This is a Europe-wide, philanthropically-funded adult education programme.
We are happy to have an ongoing involvement with this project, which has enabled our tutors to attend different Educircation courses in European countries with partner organisations. We have worked in Belgium, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary and Germany in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, voice projects, schools, gypsy villages and much more.
Two tutors will this year attend a pair of week-long courses in Budapest, Hungary, and Lodz, Poland, organised by Cirque du Monde, the Social Circus wing of Cirque de Soleil. They will study Social Circus and learn new educational techniques and approaches. This will be shared with tutors here and will inspire the work we do in Bristol.
In April 2016, it will be our turn to host and we will run a week-long project in Bristol with guest tutors from the participating European countries mentioned above. This will culminate in a show at Felix Road Playground.
Workshop ‘Circus with Ethnic Minority Children’
The Invisible Circus, Bristol, United Kingdom
4 April– 8 April 2016
Two and a half years ago there was the first edition of this Educircation workshop in Bristol and this turned out to be a big success. For this edition they wanted to learn concretely how to handle difficult behaviour of the children and young people that they have experienced during the first workshop. The workshop was again hosted by The Invisible Circus and like the previous edition they choose Holly Stoppit as the workshop tutor. We worked also with the young people of the Felix Road Adventure Playground.
The Invisible Circus and Invisible Youth
The Invisible Circus has been based in Bristol (UK) since 2002. Among other things they teach circus through workshops, produce unique circus theatre experience and provide performers, bands, technicians, riggers, prop makers, make-up artists, costume makers, site and build crew for a wide spectrum of events and private bookings.
For this workshop we worked with Invisible Youth. This is the Social Circus wing of The Invisible Circus using circus and positive role models to engage young people and vulnerable groups.
Since the beginning of 2013 they have been practising Social Circus, offering circus skills workshops to young people from Bristol and beyond. During holidays and regular sessions at Felix Road Adventure Playground (our target group of this workshop) they teach circus skills with the focus on the process of developing a skill and the gifts that learning and succeeding bring. They want young people to see that learning can be enjoyable and that adults can be here to help, encourage and pass on skills rather than deem what is right and wrong in the process.
The workshop in partnership with Felix Road Adventure Playground is free and has open access for the young people and out of this strong relationship with this playground, Invisible Youth was formed.
Workshop Tutor: Holly Stoppit
Holly Stoppit is a multi-talented person with many different tricks in her bag. She is a facilitator, teacher, director, drama-therapist, improviser. Besides this, she has a life-time’s experience in social circus, community and professional theatre. For this workshop in particular Holly took part in a training in Nonviolent communication (more on this later on in the report). Also important to know for this workshop is that Holly’s work is rooted in mindfulness. She offers people opportunities to connect deeply with themselves and to give themselves permission to work within their limitations.
Holly is being brought in by Invisible Circus, whom Holly has collaborated with on numerous projects in the past, including directing their massive site-specific circus-theatre extravaganza, Carny Ville. As mentioned earlier, Holly also provided the training for the last Bristol Educircation workshop.
For this workshop there were 23 participants from the 7 different countries that are involved in Educircation: Spain, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Greece, Belgium and United Kingdom. The participants formed a diverse group because of their different backgrounds. They were of different ages, had different experiences with social circus, with clowning, with nonviolent communication and with circus in general. Some of the participants of The Invisible Circus already knew the children of the Playground.
Target group (Children of Ethnic Minorities)
The target group of this workshop was children of Ethnic Minorities. We worked with the young people of Felix Road Adventure Playground which is located in a very diverse ward with many different cultures, Ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. An Adventure Playground is a free space for children aged 5-15 to play. The Playground is a safe space that is child-led and has free open access. It aims to provide the best possible range of play opportunities for children, so they can have fun and meet new friends. Children are free to come and go and free to choose how they spend their time when there. They have the chance to take part freely in different activities such as digging, climbing, table tennis, or circus. They could choose if they wanted to participate in the circus workshop, but for the sake of the show on Friday, we asked them to choose and then hold to that choice for the rest of the week if they wanted to perform a circus act in the show. If a child changed his mind and wanted to join us after all, we would give them another role in the show. This wasn’t the case. For the whole week we worked with 20 young people.
