On Thursdays mornings, I teach an improv class with the men and women of Wainscott Hall, a transitional residence for the homeless in Winchester, Kentucky. In the class, the residents, along with their fellow actors from First Presbyterian Church, take turns playing and observing bold, gracious improv. Some games require a few actors, others the whole class, but all the games are participatory in that the class provides the needed resources for the game. It could be quotes, quirks, settings, or even a visual storyboard. Whatever the elements, I invite the actors to engage with what is present in the hope that we open ourselves up to new possibilities. In between games, we reflect on what we’ve learned, share stories, and laugh about our favorite moments. We also identify the ways in which the games empower us to creatively engage in problem solving and build community.
(First Presbyterian Church members and improv actors, George Ballard, Janet Ballard, and Janet Robinson)
Janet Ballard, an actor with the group, has observed that “the games have opened up the residents to share their joys and struggles. I am seeing them build confidence and friendships.”
As we engage a variety of creative quirks and scenes, another actor with the group, Janet Robinson has noticed that the joyful and resilient voices of our improv class can sound a bit unusual, saying, “when you are walking the halls during improv, you will hear BAM, Quack, Barking, Tapping, Spanish, and best of all, the laughter. I have seen the concern that they have for each other and friendships formed through play. I have come to look forward to the Thursday morning meetings with our friends in the group.”
As we create unusual characters, quirks, and settings, we are often surprised by the unexpected ways in which the scenes play out. One of the actors, George Ballard, Janet’s husband, ran out of the classroom during a scene, sprinting into the hallway, his steps thundering like a thoroughbred. Following his bold exit, George’s fellow actors were startled with surprise, many with laughter and some even wondered (as they shared in our reflection after the game) if he was overwhelmed by a fear of improv. The clamor of his booming feet continued until he returned with a smile. It turned out that George ran not out of fear, but, in response to his given quirk, “Running”.
Weeks later, I spoke with George about his convincing portrayal running through the halls, and asked what the experience meant to him. Embracing the improv principle “yes and” (building creatively on what’s present) George responded in a way that I couldn’t have expected.
“If I would have known that the residents would look outside, I would have run downstairs, out the door, and would have continued running on the sidewalk.”
There’s power in recognizing courage in one another, seeing those who are willing to go to great lengths, several laps in George’s case, to speak a word of hope. George’s commitment to fully embrace his quirk, no matter how foolish it may have looked, allowed his fellow actors to witness the power of trust, that in loving community, we are free to embrace our own quirks and experience acceptance, imperfections and all.
In addition to our weekly improv class, the Clark County Homeless Coalition (CCHC) offers financial literacy, attentive case management, and additional educational opportunities with the goal of empowering their residents with long-term self-sufficiency. Terry Davidson, executive director of CCHC, says that in her work she is inspired by,
“Seeing God at work. Seeing our client’s successes.” Serving a vital role in the community, Wainscott Hall is only one of a few homeless shelters in Kentucky that welcomes both families and individuals.
(To learn more about supporting the Clark County Homeless Coalition, be sure to check out their website at: http://www.helphomelessfamilies.org/)
In his book, The Cruicified God, Jurgen Moltmann writes that, “one of the basic difficulties of Christian life in the world today is clearly the inability to identify with what is other, alien and contradictory.” The quirks, imperfections, the seemingly disconnected scenes of our lives, all of it belongs to God’s story. Jesus assures us to be unafraid, saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” Christ overcame the abandonment of the cross, and through him we have been resurrected into eternal life. As we share the Good News, let’s discover new possibilities of creatively engaging suffering in this world.
Peace of Christ,