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Out of Character Workshop at Psychology Conference

Yesterday Out of Character ran a workshop for the Congress of Community Psychology Conference held at York St. John University.

I led the workshop with warm-up assistance from Tom, and additional support from Gemma, Ros, Sharon and Jane. Facilitating a workshop can be a nervy experience at the best of times, but in a room full of (presumably) psychologists and related disciplines, I did wonder if they would involve themselves, or take me seriously as a facilitator.

Actually, that’s not true. First I wondered if anyone would attend at all, thenI thought I would be trying to run a workshop with two attendees, who actually had no interest in theatre or the aims of our company, that had strolled in by mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have given it a go with a tough crowd (well, tough duo) and force them to enjoy it – c’mon, it’s got to be more fun than a seminar on statistical data analysis?

Fortunately, Gemma and Jane managed to convince about a dozen people that they should come along.

After an introduction from Gemma, I spoke briefly about the company, before introducing the theme for the workshop: stigma, stereotypes and assumptions.

I handed over to Tom for a warm-up of Name and Action. This game revealed what an international group we had attending, and that making an unusual gesture whilst shouting your name tends to be amusing in any language and puts a group more at ease.

Starting the session proper, I got the group to shout out the first words/ descriptions that came to mind given a specific person/ trait/ scenario. For instance, responses to the conference, women drivers, male chefs, psychologists, and lastly mental illness.

The next exercise was to stand in a line according to perceptions of value, with the highest/most at one end and the lowest/least at the other. They then had to align themselves according to such traits asconfidence, intelligence, and normality.

I then asked them to do the same task according to associated mental health statements, such as: ‘people with a problem cannot be trusted’, or ‘only have a problem because it’s fashionable’. But for each one I asked for both what they think and what they perceive other people think.  The majority of the time it seems individuals have a lower regard for other people’s perceptions.

The final part of the session required splitting into three groups and discussing some of the matters and themes that were reflected on after each task. This formed the basis for creating tableaus with their ideas, and ultimately led to creating a short scene which was then performed and discussed by the group.

The group possibly needed a little coaxing at times to really allow themselves to push the perceived stereotypes and non-PC language within a performance space. It was acknowledged by some people that they held back in a room full of strangers, or that they were unsure where the acceptable rules were. Fortunately Gemma was able to assist in reconciling the aims of interrogating the language/views and heightening this in performance through parody.

In all it seemed a successful afternoon. The feedback after the session was very positive. The only problem was that we ran out of time for a longer discussion and feedback at the end. But no one left screaming that they would have preferred to have gone to a different workshop or seminar.

So that’s how I’m advertising all company workshops from now on:

Roll up Ladies and Gentlemen, and immerse yourselves in an Out of Character Theatre Company Workshop – it’s more fascinating than a seminar on statistical data analysis.