We had two major aims:
1) Finding positive ways of dealing with behavioural issues (an important part of this aim was connecting with the children)
3) Creating site-specific circus-theatre
In the workshops Holly used a variety of techniques to serve our aims, including the theory of Nonviolent-communication, clowning, theatre, mindfulness, dance-movement, games and something she refers to as ‘clown-o-therapy’. She uses the techniques she finds interesting for social circus teachers to know and to experience. Nonviolent communication skills helped her already in every area of her work so she wanted to pass them on as support for team communication and tools for dealing with challenging behaviour.
Overall structure of the week
During the week we had in the mornings a workshop with Holly and in the afternoons we did circus with the children of the Adventure Playground. Before the end of the day there was a moment of reflection on the circus session with the children. Friday we had planned a show on the Adventure Playground and in the sessions with the children the different acts were developed gradually.
Summary of the workshop exercises day by day (with thanks to Holly for the notes)
We started everyday sitting in a circle and often came back to this circle when we needed to discuss something in the group.
The first day Holly wanted to create a safe space for us to do the workshop in. She assured us that she only gives invitations to us, not demands. In other words: we were free to not participate in any particular exercise. And also important we could fail, ‘fail big time’. On a regularly basis we needed to feel how we were and check in with our body, breath, energy and mood (mindfulness). After the daily reflexion and sometimes at the beginning of the day we were also asked to show how we felt by making a movement, using mimicry or sounds.
The first exercises had to do with getting to know the space and each other and feeling connected. It was important that we would try to make connections with the young people.
After getting an introduction of the workshop and a health and safety check, we started with some walking meditation exercise (mindfulness). We walked around and followed the instructions of Holly ie. tuning into your breath. Then we kept walking slowly around in the space, but now we were instructed to be aware of the other people in the space and we needed to balance the space (making sure there is an even spread of people around the whole space at all times.) The exercise became more difficult when we had to make equidistant triangles with two other people in the group.
For the next exercise we needed to fill the space by shaking more and more different body parts into the space. This was followed by interacting with the other people in the space whilst shaking.
Then came a confronting exercise that most of the participants will remember for a long time: Eye contact. We needed to look in the eyes of another person for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile Holly was giving instructions to keep us relaxed and focused on the eyes and the person, ie. relax all the muscles of your face, see the colours of the eyes and imagine them as a baby, toddler… To end this exercise we had time to talk with our eye-partner about this experience. This exercise allows people to explore their ease and difficulty around seeing and being seen and at the same time it’s an opportunity to explore among others things: connection, vulnerability and tension. This last thing is an important factor of disconnectedness.
Holly opened up this exercise to the whole group and we repeated the second meditation walk but now we needed to look into the eyes of the other people in the space while we kept breathing. After this playfulness was added jumping together with another person when eye contact was made.
We did other exercises for experience in connectedness like making sounds together, a name game, gang-making game (dividing the group into cliques of different opinions).
The last part of the workshop on the first day was facilitated storytelling and contained exercises in pairs. For the first one we needed to get an idea on what it’s like where your partner lives. You needed to ask question to get the detailed pictures or the feelings. The second exercise was called collaborative storytelling. In turns we needed to say the phrase “yes and…” and then to complete the story. This triggers to be spontaneous which in turn improves the relationship.
After we did a body scan (mindfulness) while we were sat, we started the day again with a walking meditation but soon it turned into an experience of flow. Flow is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter, like being in an automatic state. When we allow things to flow, wonderful connection can happen, also with the young people. We needed to let our hands lead us through the space, then arms, knees, legs, hips and head. We needed to move like water and subsequently we could connect our fingertips to the fingertips of another person and dance together. Then we could give impulse by ticking another person on their body. The exercise ended with the whole group coming together in one clump, being relaxed and really feel the connection with the group.
The next exercise we did also with the young people to which we named the game: ‘king/queen for one day’. It goes as follows: everybody stands in to lines facing each other (like a corridor of people). We are taking turns so one person at a time comes to the beginning of the corridor and asks the group specifically for what they need ie. being carried, massaged,… The individuals in the group then decide if they want to do the thing they are being asked to do or not. They do not have to. This is also an attempt to enhance the connection in the group and the feelings of giving and receiving acceptance and support.
