Pictures. People. Time.
May 17, 2011 12:13 PM   Subscribe

I have: a bunch of selections from NYPL's Picture Collection; a group of artist-types who are gung-ho for basically anything; and a maximum of one hour. I'm meant to be leading some sort of physical activity. What now?

This is a group of 6-10 Theater People, although the event is not necessarily focused on theater or acting.

As part of this (recurring) gathering, I volunteered to lead the section generically called "Body-Type Learning", which is a way of saying I should be leading some sort of activity that's physical practice, rather than theory (as opposed to Brain-Type Learning, which is the other major segment). It doesn't need to be a workout, it just needs to not be stationary. Not everyone has to be moving all the time.

Thinking to use them as inspiration for my activity, I gathered a selection of images from the Picture Collection. Some are photographs of one person, some are photographs of pairs, some are paintings of groups, some are abstracts of something-or-other, some are photos of dogs and nebulae (not together).

It turns out that my idea basically fizzled at "Get pictures". I assumed that I would think of something to do with them that would be cool, but I'm at a total loss, and running short of time.

This event begins at 7pm EDT.

Any ideas you have will be greatly appreciated.
posted by davidjmcgee to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let me see if I understand you. You just have to do something involving physical action? Is there meant to be a learning component (i.e., "after doing fnarg you will have a better understanding on breath control" or whatever)?

If you don't need there to be any real educational aspect, I have an idea that may not involve the pictures at all: something we did in my "movement" class one year in the acting conservatory, that was AWESOME: play baseball. Imaginary baseball.

No, go with me a second.

It's just like baseball, except the bases are imaginary, as is the bat, as is the ball. Divide them into teams; you are the umpire. In your role as umpire, you are the one that calls out whether the pitch that the "pitcher" pitches is a hit, a strike, or a ball (this is something you decide wholly on the spur of the moment). Based on your calls, the others play out each person's turn at bat; you also ascertain whether a person has been tagged out, whether the people in the field catch a ball, etc.

I know this sounds completely ridiculous, but it is eerie how much my acting class got into it. I noticed that at one point while I was waiting my "turn at bat" I was standing in a strange posture, with my arms stretched out from my shoulders and my wrists loose so my hands hung down; I saw myself in the studio mirror and wondered what I was doing, then remembered that when I played softball at age nine, I used to stand exactly like that when I lay the bat across my shoulders and draped my hands over the ends. I had completely forgotten that gesture for ten years, and suddenly found myself doing it again almost by instinct. I then noticed that my classmates were really getting into this imaginary game -- full-powered swings at the "ball", headlong dashes for the "bases", and even a full-on argument over a call which was based on one person having "seen" the ball in another person's hand.

I really don't get what the educational component of that was, but it sure as hell taught me a lot about the power of visualization during performance, because if you can endow the very air with enough substance to argue with someone over it, then that teaches you a lot about what your mind is capable of. I also acknowledge that may be hard to do if you only have six people, but if you have ten, give it a shot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:46 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

You just have to do something involving physical action?

Right. "Learning" something is not required.

Imaginary baseball.

This seems like a super-fun idea. The particular people in this room on the whole know next to nothing about sports. Like, immediately next to nothing. The one slot just to the left of nothing.

Hmm. Imaginary pirate melee?
posted by davidjmcgee at 12:58 PM on May 17, 2011

Am racking my brains for other acting another class I remember something about the teacher prompting us through an imaginary attack by The Flying Dutchman (she described the boat that came up on to shore and let us react how we chose) and then being utterly shocked that almost all of us were all, "cool, pirate ship! I'm gonna get on board!" but I don't remember any of the lead-in.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:28 PM on May 17, 2011

One of the playwriting exercises I use when creating work around visual art involves asking the students to come up with what happened immediately after the picture was painted/photograph was taken. It seems like that would translate pretty well into a mime or improv style activity.

Or moving away from the pictures there are a wide variety of 'call and create' activities where the group leader shouts something out and the participants have to work together to physically create that shape/word/tableaux/whatever with their bodies. This is great fun if you just read a familiar story out and have them physically present each sentence. Lambs Tales From Shakespeare is good for this, or pretty much any fairytale.
posted by the latin mouse at 10:30 PM on May 17, 2011

Ohh! Oh, this may be a good one! Build a human Rube Goldberg machine!

You pick the item that the machine is supposed to produce ("bubble gum", "pencils", "bullets", "spackle paste") and pick one person to start. They start performing some action that is supposed to be one of the "parts" of the "machine". The others, as they come up with ideas, join them as connecting "moving parts" of that machine. When everyone's joined in, let it run for a few moments more, then give them another, very different product, and start again. ("Bubble gum" and "bullets" were the two things my high school drama coach prompted us with when he tried this.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:04 AM on May 18, 2011

More great suggestions for future activities!

Here's what we ended up doing:

First, we played a rousing game of, um, SproutFace. ("Empress! SproutFace!" someone yells, and then Empress makes a face like a sprout. She then yells "Musculus! Rutabaga face!" And then Musculus would make a face that embodies the spirit of rutabaganess. It is a ridiculous game that for some reason ends up being fun. Also, there is no need to stick with fruits and vegetables, although it's a good starting place).

We then introduced the images into the SproutFace rotation, so that there was an option of showing one of the pictures and saying "THIS kind of face!" which led to attempts at full-body mimicry of some silly poses and much hilarity.

Then, in turns, each of us would select one of the images of groups of people and without showing it to the others attempt to recreate the image in the room. At which point the image would be revealed, causing much amusement.

Finally, the abstract images were shown one at a time, and the group would (with no discussion) attempt to recreate them.

It ended up working really well, with "working really well" meaning that everybody had a good time. It probably didn't hurt that there was an ample supply of wine. But, hey, you know, whatever works.

Thanks so much!
posted by davidjmcgee at 7:15 AM on May 18, 2011

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