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