Show participants a series of 5 simple pictures of faces on A4 card with clear emotional expressions (happy, sad, angry, surprised and confused). Encourage them to copy the expressions changing the shape of their own mouth and eyebrows. Once the group has tried all the expressions, place a chair on one side of the room and ask for a volunteer to stand on the other side of the room and hand them a letter. With the facilitator sitting in the chair beckon to the volunteer to walk to the chair as themselves with no particular emotion, hand over the letter then go back again. Ask them to repeat the action this time choose an emotion/expression for them to ‘play’. Next ask the volunteer to sit in the chair then choose someone else to be the giver of the letter and select emotions for them both. Repeat the scene with all or as many participants as possible.
By starting the session with a simple copying task all participants will have engaged in the session immediately. Non-verbal interaction in a scene with a very clear activity is easily achievable, fun to watch and fun to do. It engages participants on a variety of levels from simply taking part, to actively exploring the use of movement and physical expression. The pictures are a strong visual stimulus indicating universal emotions and instantly communicating with, and involving, everyone simultaneously. Repetition of the same scene creates a sense of familiarity and predictability in the structure allowing room to improvise and play. Starting with non-verbal interaction demonstrates a form of participation which can remain an option throughout.
Each of the expressions can be given simple words, and later phrases, appropriate to the emotion e.g. Happy “yes”, sad “no”, confused “what?” Different languages can be used or English at different levels of ability.More people can be added to the scenes e.g. two people bring in the letter with different emotions. Story development can come from the content of the letter and characters could be based on the emotions.This simple exercise can be the starting point to devising scenes, discussion around themes or introducing the idea of play in a structured way.
Drawings of expressions should depict clear emotions using simple lines with eyebrows, eyes and mouth only, noses tend to indicate character.· A letter is instantly recognisable and has a huge range of dramatic possibilities to inform action and content of the scene - a lottery win, an eviction notice, a school report, a love letter.· Count down 3, 2, 1 to signal a clear beginning to the scenes and encourage applause after each one.· Sensitivity: Participants may feel safer and less inhibited pulling the expressions for the first time, in a seated semi-circle or line facing the facilitator so they are not being directly looked at by others in the group. At first participants may feel safer choosing which emotion to use themselves. At all levels of development non-verbal options to participation should be maintained.