Can Image Theatre help us find ways to change organisational life in South Africa?

Does this pig have wings?

On Friday 18 Sep 18 facilitators and coaches from the Playing Mantis Pig Catching group came together to experiment with Image Theatre.

Pig catching is what facilitators and coaches do when we search for that moment of shift and transformation that helps people move.

Image Theatre is a form of applied theatre designed and practised by Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal. It uses body images to express collective perspectives on a chosen issue and to explore ways to transform these perspectives and experiment with alternative ways to act.

What we want to do

Our intention for the workshop is to explore the shift in Leadership styles and Organisation Development that we are noticing and that many of us are supporting. The shift seems to be characterised by a movement from command and control styles of leadership to participative sensing and responding styles; from looking at organisations as machines to seeing them either as living organisms, complex networks like the human brain or works of art; from organisations that focus on a single bottom line (profit) to one that has a triple bottom line (people planet and profit).

We are particularly interested in a transition in South Africa from organisations that cam rise above colonialism, apartheid and corruption to ones that work towards social equality, prosperity for all and happy working people from leaders to workers – in short, organisations that support the South African 12030 vision.

We choose to work with Image Theatre as methodology this time in order to explore the metaphors, symbols, language and images that help us talk about the shift and about our vision for leaders and organisations in South Africa.

An account of a transitional moment – a flying pig:

Image 1 - SilosWe are halfway through our workshop and we are exploring one of the typical ways in which organisations are described: the silo syndrome. We work in groups of 4 and begin to build group images. We do not go one person at a time. We simply step forward all at once and create the image. While we

maintain our image the facilitator (Hamish Neil from Drama for Life) asks us to look around and see all the images in the room.

In most groups people are standing either with their backs to each other, but touching, or facing each other but standing separately, doing their work. Hamish instructs us to reverse everything we are doing and create the opposite image. He gives a countdown and everyone moves together. We find ourselves in an ideal opposite configuration. Most people are standing in circles hugging each other. In two of the groups three are turned towards one another hugging or reaching out while one person is turned out and doing something different from the group.

Everyone gasps or laughs. “Does this always happen?”

“Yes,” I say, “people always end up in circles holding hands or hugging. My instruction to Hamish was to make sure we do not end here.”

Hamish invites the two groups where all are turned in and hugging to explore this image. “Stay there for a while. How does it feel as time passes? Still comfortable? Without breaking the configuration, start moving across the floor. Now jump. Go get the photo copier and fetch the printing…

Everyone is laughing.Image 2 - Hugs

Moans and groans emit from the groups.

“Too much breathing into the centre.”

“I am worried about the garlic I had for supper.”

“Can i please just go back to being a silo.”

It is clear from the activity that no-one can get any work done in this configuration. They are increasingly uncomfortable and getting too hot.

We can understand why silo’s happen.

We acknowledge that there was no big stick beating people into silo’s. It happens because it works on some level.

This ideal image is often a respite from the original problem image, but not sustainable. By working with the image its unfeasibility as a long-term solution is recognised. As with the original silo image, is important that this image too is arrived at through spontaneous action and not planning.

Now we are instructed to work together to discover what image goes in between the first two. What is the image of transition between, in this case silo’s and huggy-huggy. We are given some time to talk with each other and work this out. When we have our transitional image, each small group shows it to the large group one by one. Again on lookers say what they see before the group responds.

“Can we also explore what the next step could be after ‘huggy-huggy’, instead of exploring transitional images?” someone asks.

Hamish answers that this is not usually helpful because it does not take us into difficult places. It does not help us process. From the ideal embracing image, people might just go back to the silos because that is what they know. It is true that people want respite from the silo’s and the isolation, but they can’t sustain it, so they may just go back. It keeps us in dreamland where we can plan and desire and vision things that do not get real. We have to take them where it gets messy so that they can find something new, something that is not there, something that can bring shift.

“Is this about ‘thesis, antithesis and synthesis?” comes another question..

Hamish answers: “Be careful to try and neaten up the mess too quickly. It is not helpful to begin to judge and see some images as ‘better’ or ‘more synthesis” than others yet. Just stay in the direct response and action space without making sense of it yet. Stay in the bodies, don;t go into the head yet.

From the transitional images we learn that here there is the most aImage 3 - interconnectednessmount of eye contact, dybamic movement and interaction. There is more laughter, more frustration, more mess and more noise. There also seems to be a theme of disconnection and reconnection running through. Two of the images resemble dancing and the other two show lots of open arms but not so much touching.

