Seriously Playing


From the book Serious Play by Michael Schrage –

“The essence of serious play is the challenge and thrill of confronting uncertainties. Whether uncertainties are obstacles or allies depends on how you play .The challenge of converting uncertainty into manageable risks or opportunities explains why serious play is a rational behaviour for innovators. Serious play is about improvising with the unanticipated to create new value Any tools, technologies, techniques or toys that lets people improve how they play seriously with uncertainty is guaranteed to improve the quality of innovation.”

Serious play was the spirit of the Let’s Play workshop conducted for the Innovation Day gathering for a client a few weeks ago. A simple agreement for committing to uphold safety and trust within our teams, can liberate the potential to experiment and turn the lens of obstacles into a lens of opportunities and resources.


Emotional awareness in action

This month I have been working with managers of a public sector organisation on the subject of emotional intelligence. How can managers become aware about emotions, handle them effectively at the workplace and leverage this awareness to create meaningful relationships at work.

Instead of opening the session by giving them data on why emotional awareness is critical for managers, I chose to open the session with a theatre based exploration of emotions. A series of exercises that playfully enable them to embody a range of emotions and respond to each other. This was no only fun, but also impactful. Having run multiple workshops this month, here is how I observed theatre exercises enabling the group to explore emotions-

1. Everyone experienced the emotions in their body playfully, vis a vis discussing it intellectually

2. Different exercises allowed for expression of a range and intensity of emotions, especially those we have no permission to express in many social settings

3. The body became alive to the living emotion and experienced more spontaneity and responsiveness thus leading to increased expressiveness. (and a cathartic release in some cases)

4. The group was able to witness how the same emotion is expressed in so many ways and that our responses to others emotions are also varied, thus dropping judgement and deepening empathy.

Working with body always creates a buzz and vigour in the room. As participants excitedly shared their experience at the end there was an air of curiosity and discovery in the listening and sharing. “We enjoyed being all emotions. It makes us alive. It told us something that we needed.”  Bingo. I chuckled in my head as I marvelled at how each person was leaning into the circle and waiting patiently for their turn to share.

Loosening the grip of the fear of the failure

Picture credit and link -

Picture credit and link -

My fear of failure many times grips me deep in the quiet of the night. It seems that as the day’s defence wears out my critical voice clutches me tight and questions the choices I have made or how I responded in a moment publicly-  not good enough, too much this, too less that and so on. Each time I am amazed at how easily I slip into its grasp. Even with a logical explanation in my head about this being a momentary perception of myself, I can’t seem to step out of the feeling for a while and believing it to be true.

It is in these times improv attitude comes to my rescue. Similar feelings show up for me when I am improvising on stage - am I doing the scene right, is it interesting, why I said that, oh my god what do I do next.  We manage these feelings by reinforcing again and again mind-sets to free us up to be present in the moment. I find these sit well with my larger fears as well -

·         Accept the moment- Say yes to what I am feeling and stay with it instead of distracting or ignoring it.

·         Trust self- That I have the resources and wisdom to make creative choices that serve me and the others around me.

·         Embrace the uncertainty- Because I can never know what is to come and imagining it with anxiety is wasted energy. More of saying yes to the unsettling feeling.

·         Be Bold- Even though I am scared I still move into action. Confront the fear.

·         Truth over perfection- Focus on showing up fully and authentically each day, and less fuss about perfection.

·         Yes and- Add one more thing to what I am already working on daily. One more step to grow the idea just a little bit. No need to leap miles in a single step.

I have found that over a period of time I am able to witness the fearful side of  my inner landscape and not be enmeshed in it instead. The demands I place on myself of ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ are not as prominent anymore and that I desire discovery each day. And in overcoming each cycle of fear or disappointment I find myself more resilient, grounded and courageous. Will I still fail? Hell yes I will, but I feel more ready to slip, fall, ache and bounce back into a new moment. As Patricia Ryan  Madson says in her book Improv Wisdom- “Jump into the world of oops on your two feet and say Tadaaaaaa!”

Open Seasame


Very excited to offer a new workshop, that invites anyone to relish their playful side- over four sessions of four hours. This is personally exciting for me as there is so much power in a group process. Committing to meet consistently over a period of time allows one to experience oneself more mindfully, have the group serve as a mirror to one's personal patterns, build a sense of belonging and progressively build new habits or practises. More importantly it becomes a shared experience of a creative journey, both individual and collective. 

