or story would evoke another story:
     A friend shared how she got the nickname “Thief” from sneaking things in her pocket as a child.
     A GeriActor shared a story traveling in Missouri on a train during the Second World War and watching the black passengers being forced to the back of the train before crossing a state line.
     Another GeriActor shared a story about how his brother would sing Lili Marlene to his sweatheart in occupied Netherlands.
To hear the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZAV4hsP5WU
Where do these stories go next? Stay tuned for our December performance to find out.