We decide to pick up this exploration again next time we meet on 27 November. We want to go deeper into the transitional images and understand more about how they might inform our own transitional work.

Join us on 27 November for Moving people Part 2.

Time: 7 to 10 am

Venue: 305 Long Avenue, Ferndale, Johannesburg


EVENT: Pig Catching on 8 May

What would the tools you use say if they could talk?

Catch a Flying Pig
Catch a Flying Pig

If your technology, your materials or props could talk to you, they might have interesting opinions and suggestions about your facilitation, your coaching or even the way you run your business.. They may have ideas about how to improve the potential for catching pigs. For those who don’t know what I am on about, read more about catching pigs below.

This session will be especially helpful if you have questions around tools, materials and technology relating to your coaching/facilitation practise. Questions like:

  • Do you want new tools to help you make a pointIs your newsletter stuck?
  • Is your marketing system not working for you?
  • Is your computer frustrating you?
  • Are you wondering what form your facilitator guide or workbook should take?
  • Would you like to use more props?

We look forward to being inspired by you!


Date: Fri 8 May
Time: 7 am to 9:30 am
Place: 305 Long Avenue, Ferndale.
Cost: R200 or R150 if you are still in the first year after attending the Playing Mantis Essentials Master Course in Coaching and Facilitation.
Coffee, tea, muffins and fresh fruit on arrival.

More on Pig catching

Pig catching is what coaches and facilitators do when we chase the moment of insight that brings shift and transformation in our clients.

NOTE: no real pigs get harmed during the course of our work, we play only in the metaphoric sense and all our pigs have wings)

All our pig catching sessions are geared to learning new techniques for helping our clients to insight, break through and sustainable transformation. More specifically, we look at using methods and techniques from the performing arts. We have found that this is an untapped world of wealth where metaphoric work, embodied experiences and group imagination can bring about powerful transformations.

Click here if you want to attend

Cosmic resistance – When the world is against me

Emmet from the Lego movieYou have lead your audience past four types of resistance: 1. their doubts and reservations about their own suitability (Personal resistance), whether or not they can trust you (Relational resistance), the practicality of the solution (Practical resistance) and the people that would be on the journey with them (Social resistance). Now they look at their context and go: “Great plan, but life just doesn’t work that way”.  They look at their reality and say: “What if the solution or the people having to implement it fail?” I call this cosmic resistance.

Cosmic resistance is what happens when everything is lined up to go and your budget is cut, or a key player gets sick and unable to continue, or the equipment simply fails. Through no fault of yours, or the people trying to make the difference, it just fails. What then?

Read more and find out  how the Lego movie helps answer the question…

Easing past social resistance when facilitating

Do I fit in?

EeyoreEvery coaching client or participant wants to know:  am I alone in this? Many times somewhere in a coaching session a client would ask something like: “Is it just me who have these issues?” or “I sometimes wonder of my situation is more messed up than other people’s”. Just yesterday one asked me: “Do other women also struggle with the fact that their male colleagues are allowed to rant and rave and get all emotional, but as women they get patronised when they get upset?”.

In facilitations, it is often feedback like: “we discovered that our problems are very similar” or “i am so glad I am not alone in this”, that helps the facilitator know that social resistance is breaking down. Yet, this is not one you can give a single blow and be done with, it can take some people a long time to feel part of a group. This type of resistance must be gently worked on throughout a coaching session or a facilitation.

In the Lord of the Rings Frodo has learned that he is chosen (breaking through personal resistance) he has learned that he can trust Gandalf  (relational resistance) and he has heard the plan (practical resistance). Now he trembles as he almost accepts his duty…”So I must go to Mordor and deliver this ring into the fires that created it. And I must go alone…” But Gandalf surprises him. The wizard gets up, opens the door and brings in Samwise who had been eavesdropping the entire time. Neither Samwise nor Frodo can believe their good fortune when Gandalf informs them that Samwise must accompany Frodo. Sam is thrilled because of the promise of adventure, Frodo is thrilled because he would not be alone.

Samwise becomes Frodo’s loyal companion and it is thanks to him that Frodo finally manages to achieve the objective. We all need loyal support when we accept a new idea, try out a new habit or open up to a new perspective. But there are other social forces too that are needed to make sure we succeed and we must work on all of them throughout a process. I will share six of them with you here. Note that they work together in pairs.

Read more on the Playing Mantis blog andfind out what Eeyore has to do with it.