I myself have been a part of a psychodrama group(of course a different energy from improv) for  over two years now. I find it to be an incredible gift to have such a special intimate relationship with a group of people who are my friends, confidants, fellow travellers and wisdom holders. I find it a grounding experience meeting the same group again through the different phases of my life and  see an increase in my levels of self  awareness about my thinking and behaving patterns. Also something about sharing in a group or even witnessing others share- helps me gain perspective about my own struggles, healing and growth.

So in offering Open Seasame I hope to create  a space for people to come together and playfully grow together. 

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Rehearsing Leadership through Improvisational Theatre

Someone I was speaking to recently was perplexed that, as an improviser, I rehearse thrice a week for two hours each with my improv group. When the entire performance is unscripted and spontaneous, what could improvisers possibly practise? A super lot is what I say. Sure we have no scripts and we don’t rehearse content. But what we do rehearse is the ‘form’ - the frames of communication.  Applying improv mind-sets to situations, others and self.

I notice that the feedback I go back with for myself is often around my being and the quality of my presence during the scenes. What’s uncanny is that the feedback for my improviser role, also seems to coincide with aspects of my personal leadership.

I see improv as a process of self-managed individuals coming together to create a phenomenal experience that touches and connects with its audience, by listening deeply and proactively building on the collective idea in a positive and unrestrained manner. When I put these together I find that the regular practise of improv enables me to show up boldly not just on stage but also in all aspects of my life- professional and personal. I find rehearsing improv strengthening my own leadership traits in significant ways. Listed some of them below-

Developing comfort with ambiguity – Accepting the fear and discomfort of ‘not knowing’ and acting despite it.  Discovering by doing what needs to be done in the face of the unknown. Experimenting and learning as I am performing.

 Challenging patterned thinking - Allowing myself to adapt a curious mind-set, as opposed to ‘I know exactly what needs to be done here’. Making unlearning  a habit. Playfully challenging the frame of reference.

Overcoming obstacles with affirmative- No situation is a dead end or a problem and there is always a way that opens forward, if I am willing to see it and say yes to the opportunity presented before me.

Giving and taking focus- Deepening intuitive awareness of when it’s time to take charge and when is it the time to support others to steer the direction forward.  Letting go of the ‘performance ego’ and trusting the capability of others in the group.

Inspiration within the collective- Deepening the experience of synchronicity within the team while moving towards an ensemble mind-set through a ‘jamming- culture’. Co- creating a relaxed non - judgemental atmosphere, that encourages everyone to step out of comfort zones and be vulnerable- leading to inspired performances consistently.

A perfect leadership workout.

Widening the Frame

Applied theatre as a process for learning within organisations

Dragonfly- Symbol of Transformation

Dragonfly- Symbol of Transformation

I have been often asked by my corporate clients if theatre based learning really works for ‘serious’ organisational matters or with senior leadership teams.  I hear them say- It’s great to have theatre energisers for team building activities or when we have to do role plays to practise communication skills – Can theatre do more?

Certainly it can. The experience of engaging in exercises from the world of theatre, can have a profound impact on the individual and as well as the group.  The focus of a theatre based learning process is about how the exercise is experienced by the participants in the here and now. Often I start my workshops with a disclaimer that the workshop is not about heroic acting, mimicry or comic timing. It is about how honestly and fully can one participate or respond in the exercise and authentically share their experience of the same.

Below are some of the ways in which I apply theatre as a process to make learning and communication impactful at different levels in the organisation-

1.       Improve group dynamics- Theatre sessions can be a unique platform for participants to experience one self and each other in a new light. Being playfully vulnerable can invite everyone to connect with each other in a refreshingly new way.  I have experienced intra-team hierarchies dissolve as participants open themselves to exploring differences and reaching out to different people, to learn from each other - moving from a competitive dynamic to a co-creative dynamic.

2.       Make connections through metaphors-Theatre exercises serve as fabulous metaphors. They enable participants to embody diverse situations - and experience physical responses as well as emotional impulses. These experiences become a rich wealth of learning for the group about their habitual behaviours. This also becomes a flexible and creative space to try out new behaviours.  For example, I often run improvisational theatre (creating short scenes in the here and now) based workshops as a way to build mind-sets to deal with change and develop agility.  

3.       Develop spontaneity- A popular notion seems to be that spontaneity implies acting on a momentary impulse, often perceived as recklessness. In theatre, spontaneity is the foundation for all creativity. There are frameworks created in which spontaneity is explored. Spontaneity in theatre parlance means to find new responses to the old situation or a relevant response to a new situation. Hence, being spontaneous empowers us with the power to make creative choices in life. We can experiment different ways of being by getting into the shoes of the other, experiencing familiar situations from different frames of reference. These experiences can help participants discover other options of responding to situations in real life, where they often find themselves stuck- like conflict resolution, conveying difficult messages or dealing with power dynamics etc.

