A new session at one of our ongoing Laughter for a Change Community Outreach Programs began with the kids seeming unfocused and unruly. They used the opening theater games we played as an opportunity to cut up and show off. In listening closely to some of the comments that were being blurted out through a virtual wall of noise, it became clear that we were dealing with a very bright group. These were great kids who needed some help adjusting to a method of learning where they were asked to participate fully – serve as more than passive receptacle of information with questionable relevance to their lives. Our job was not to “fix” them, but rather to guide them to a deeper, more intuitive, creative part of themselves. And we did that the way we always do it, through play!

We called on a little help from one of our ancestors, Viola Spolin. Quoting from her Theater Game File Handbook: “(Space object games) assist in uncovering the hidden self. Objects made of space substance should be looked upon as thrusts/projections of this (invisible) inner self into the visible world. In effect, then, the invisible ball thrown to a fellow player is an aspect of the player’s sharing and connecting with the fellow player who accepts and catches the invisible ball. When the invisible (not yet emerged, inside, unknown) becomes visible – seen and perceived – theater magic!”

We began to pass a “Space Ball” around the room. With our side coaching, all the kids’ focus began to deepen. The Space Ball game set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.

Throughout the afternoon, when an extremely bright “class clown” would instigate a major distraction, I’d put him in charge of keeping his group of kids on focus. He liked the trust I put in him, and with his help, things would immediately quiet down on that side of the room.

By the end of the afternoon, the kids were tasked with creating simple, short improvised scenes. They came up with their own locations, characters, and activities. The focus was very sharp. In the playing, characters emerged, a scene set in a playground exhibited an incredible use of the space with the kids creating see-saws, very real swings in full 3-D. It was a triumphant moment, and a great place to end the afternoon. The room was noisy again, but this time with applause and laughter. There was nothing unfocused about it.