T hen Holly introduced us the theoretical framework Nonviolent Communication. We will now elaborate on this briefly in order to comprehend why this is so important for working with behavioural issues.
Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a system or a way of communicating with empathy and connection as the pillars. Our society is used to people being violent in their communication (ie. criticism, humiliation, labelling, ignoring,…). We do this to defend ourselves or gain power. In the workshop we brainstormed in the group what the different types of violent communication are and the reasons to communicate that way (Appendix 1). NVC focuses its attention in three areas, illustrated in the branches of a tree (see picture on the right). Self empathy, self expression and empathy with others. NVC states that we have to observe behaviour in a non-evaluative, non-judgemental way. On the basis of a role-play between a circus teacher and its student, we learned to reflect on a situation with a framework NVC provided. First the non-judgemental observations, then the judgements that are possibly present in the person, next look deeper on the inside of the person and try to guess what the feelings and needs are of that person to react that way. So it’s quite important to be aware of your own and other people’s feelings (workshop exercise: listening to music and write down what you feel) and your needs. When we look beneath the behaviour, to the feeling and needs, it increases our compassion and thereby brings us into deeper connection with other people. If a child shows some behavioural issues, try the understand where the behaviour comes from (out of which feelings or needs)
We started with an open discussion in the circle on some unfulfilled expectations (more on that later). The first exercise of the day was a warm up. We had to position our body so it would feel comfortable (standing, sitting or laying down), doing what our body needed and we followed the instructions of Holly: bring attention to different body parts and concentrate on your breath. Then start repetitive movements in your feet, knees, hips, back until the whole body is in movement. Move around in the space and open your attention to the others and copy any dance moves you like.
Then we did 3 exercises in pairs (A & B) who are certainly worth elaborating in this report. We started by individually exploring the space with our senses then A continues to explore the space through the senses and B copies and then swap roles (Mirroring). This exercise is powerful: if you match a person’s physicality, their energy, their speech rhythms and their postures, we can step into their world and connect with them much easier. Then for the Blocking exercise A continues to explore the space through the senses and B tries to make them stop doing whatever they are doing. We had to stay playful and swap roles. Sometimes it’s necessary to say ‘no’ to keep the boundaries and to ensure the safety. The third exercise was called Enticing, which included A trying to entice B into playing. B only joins in if they feel like they genuinely want to and then swap roles. We learned to use our charisma and enthusiasm to engage others in the activities. After each exercise we had the chance to reflect with our partner on how it was.
We started the day again with a guided sitting meditation (mindfulness). For this workshop the focus was on creating site-specific theatre. First we needed to walk in the space and keep it balanced while Holly gave instructions: feel the feet on the floor, your feet are so soft and squidgy, the softness stretches to other body parts like the face and arms, speed up but keep the softness in the body, add a bit of sound. For the second part of this exercise Holly asked us to stop and explore leaning to one side and the other, then lean extreme and get out of balance. When that happened we needed to run around and stop and start again whenever we wanted. The third part of this exercise had to do with the awareness to the other people in the room. We had to let their movements affect ours. The ending result was a sort of instant group composition.
We stood all in a circle for the following exercise and one person crosses the circle with an action and sound. The person then gets to takes on the movement and sound and while crossing the circle he/she changes it.
The next game is called Flocking and goes as follows: 4 people in a diamond shape (or 3 people in a triangle) keep the shape of the diamond while moving around the space. The person at the front leads the group but when they stop and turn, the leadership is passed on to someone else. We started with simple walking and then explored the different possibilities with movement qualities, levels and bringing in sounds. This exercise helps people to attune with each other and allows us to access our creativity within the boundaries of structure and feeling listened to and supported in your idea.
We had a little game with small groups in a circle. Everybody takes in turn the lead and instates a movement (to music). Each person of the group develops the movement of the person before. When everyone has had 2 turns, the group then works together to keep developing the movements with fluid leaders.
For the next exercises we used the stage with a few props on it. First, one person at a time puts himself somewhere in the site. When this person leaves the site, the next person enters it and finds another position. Second, in pairs: A finds a position. B looks at A and the site and places their body somewhere in relation to A and the site. A leaves the scene and C enters, looks at B and the site and places their body somewhere in relation to B and the site. Thirdly, people enter the site and place themselves in relationship to another person but nobody leaves. The audience guesses what this ‘story’ might be about. Fourthly, groups of 4 copying each other in the site with fluid leaders, using the site and the things in it.
