I have done something like this for the history of my organization – for new youth group participants, members and annual celebrations. The steps for implementing this exercise are as follows:
- Pick out your history/ timeline and shorten to one page or less
- Look for descriptive words to highlight. Also look for words that are describe key moments or concepts and make that phase or word as descriptive as you can. What would someone have fun dancing, playing or acting out. I.E. instead of saying such and such movement started, or the organization was formed used phases liked “birthed” or “busted onto the scene”.
- Once you have your written statement run through it with someone that can be a “insider” – that will have a little familiarity with the material and help move the group through the scenes.
- Find some fun music without words (maybe something that fits the mood)
- During the event or class, recruit several volunteers to dance, act or play out the scenes you have chosen.
- If you want to do a longer timeline or story – I think it would be best to break it up into several parts that will be played by different groups of 2 – 4 people.
Picture #1: East Michigan Environmental Action Council's Youth groups (and youth coordinator) acting out pieces of the Environmental Justice movement's history - timeline in the background)
My understanding of the cognitive tool of play is that it moves (literally and figuratively) participants into another way of being, feeling and seeing the world. As I looked over the suggested websites for play based activities, I also came across the below video of the NPR tiny desk concert of the blue man group. I love how they got the audience involved in the “meditation for WINNERS" (@ min 8 in video) piece – by holding up signs of key words, handing out instruments, and having participants act out different parts.
Blue Man Group - NPR tiny desk concert
Before starting this activity I would have the group (everyone) go through a few theater icebreakers to get them out of their heads and into their body space and heart space. To get used to the idea that they are not just empty receptacles of information – but creators in the process. If I was to try out this play activity during an event (where the history or the environmental justice movement or history of a particular EJ organization was going to be conveyed to a larger group) with an audience 25 to 250 people involved I would have activities that everyone could do – out in the “audience” – may as partners or as a table. Once everyone was warmed up I would ask for a few volunteers (and take 2 or 3) that would play, act or dance out our history, or timeline. With a larger group this is where I think it would be crucial to bring in your inside “expert” that may have a few ideas to help move the volunteers through the exercise. A warm up activity for a time line could be putting up key pieces of information on some butcher paper, and having some students adding their own history via different color post it notes (as seen in picture #1).
Narrator of social justice history in Cass Corridor Detroit
A few youth playing the history out
I developed the exercise that I did because I know how important history is. This activity is both playful and meaningful in conveys key information and by playing volunteers and spectators can see themselves as part of the action! I find that organizers often skip over the founding story of a movement or the key moments in a timeline because the information is “too boring” for students, youth or new members OR students read through timelines are ARE bored… I also think the idea of play while you are passing on key information also instills the idea that these young people and new members are PART of the movement – their participation matters! In environmental justice, their community, their school – the history is still being written and they are part of it.