What actually happens in a fooling workshop?

Aug 03 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

People often ask me this question and it’s a bit hard to answer in a sentence, so I gave myself the task of writing about it, in no more than 5 points. Here's some of the things that happen at my 5 day Fools School.

1.) Building Trust Together Through Play And Sharing

I’ve recently discovered Brene Brown’s useful trust-building acronym, BRAVING (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgment, Generosity). This simple list of trust-building prompts could also describe the underlying group process that happens throughout my workshops. 

Boundaries- We establish and maintain healthy boundaries so that everyone feels safe enough to let themselves be seen and heard.

Reliability- We show up for ourselves and each other. We stay. We accompany each other through joy, sorrow and discomfort whilst also taking care of ourselves.

Accountability- Using non-violent communication techniques, we are able to discus when we’ve made mistakes, to own our mistakes and acknowledge the impact we have on each other.

Vault- We agree to hold each others stories in confidentiality, so that we are all free to explore and express.

Integrity- We can feel free to speak our truth within the boundaries that protect us all from harm.

Non-judgement- We use mindful language techniques to keep the space free of judgement. For instance, we use a positive feedback model to make sure that we are feeding each other as opposed to criticising each other throughout the week. 

Generosity- Lovingkindness (Metta) is woven in throughout the course, the metta bhavna meditation inspires kindness and compassion towards ourselves and each other. 

All these factors help to maintain a safe space where we can take risks to be seen and heard.

You can look up Brene Brown's TED talk here.

2.) Invoking The Archetype Of The Fool

“In the tarot the Fool is portrayed wandering in the sunshine with a knapsack and his little dog, seemingly without  a care in the world and with no particular place to go. And he is about to step off a cliff! Perhaps the Fools knows he will go over the cliff but continues to smile because he also knows he will never hit bottom. Maybe the Fool understands that he, the cliff and the bottom are all illusions.” Wes "Scoop" Nisker, Crazy Wisdom.

The Fool carries the value of 0 in the tarot deck, putting him outside order and hierarchy, this is what gives him his power. You’ll find the Fool in the modern card deck, you’ll know him as the joker. Jokers are used in some card games taking on whichever value you choose, this is the power of the Fool. He can appear as a King or a peasant, choosing the form (or mask) that most enables his truth to be heard.

We invoke the archetype of The Fool by embodying our masks.

3.) Embodying Our Masks

“By giving each figure its voice, we let the soul speak and show itself as it as, not as we wish it would be.” Thomas Moore, Care Of The Soul

During the course, we explore many different ways of finding and embodying our masks. ‘Masks’ can mean roles we play in life e.g mother, teacher, singer. ’Masks’ can also mean ways in which we relate to certain people / in certain situations e.g shy one, party host, the judge, the cheerleader. ‘Masks’ can also mean archetypal characters that everyone recognises e.g The Innocent, The Hero, The Sage. These are the masks that Carl Jung described as belonging to the collective unconscious, which everyone, everywhere in the world can access through dreams, myths and stories. 

We find all these masks by noticing our natural impulses and turning them up. We might start with a physical gesture, a feeling or a thought and by giving it our full attention, we allow it to become a living, breathing, full body mask.

Through embodying our familiar masks, we gain a sense of playfulness and freedom around the masks we play in life. It’s easy to feel stuck with a particular range of masks, but this work allows people to discover that they have choice. Through playing, they can discover nuances within their familiar masks, or they can try out new masks for the first time in a supportive environment. Developing a lighter attitude to the masks we wear in life allows people to feel empowered to break out of negative patterns of relating. When we know we have choice, we are free to grow, to develop, or to stay the same, but it’s our choice and not something being forced on us from the world or our past.

4.) Exploring What It Means To See And Be Seen

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Throughout the course, we do many exercises that allow us to explore how it feels to witness and be witnessed by another. These exercises help us to notice the masks that pop up automatically when we come into connection with other humans. Do we guard ourselves? Do we push the world away? Or do we give away too much too soon? Do we judge other people or do we put the mask of the judge on the other so that we can judge ourselves? Who are we making the other? 

These insights allow us to play with what is and play makes space for growth, change or transformation. When we become aware of our automatic responses, we create choice. We can choose to continue to use the masks that have served us thus far, or we can choose to try something else. 

5.) Improvising Solos For Each Other

“Improvisation, writing, painting, theatre, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible.” Stephen Nachmanovich, Free Play

In these improvised solos, we enter into the empty space and find out what masks are around today. Each mask has their own spot on the ‘stage’ and the player hops between the masks, finding out what they’ve come to say. Sometimes the masks speak, sometimes they dance, sing, spout poetry or just lie down on the floor.  

There is an incredible magic that happens with this work, whereby if the players are able to relax on stage (which they learn to do through meditation and breathing exercises during the week) the masks that appear on stage are often relevant to many members of the audience. As the players slow down and the armour comes off, their play takes on a simple, full-hearted quality which deeply touches the audience, releasing laughter and tears in equal measure.

I facilitate the solos from the side of the stage, sometimes offering music to support the player’s exploration, sometimes chatting with the masks to help them express what they've come to express. At the end of each solo, the player receives facilitated feedback from the group.

How former participants describe this workshop:

"Transformative. A week of getting to know yourself, the little weirdo inside and the angry one and the scared one and the naughty one and the crazy one and letting them out to have their say. I came out feeling much more comfortable in my own skin."

"A week spent getting to know all the different people in your head and making friends with them. Holly creates a really safe and fun space in which to do that. Its really cathartic and done in a really embodied way."

"Allowing oneself to be vulnerable and seen by others. Being authentic, in the moment, playful and real. Entering a process of finding oneself and letting go of what isn't helpful. Creatively following an impulse and seeing where it takes you."

About Holly Stoppit

I originally learned the form of Fooling from the master of Fools, Franki Anderson back in 2002, in a three month course called The Fools Journey. I have since trained in clowning, improvisation, physical theatre, dance / movement, voice-work, playwork, non-violent communication, meditation and dramatherapy. My workshops mash all this together to provide deep exploratory process for performers and non-performers who wish to explore the nature of connection. I am also artistic director of Beyond The Ridiculous, a phenomenal company of fools. 

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