4.       Create a space for dialogue and introspection- Someone once said- a picture can tell a thousand words and an image can paint a thousand pictures. When working with the techniques of Image theatre participants create a series of wordless sculptures which is an embodiment of their feelings and experiences. Beginning with a selected theme, participants sculpt images onto their own and others‘ bodies. This enables participants to expand their expression beyond the spoken language and open up new ways to dialogue with each other. I have found Image theatre as a simple yet powerful way for teams to express challenges, struggles or to visualise possibilities in the future- when reviewing their progress and planning as a team.

5.       Create a culture of listening and respect – Theatre based processes encourage expressiveness and appreciation for each person’s individuality. Theatre allows for a range of ways for people to express themselves creatively- movement, body work, dance, poetry, music, sculpture, art etc. At the heart of the process is the fundamental belief that each of us has a powerful imagination and we have the right to express it. The more we express it, the more power we have and that more we can make things happen in the world.

Often in my workshops, I place great emphasis on creating psychological safety for expression- be it becoming aware of the inner critical voice or having the permission to not know or fail. Creating this safety for expression allows participants to express and witness, in an atmosphere of trust and respect. Needless to say it changes the way individuals ‘listen’ to each other and themselves - moving from a frame of criticism, to a frame of affirmation and possibilities.

It is impossible that anyone can go away from a theatre based workshop without being touched in a way which is joyful, provocative and full of deep wisdom.

Picture source:

Lets Play, February 11th 2017

Thrilled to be back again with the next workshop of Let's Play after a very meaningful run of this program in December 2016.

An open program for anyone who wants to connect and reignite one's spontaneity though exercises from improvisational theatre. The day promises to engage your body, voice and imagination to unlock inhibitions, to open you up to possibilities and bold experimentation.

Let's Play on 17 December 2016

We are very excited to present Let's Play, an open workshop for anyone wanting to spend the day challenging themselves playfully and creatively and discovering gifts that spontaneity has to offer. It's gonna be riot and be prepared to delight yourself immensely as people from very diverse backgrounds get together to spend a Saturday together.

 Write to us to confirm a spot for yourself in the workshop.

Stortytelling Workshop Series In Novemeber 2016

Super excited that Sue Hollingsworth will be here in less than three weeks. A fine human being, a passionate storyteller, a generous teacher and a delightfully fantastic friend! Its my privilege to be hosting her in Bangalore along with Vijji Chari. Cant wait to be in the workshops myself and of course do an evening of storytelling with the master herself. Do follow By the River on facebook for updates. Here is more about Sue- .

Creative Living- psychodrama as an enabler

I have been a student of psychodrama for over 5 years now and perusing though my notes I came across this wonderful introduction to psychodrama by my first teacher- Herb Propper. Life has never been the same since my first psychodrama class- and while the journey of imbibing psychodrama is ongoing, psychodrama for me serves as the most poignant action based process of uncovering our humanity through play and spontaneity. Through playing out a range of roles we play specifically in our lives, we are able to access our own inner wisdom, resourcefulness and become more present to our being. The excerpt I have added below is a simple understanding of what psychodrama is and what it can do for us.

Picture credit:

Picture credit:

Excerpts from - An introduction to psychodrama by Herb Propper

What is Psychodrama?

Psychodrama is a means of exploring our lives together with other people in spontaneous roleplaying action. It is therapeutic in the widest sense, providing us with opportunities to investigate and integrate body, mind and spirit, and to connect more deeply with others than we often do in our normal day-to-day life. A fundamental goal of psychodrama is to help us activate and expand our individual and collective spontaneity and creativity.

What is spontaneity in psychodrama?

 In psychodrama, being spontaneous is not about acting impulsively or blindly, without thought or consideration for others. Instead, spontaneity is defined in practical terms as being able to create "a new response to an old situation" or "an adequate response to a new situation," where adequate is measured by actions that satisfy both our own needs and those of the persons with whom we interact. Using various active role-playing methods, we have opportunities to practice a variety of responses to a person or situation. We can also experience the impact of our responses on others by stepping into their shoes and feeling the effects of the way we express ourselves or ask for what we need. Through the creative contributions of others who are participating in the role-playing, we receive a wider perspective on our own life.

What is 'surplus reality'?

