This past weekend was exhausting, but so much fun; I decided to head to Iowa City, IA for the APO Section 21 Conference, hosted by the University of Iowa. I had offered to do my theatre workshop, or do one on a different topic. The conference coordinator sent me a list of topics, and the very first one was self-care at service projects, so I decided to switch gears for once and present a workshop session about a completely new subject to me.
At first, I was going to just tell my own stories and strategies. Then, I thought about just turning it into a session where the participants shared their own experiences.
And then, it came to me.
Well, after having lunch on Friday afternoon on the way to the conference, with my friend Brooke, in Muscatine. Brooke is also a Ph.D. candidate in theatre. She does a lot with applied theatre, and I’ve been to several of her workshops at past ATHE conferences. So, I decided to take my experiences, infuse them with applied theatre techniques (with thanks to Brooke, Augusto Boal, and Viola Spolin) and see what would happen.
AKA, true “Jacob style.” (a term I coined back in 2009 in Israel.)
I had 25 participants, according to the sign-in sheet, representing all 4 chapters with members at the conference (Iowa, Iowa State, Coe, and Drake) and I quickly looked over the sheet, taking note of names of people in the room. I started off by nervously introducing myself, then went into a group warm-up to “Sax” by Fleur East, one of my favorite warm-up songs of all time. Then, I started off with some classic misdirection, announcing that I would be talking about self care, but first, tell you about this awesome service project I did as an undergrad. Which led me to:
Scenario 1: Oh, God.
I called for a volunteer from the audience, and got someone from Iowa State to join me in the front of the room. We shook hands, and then I said, “Nice to meet you, [real name of person]. How about I call you Valerie?” which got a lot of laughs. She acquiesced and sat down in the chair next to me. I reintroduced myself to the group as “Craig,” and then broke down the service project to the group: it was Halloween, 10 years ago, before Uber and Lyft existed. “Valerie” and I (“Craig”) handed out business cards to students the day before Halloween with the phone number of a local church (which I called “Sacred Heart”), and instructions to call on Halloween night between the hours of 7 PM and 2 AM, if you were drunk or felt unsafe, and a car would be dispatched to take you safely wherever in town you needed to go, for free. “Valerie” and I were excited to be volunteering as dispatchers on the switchboard.
I set the scene: 6 PM, October 31st, a Friday, the meeting room of Sacred Heart Church, and immediately thrust the two of us into character. I said that Father O’Malley just stood up, and is now asking everyone to stand in a circle, join hands, and pray to Jesus Christ for the safety of our drivers and passengers. As “Craig,” I told “Valerie” that maybe we should leave, because this is strange; not only did I introduce “Craig” as a Jewish student, but also one who didn’t really believe in God, and just felt like getting up and leaving. I asked “Valerie” what she thought, and she said that she’d probably join the circle, but if I didn’t want to, I could just go to the bathroom and come back in a few minutes, and so I did that. I rejoined “Valerie,” thanking her for helping me deal with the situation, ending the scenario.
After a round of applause, I polled the audience on the situation, how “Valerie” handled it, and if she did a good job. There was a general consensus that she did. Several students responded with their own examples; one, who was raised Catholic but is no longer religious, had that same exact experience, and said that “no one even noticed [she] was gone for 5 minutes.” Someone else offered her experience working on mission trips with diverse groups of volunteers with varying relationships with religion. I asked the group what we could learn from this scenario, and the responses I got were: take care of yourself, take care of your brothers, be true to yourself, trust your feelings, and don’t feel pressured to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Which led to:
Scenario 2: Fingers Pointing Every Which Way
This example was a little trickier, but I gave a pretty extreme example just to set the scene. I became “Michael,” and I invited up a volunteer from Iowa, who I dubbed “Sam,” the “president of the [fictional] chapter.” As “Michael,” I called “Sam” to have a one-on-one about yesterday’s service project, which was gardening at an elementary school. At first, I just described what happened, but then I went full-on: it was too hot, I got sweaty, my clothes got dirty, it was boring, I hate lifting heavy things. Then, I went on to say that I asked “Suzanne” for some water, and she just said “grab that shovel and start digging,” and that it was like slave labor, and our Service VP, “Kris” shouldn’t plan projects like this anymore because I can’t do them. As “Sam,” my volunteer responded well to my exceedingly outlandish claims, and even put a twist (and an excellent one) on it, by revealing that he was there too, and it was not that hot outside, nor was it that difficult of a task. “Sam” then went on to politely explain that I should sign up for different events in the future that don’t involve physical labor or being outside, like sorting cans at the food pantry, and that it wasn’t his fault, nor “Suzanne,” nor “Kris,” that all these miserable things happened to me. Problem solved, end of scenario.
