In my work with independent theatre over the years I’ve developed many techniques I’m proud of, but none as much as the three step process I’ve developed for effective experiential learning.
Step 1: Checking in; taking stock of what’s there.
This is also what I like to call the exploration stage. In my standard one month theatre workshop format, the first two weeks of the process are devoted to exploration. I create space for my team to come together, take the time to meet themselves and each other afresh, and to explore prompts (verbal, physical, mental, emotional, technical, etc) that bring each person’s unique offerings to the surface. I offer no direction or teaching at this stage — I simply invite us all to share in our authentic selves, to experience the moment as it presents itself to us, and to engage with ourselves and each other with acceptance, warmth, curiosity, and playfulness — without judgment. Those who are new to my process sometimes feel a bit silly at the start, expecting more instruction or intention — but the intention at this stage is simply to be, to see, to share.
Step 2: Decision making; structuring what’s there.
This is also what I like to call the commitment stage. Again in my one month workshop format, weeks three and four are dedicated to making sense of how all the unique expressions of the team can come together to form a cohesive whole. This is the stage where we begin to see how the different parts of ourselves interact with each other, and how as a team we are greater than the sum of our parts. This is a magical part of the process where we experience heightened emotions, a deep awareness of our own and each other’s vulnerability, and a sobering power as we acknowledge the permission we have given to each other to impact us in our softest places. We write ourselves into our script and hold for each other the sacred subtext, the backstory in every character and every line, the things we have laid before each other openly in the creative process, but which are mysteries that our audience will eventually labour to unlock.
Step 3: Consolidation; immortalizing what’s there.
This stage is usually everyone’s favourite, this is where we level up before we head into performance. We have spent four weeks in an intensely personal learning process. We have been through a journey of discovery together, we have accessed new information from places of sacred vulnerability and respect, and we have made sense of floating fragments of disorganized information and formed it into a meaningful, memorable structure. All that is left now is to etch it in stone, to immortalize it. This we do by engaging with full focus into what we’ve created, rehearsing it zealously, examining it from every angle to refine our message and the expression of it, consolidating our creation both internally and externally. People express surprise to me that I only allocate one week to consolidation but four weeks to exploration and structuring — but by the time we get to the final week, it’s evident that consolidation is a process that began on day one of week one, not on day one of week five.
How This Applies To Other Contexts
This three step process can easily be contextualized for many different types of learning, and it doesn’t have to involve a group, it can be done solo too. The key is to understand what each step requires of us, how we are to pay attention to what we’re learning, and if we get that part right, the work will do itself. In step one, for example, the goal is to engage with a person or a concept or a prompt at the level of personal connection, finding a tie with something that already exists within you in that moment, something you can easily access. By bringing yourself to what you’re engaging with, you learn it at a deeper level than if you were simply trying to memorize information. It is crucial at this stage to be willing to go slow, to be present, attentive, and not in a rush to finish the work. In step two, the goal is to structure the learning, to see how it interacts with different parts of what you’re taking in, and to give it a form or a framework that cements the meaning you’ve assigned to it as well as the personal connection that you used to build it. This stage has a naturally stronger pace than the first stage, but it’s important to stay attentive here too, this is often the stage of maximum personal impact. In step three, the goal is to reinforce both what you’ve learnt and how it’s meaningful to you, and to express it in a form that has basically become a part of you because it has bonded so deeply with what was already in you. This is personal growth in action, this is the stage where you get to step back and admire the result of all the work you’ve put in to get here.
There’s So Much To Learn
We live in an age where information is anything but scarce for most people. If you want to learn something new, you have a world of information at your fingertips and practically nothing in your way. There’s so much information out there that it’s almost too easy to ignore it all, to put off learning in the same way that people put off seeing famous sights in their hometown, because they didn’t have to travel far to go see them. There are also gatekeepers in every field, people who put others off learning by insisting that the only learning that is valid is learning from “approved” sources, which is basically nonsense. The barrier between you and what you want to learn is in most cases not a lack of access to information, but knowing how to engage with it and absorb it. (For this, too, a simple web search can assist — there are so many ways to learn how to learn!). But if you just love learning in general, as I do, my advice is simply this: start anywhere, and make it as deeply personal as you can. Allow your own instincts to guide you into what to learn, where to learn from, how to learn, and follow that path until you can see where you’re going. Stay curious, stay playful. Explore, structure, consolidate. Make this a practice, return to it often, and exult in how much you learn and grow.