I spent last week with 48 or so little campers indulging in a love of the arts. The kiddos spent half the day in art class and half in drama (that’s the part I taught). It has been a few years since I taught this particular camp. Honestly I felt a bit rough around the edges, but I took that as an opportunity to approach this experience with some freshness.
I started teaching this camp in the early ’90’s. I would leave to do something else every couple of summers but would inevitably find my way back. This summer I was more rusty than I remember being in the past. I spent several years working as a youth and adult counselor in a domestic violence shelter. The work there was rich, rewarding and intense. When I left to work on my business, I knew I wanted to put work with little ones to the side for awhile. I wasn’t sure how long that would be. I was following my intuition. When I work with a kid, either as a counselor, a teacher, or play partner, I want to be present and in a space of honoring their highest good. That takes having an inner pool of peace to pull from.
Coming back to camp, I decided to use my sense of not remembering just exactly what my routine was to come at the work with a fresh approach. I set a personal goal for myself to be attentive to the kids as individuals (you know, as real people…not little people) and to offer them the opportunity to develop their creativity and not just follow some prescribed script.
Now there is definitely a place for scripted theatre. I consider that technical theatre (more product oriented), whereas what really turns me on is creative dramatics (more process oriented). This approach comes from having had several AMAZING experiences with focusing on process. That is where the magic happens.
We start with nothing but our bodies, a bit of imagination, and maybe a simple direction or two. We interact with one another, within the bounds of our direction, and before we know it, some phenomenon is lighting up between us.
I saw it with the kiddos at camp. I have to tell you, I have to keep myself from crying when I see it! Some of the campers were so nervous and so brave. They began by following me as I called out to change the shapes of their bodies and to move this way or that, then they shifted to paying attention to the other actors around them and creating beautiful, dynamic statue-like stances that morphed every several seconds. They tricked my mind into believing I was seeing a series of masterpieces being shaped spontaneously in front of me…and truth is, that is exactly what I was seeing. What more lovely work of art than seeing a group of individuals choosing to be present in a spirit of creativity with one another, in silence, and allowing another completely different group to witness their choices in movement, rhythm, and stance.
Then, the icing on the cake came when we talked about what had happened. Adults often think kids don’t get the big ideas. We think they won’t understand complex experiences, but they know a lot more than we give them credit for. During our reflection time, the kids were able to articulate what they really liked about the rehearsals.
They liked having a guide but getting a chance to explore new actions within the directions they wanted to follow. They wanted some freedom, but not so much that they had to make it all up on their own. They liked being challenged and respected the need for rehearsal because they wanted to go on stage with confidence. They even talked about the difficulty in doing something that was out of their comfort zone. They shared that doing something different or even something strange was okay as long as they knew they were safe and wouldn’t be judged. (Smarties!) They also enjoyed being given the opportunity to play, to move into their imagination, especially when the grown-ups in the room would engage in imaginary play with them. I think the trick was probably not to let the grown up take over the play world but rather share their play world.
This was the first time I had taught drama after studying play therapy, and I have to tell you, it changed how I ran my class. I let the play take center stage and attempted to make my direction come from what inspired me in their play. In this way, we were playing together, directing together. It was a subtle but powerful shift.
It made me wonder what life would be like if I could be more open to being inspired by others. In communication theory, I think that is akin to the concept of reciprocity, a shared giving to one another. I like that. I wonder where it might take me if I followed it for awhile. I will let you know.
I want to thank the camp kiddos. They helped me feel a kind of blooming of my spirit that I haven’t felt in awhile. I have been paying close attention to the lessons I learned in their presence so that I can share them with you. In that way, we will be a garden of loveliness, having been pollinated from the tiniest of bees spreading the richest of wisdom.