In our brief reflection, I told the group that while “Michael” was an extreme case, accessibility is important and not all of us are able to do certain physical tasks, and that’s okay, and while we need to take care of our brothers (for example, if someone gets injured, someone should take that person to get medical care), and as a takeaway, we are all college students who should be able to take care of ourselves in normal everyday situations, and also shouldn’t be so quick to whine, point fingers, and place blame on others. In hindsight, “Michael” was not in a place where he needed actual medical help, and it would not have been feasible or appropriate to take “Michael” home at this point, so “Michael” should have either changed his behavior, or reevaluated the situation. I did a bit more talking than listening at this point, mostly because I wanted to get my point about accessibility across, and that just because someone is struggling does not mean that they are a “Michael.” Someone in the audience pointed out that maybe “Michael” had a personal vendetta against “Sam” or “Kris” or “Suzanne,” or that he might have other emotional/academic issues outside of school. And finally:
Scenario 3: Heavy Metal
At this point, I took my yellow bandana from my wrist, put it on my head, and morphed into “Morton” (I was tired and couldn’t think of a decent sounding male name, sorry), the president of another fictional chapter. I arranged eight seats around me in a circle, and called for an “emergency meeting,” and for 8 people from the audience to come and fill the seats. It ended up being 4 guys and 4 ladies, the latter of whom I greeted with a “good of you to show up, Penelope, thanks for coming.” (again, wtf, Jacob?)
As President “Morton,” I told the group that I got a call from “Doris” from Campus Security. I explained that our chapter earned both service hours and a little extra money by stamping hands and guarding fire exits at campus events. However, “Doris” told me that next week, a much bigger event was occurring, and they wanted us to use metal-detecting wands on people as they came in. I voiced that this might not quite be what our organization is all about, and asked the group what they thought we should do.
“Penelope” spoke up first, saying that she had no problem at all with it, and it could be a new skill for us to learn as a group. I thanked her for her perspective, and then said that, in “my” opinion, this was sort of a risky event because what would happen if someone had a weapon, and how could we know that we weren’t going to get shot? I looked around the circle for an agreeing face, and upon making eye contact with another girl, said “Jennifer, what are your thoughts?” The girl I called “Jennifer” said that she agreed with me, and that this prospect scared her a little, and if we were to decide to do it, she wouldn’t feel safe and didn’t want to do the project. Before we could get too much into details, I took a poll: 4 (including myself) did not want to do it, and the other 5 did. So, I told the group that campus security needed a minimum of 10 committed volunteers, and that we are a very small chapter, with only 15 members total. “Jennifer” suggested calling the other six and asking them, but I revealed that it was a weekend, and some of them had gone to visit their families at home, so we might not be able to reach them right away. Doing some quick math, I told the group that we had potentially eleven people, but that would mean that 5 out of 6 people not currently in the room would need to do the event in order for it to happen, and that “Doris” needed to know right away. So I put it to the group, should we do it, or say “thanks but no thanks?” In response, “Penelope” offered up the perfect solution, pointing out that it’s not fair to make decisions for people who aren’t in the room and don’t have a voice, and since we don’t have the numbers in the room currently, we should politely pass on this opportunity as a group, which solved the problem.
This was probably my favorite scenario, because it got super intense and involved, super quickly. In reflection “Penelope” pointed out that while in real life, she had done that before, it’s not for everyone. “Jennifer” revealed that in real life, she, as her character, would absolutely not do it, and no one would convince her otherwise, so it was not a hard stretch to object in this scenario. We quickly wrapped up the reflection, and the workshop as a whole, by talking about how important group self-care is, that it’s important to take peoples’ needs and feelings into consideration when making big decisions, to let people have a say/talk out big things like this, to not make decisions for people who are not in the room, and to look for the big picture of group safety vis a vis things like volunteering and making money.
With that, I concluded the workshop, thanked all my participants and volunteers, and got a hearty round of applause. I’d definitely want to do this again, and I think that it went off without a hitch; the scenarios were bullet-proof, diverse, and provided the students with a lot to think about.
So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.