The following exercise has the name Instant Clown and in short, it is about being baffled. Imaging you have a button on the back of your head and if you press it, you are baffled when you explore the space and everything and everyone in it.
There was another exercise that was focused on discovering what an object is and possibly can become ie. a scarf becomes a guitar.
During the adult training session we prepared for the final performance in the afternoon on the Playground. We finished the story (Appendix 4) and a schedule/ a walk-through was made that placed each act in a certain order on the Playground.
Circus sessions with the children and young people and daily reflexion moment
For the first day we had a casual open and free circus session with the young people on the adventure playground. Our mission was to connect with the young people, play circus and start to find out a bit about them. During the workshop, Invisible Youth were looking to recruit more participants for the young people’s workshop. At a certain moment small groups of adults and young people were formed. The young people guided us through the playground with stories both real and imagined. The adults needed to facilitate to get the full stories of the children. Out of these collected stories the show would arise.
The reflection of the first day was focused on the connection we felt or didn’t feel with a young one during the circus workshop. With the whole group we made a manifesto of ‘how to make connection’ (Appendix 2)
Tuesday the young people came to us in All Hallows Hall. We chose this location because it would be easier for the young people to be focused. We started with a fun ‘follow me’ game to show them the space while hopping and jumping in a line behind Holly. We introduced the hall and the plan for making a show on Friday with some questions they could ask, yes/no. Then Holly and the young people set the group boundaries and made a list that was put on the wall, so everyone could check it all the time (Appendix 3). Then we had with the children a physical warm-up with shaking of the limbs. Next we passed along in a circle an invisible ball that grew bigger, smaller, lighter, sticky, hot etc to get their focus and creativity going. After the introduction of the adults and what their favourite circus skill is (through telling or showing), we had one hour that the young people were free to try whatever they wanted to do and learn. Meanwhile Holly was writing the story for the show on Friday based on the stories that the children told before. We ended the session with going round in the circle saying one thing you enjoyed today and the story of the show (The Laughing King/Queen) was shared with everyone (Appendix 4). When the young people left, we reflected on the behaviour we saw, using the NVC structure (Observation, Judgment, Feeling and Need).
Wednesday we had first 15 minutes to talk about what we will do this afternoon in the circus skills session. There were roughly 7 main skill groups: Aerial, Flower sticks, Scarves, Poi, Acrobatics and Staff. The focus of the afternoon was to be developing skills, practicing them and beginning to find a routine. When the children arrived we did a recapitulation of the group boundaries and a warm up. One at a time everyone in the circle had to say his/her name and attach a movement to it. Then everybody could copy the name and the movement. Everyone was also free to say pass. Say once more your name and movement but this time bigger.
One of the teachers of The Invisible Circus ran a fun physical warm up (including running to another spot in the circle) and some focusing exercises (ie clapping in rhythm). Subsequently we did the exercise ‘King/Queen’ for the day (see the part on the workshops).
For the next game Holly wanted the young people to think about how the people are in Happy Land. Sitting in a circle but all turned to the same side, we asked the next person one at a time, in a loud Italian accent ‘Hey passa me a hat!’ After this you pass a hat on to the head of the person in front of you. In the count of 1,2,3 hat, until everybody has a hat. Then everyone had the chance to look at each other and walk on a catwalk imagining and describing which clothes they could be wearing, using their imagination. Next was the circus practice into the groups and we could in the end show to the others what we’d achieved that session. At the end of the session there was a circle talk about one thing you enjoyed.
The reflection was again about the connection with the children during the session.
We started with some young people telling the group ‘hello everybody’ using different funny voices and then everybody copies back in the same way. Then followed a few clowning exercises. The first is called the Body Parts Laughter. In every body part, there is a different kind of laugh. Holly demonstrated and everyone had to copy back (laughter in the belly- ho ho ho/ laughter in the heart-ha ha ha/ laughter in the shoulders- hu hu hu /laughter in the face- hee hee hee). In the next game someone starts with a laugh and crosses the circle to give it to another person who crosses also the circle but changes the laugh. Then we had to chance to make our own piece of circus theatre, adults and young people together. The act needed to try to make the king/queen laugh. The acts were finished and the adults could reflect on the day. We talked about boundaries and possible trigger point of some of the behavioural issues. It’s important to stay in connection with the child (using the NVC tools). We concluded the discussion with a plan of action. We will create a schedule in the morning that will provide the young people with clear boundaries for the final day.