How to have a great chemistry session with a new coaching client

A Case study

When a new client really loves me, it makes me sweat, my teeth chatter and I very nearly wet my pants. I had a really great chemistry session this week with a new potential client. It terrified me

The background

This client is the HR Exec of a small but lucrative company in the insurance business. When she had been in the position for a short time, her boss told her in a feedback session that she should consider voice coaching. He thinks she can do with a stronger and more commanding presence and gave her a number for a coach that might help her. She did not want that coach, so she kept putting it off.

Then she saw a presentation of mine at an Organisation Development Conference and loved the energy I created. “This woman can help me”, she thought and immediately bought my book, Grow your Voice to Speak with Confidence, which was for sale at the conference, and emailed me for an appointment.

The appointment

Now we were having our chemistry session on the phone. We wanted to do it face to face, but there were labour issues at her company, so she could not leave the office. We wanted to skype, but we kept having breaks in our network signal, so she called on the company phone and we had our session on the phone. The fact that she did not cancel at any of these obstacles told me something of her commitment, so I wanted to know wherein the commitment lay.

After she told me her story, I asked: “What was it about the other coach that you did not like?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I never talked to him. There was just something in the way. I never made that first phone call.”

“ OK, I say, “What makes this different?”

“It was your talk, I really liked your energy and approach. I have to click with someone and trust them.”

“Thank you, I appreciate you saying that. What do you trust me to do?”

“I think you can tell me exactly what I need to work on and how to fix it.”

And that is where the terror hits me.

Immediately I am thinking: So, she was impressed with my ‘magic’ and she thinks I am going to wave a wand and fix her. Her commitment is to me, not to herself. This does not bode well.

“How do you think that will work?” I ask. She picks up on my fears: “Oh, I know I will have to put in the effort and do the work. I realise there is hard work involved, but I trust you to know what is wrong and help me fix it.”

My terror increases.

Now I am going to be held responsible when things go wrong. I begin to sweat.

“I have a feeling you already know what is wrong and what you need to do to fix it. Can we explore this possibility?”, I ask cautiously, clutching at straws. There is silence on the other end. My mouth is dry.

“You said earlier that breathing might be playing a role, but you don’t know.” I venture,  “And you have read my book and heard me talk about the importance of breathing for confident speaking. This may or may not be your issue and may or may not be a solution for you. You want me to tell you yes, it is one of your biggest problems, and here is how you fix it?”

“Can you?”

“I don’t know, “ I confess, “There is a story here that says: “Breathing is important for confident speaking. The question is, how does this ‘best practise’ story relate to your own personal issues or story regarding speaking? So, let’s find out. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in the kind of situation you described earlier where you typically lose your confidence. You mentioned speaking to large groups of strangers as being the worst kind of audience for you. There they are in front of you and you have to ‘be present and commanding’. You hear the boss’s expectation in your head, you look at the people. Now, what is your breathing doing?”

“It is fast and weak”.

“How do you want tit to be?”

“Deep and calm.”

“Can you deepen the breath now?”


“Can you slow it down?”


“Ok, you can try counting too. See if that works for you. Breathe in for four counts and out for four. Counting takes your brain out of the limbic system that makes you panic and into the rational part of your brain.” I give her a few moments and then ask: “How do you feel now?”

“Much calmer. Much more confident.”

“So, Is breathing an issue for you?”


“How do you fix it?”

“Oh breathe more deeply and slowly. I’ll have to play with the idea of counting, it is new to me”

“If it does not work for you, drop it. Did you know, ” I go on, “that some people’s breath stops altogether? Others report that their breathing comes out it big heavy sighs. Not all go fast and weak like yours.”


“Each person’s story is unique. Tell me, can you use what you discovered now in your real life story  the next time you speak?”


“So, we have just had a rehearsal for your own future. How does that feel?”

“Great, empowering.”

“Who decided what the problem was?”

“I did.”

“Who decided how it should be fixed?”

“I did.”

“So, can we keep on working this way?”

“Sure, but it will be hard work.”

“For whom?”

“For me”

“You’re right, but then, you knew that coming into this. You said you knew you would have to work hard.”

“So I did.” I hear a smile in her tone, “ Send me the coaching engagement letter. I’m ready.”

I sigh a deep sigh of relief.

This is going to be a walk in the park for me. The commitment is now in the right place. My client has committed to doing the work. That means she is also taking the responsibility and ownership. I am off the hook and she is in for real success.