Playfully exploring serious issues: what does that mean?


August 19th, 2013

Some issues are so serious they are hard, or painful, to talk about.

So we often see sombre meetings, and participants struggling to find words befitting the seriousness of the issue. These meetings are often long, painful and tedious.

Playfully exploring these serious issues is an alternative. It doesn’t mean trivialising. It does mean coming at these issues from a different direction. Here’s an example.

There are serious issues to be tackled in a Pacific nation where I was working where gender-based violence is the norm, substance abuse is common, unemployment is high, and violence is part of everyday life for most women and children. How to bring these issues into the open in a mixed group of men, women, officials and community?

We played a game called I Am A Tree. This is a game where people stand in a circle, one person comes to the centre and says “I am a tree” and strikes a tree-like pose. A second person comes in and says what they are in relationship to the tree, for example “I am an orange” and a third person comes in and might say “I am the leaves”. The first person then decided who should stay and might select the ‘orange’. ┬áThe game continues with the other two leaving the centre of the circle and a new scene emerges around the ‘orange’.

It is a warm-up game from improv theatre to emphisize commitment, making your partner look good and making and accepting offers.

After a few rounds of the general stuff the game naturally morphed into topics important to the participants. So we saw people coming to the centre of the circle and saying ‘I am a malnourished child’ or ‘I am a stick’ and ‘I am the wife being beaten by the stick’.

Serious? Yes.

Playful? Yes.

Powerful? You bet.

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