Friday (THE CIRCUS SHOW)
Preparing the children for the show and giving them costumes and face paint if they wanted. Then we practiced the song of Happy Town that was written and composed by Holly of the stories about Happy Town the children shared on Thursday (Appendix 5). We practiced the order of the acts with the music that was chosen.
The circus show itself: So many people came to watch the show, friends and family of the young people and the Invisible Youth team. The Queen of Happy Town welcomed them in and addressed the crowd from the high playground structure, during her speech she “sneezed” and everybody laughed. She told them not to, but this made them laugh more. So she said if anyone else laughs, she will send them to prison! And then the show began. The queen walked with the audience passed several places where her inhabitants preformed for her a show to make her laugh.
When the show ended everybody sat together in our final circle with the young people. Everybody said something they enjoyed this week. The children themselves came up with how we could finish this adventure:
We made an acrobatic tower
Those who wanted one had a group hug
We had a feast of little oranges and talked in small groups about what the juicy bits of the week were for us
We stood in a circle, holding hands with our hands up high. We brought down the “curtain” together and that was the end.
Back in All Hallows we filled out the evaluation forms and did The Reflexion Treasure Box. This was an imaginary box in the centre of the circle, full of all the treasures of the week. One person at the time can come into the centre and ‘pick up’ some treasure, while telling the group what it is they will be taking with them from this week. If anyone else wants to take that type of treasure, they can come and grab a bit for themselves (ie. eye contact exercise, smiles of the children, a girl daring to perform, etc)
We ended the week for ourselves with a tower, a group photo, and holding hands until the final curtains drops.
Reflections on the week
During the week:
Many people came with the expectation that it would be a very clown-oriented workshop, like the previous edition. But the focus on this edition was more on Nonviolent communication and less on clowning. We had on Wednesday an open group discussion so the group could express their needs. Holly then adapted her workshop a little by putting more clowning exercises in it. The group felt more satisfied with the arrangement and we had some good creative clown exercises. We succeeded in creating a safe space for the young people. We derived that conclusion of many cases, for example a 9-year old boy who never did anything without his mum, did circus with us all by himself. It was also necessary to keep the children challenged but not with too difficult steps, just with constructive steps adapted at their particular level. Setting boundaries is really important with the children of different ethnicities.
The official evaluation:
The data of the evaluation of the participants you can find in Appendix 6 and 7.
In Appendix 6 you can see in the graphic the satisfaction of the participants on different items.
Overall most of the participants were extremely satisfied, except on the item ‘quality of teaching’. Maybe that had something to do with the conflicted expectations or that Holly’s way of teaching didn’t match some of the participants?
In Appendix 7 you can find the answers of the feedback forms. We will try to make a rough summary on 3 (part) questions that were asked.
What did you learn?
The techniques that were used in the workshop were new for some participants, so they learned some things they didn’t know before so they can use them in their own projects, like Nonviolent communication. Learning how to work in groups, communicate and making connections with the other participants and the children was also something that was learned by some of the participants.
How can the workshop be improved?
An item that came back was to have more focus on using clowning skills to work with the children. The workshop could also have been improved with more concrete techniques for our specific target group. So in other words some of the participants wanted more concrete tools you can use in real life situations (f.e. for challenging behaviours). It would have been better if the participants could get clearer information about the workshop (like the aims) and the opportunity to get to know the backgrounds of all the other participants. Some wanted a more open discussion on what the group needs, so the participants could have more say. Others were more practical minded like it would have been nicer if the hall was warmer. For others it was ok the way it was.
What impact on the children?
We all agreed that our sessions and the show had a good impact on the children. They enjoyed doing circus and they could really shine on stage and show the best of themselves. According to some of the participants the children felt empowered by being listened to, so they had responsibilities and could make decisions. They also learned some new skills in working together in a group.
T he Adventure Playground