Have you ever come away from a conversation or an event wishing you'd done or said something different? All of us have experienced this at one time or another. This is one example of a key element of psychodrama known as 'surplus reality.' Psychodrama works with the contents of our imagination, providing an opportunity to see, feel and even touch some of our inner images by bringing them into concrete, physical reality. Through the transformative power of surplus reality, we can give voice to objects that have emotional meaning for us, animals [including pets], and dead or absent parents, friends or family members. We are given the chance to experience life not as it was, but "as it ought to be," in other words, life as we truly and honestly would like it. This gives us the opportunity in a safe setting to try out new ways of living, creating "a rehearsal for life."


What is needed for psychodrama?

A psychodrama session consists of 5 essential elements:

1. A stage- which may be a specially-constructed area for the drama, or merely some open space in a room

2. A group of people- whether on-going or especially collected together to participate in a psychodrama

3. A protagonist-  who is a member of the group who volunteers to investigate some aspect of his or her life in action, with the assistance and cooperation of the group;

4. A Director - someone who is trained and experienced in psychodrama, and who serves to guide and support the protagonist in his/her investigation, to coordinate the action of the psychodrama

 5. 1 or more Auxiliaries [helpers for the protagonist]- members of the group who are chosen by the protagonist to play the various roles in the drama that emerges, and who aid the protagonist by bringing their own creative insights and spontaneous action into the drama.


Where is psychodrama used?

Psychodrama is used in hospitals, clinics and in private therapeutic practice by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counsellors and mental health clinicians. With its companion method of sociodrama it is also used in educational settings, correctional institutions, religious institutions, community agencies, organizations and corporations.

Story Mandala- How personal storytelling enables creating inclusive workspaces

Last week my storytelling partner and I were delighted to kick-start a personal storytelling program called The Story Mandala, for a global organisation. Traditionally, a Mandala is a ritual and symbol to represent the universe– usually circular with aesthetic patterns. Creating Mandalas is a meditative act often practised by monks, to align the inner world with the outside. Story Mandala is the act of creating the universe by sharing personal stories as a collective and viewing the patterns that emerge as a symbol of the group’s cosmos.

This was a particularly exciting project for us because we were facilitating an experience for the participants, which is meant to move them and inspire their mindfulness towards the quality of relationships they are building in the organisation. In the context of creating culture and practices for inclusion at the workplace, we were to conduct several Story Mandalas across a section of employees, for exchanging stories that matter, is the most powerful way to inspire inclusion.

Away from models, PowerPoint presentations, case studies and manuals, each person was invited to gently dive inside themselves, allowing the memories to emerge and bring to light a story waiting to be told. It was a mixed working group and many of them did not know each other from before, even though they were a part of the same division. Doubt and trepidation gradually transformed into people leaning into each other silently with intense gaze, nods communicating understanding as the speakers spoke in soft strong voices about the paths they had walked this far.  The session closed with embraces and the thrilled laughter of newly discovered connections.

As we concluded, everyone on the group said they had enjoyed sharing a story from their life, since they felt safe in the way stories were being attended to by the listeners. Many were surprised by how they eventually felt comfortable to share very private stories from their lives, which left them feeling more accepted and less judged. A common refrain across the group was that it was such a relief to be human around colleagues and experience each other beyond work roles. A feeling of warmth , empathy and respect filled the air at the end of the 90 minute session.

 When asked what changed for them as a result of this process - participants shared how they experienced the power of  listening with curiosity, being authentic in who one is and speaking one’s truth. Creating opportunities for connection in this informal yet structured manner was insightful, for one realised that beneath all the diverse stories, the dreams and fears were similar- the human experience was familiar.

It got me thinking- A simple act of exchanging a story of pain or celebration from one’s life seems to create a ripple for these groups of 15 people. And a ripple begets a bigger ripple and so on. Every ripple matters. This very simple act of revelation, holds in itself the power to transform a whole ecosystem for, energy follows attention.  In creating such encounters, each one of us is shifting our attention from what we are trying to avoid or what’s not working, to what we want we want to bring into reality. Truly, transforming the quality of conversation between the people of an organisation is an invitation to transforming the quality of relationships and thought- which in turn leads to transforming the quality of the results. And what better way to do it than by creating spaces to let stories be heard and seen.

What can Businesses learn from the art?


Super excited to see this. An interview on how theatre and improv have much to get organisations inspired.

Concurrence September 2016 is out! Focusing more on "What can Businesses learn from the Arts", this issue focuses on how #theatre can be used to transform people engagement and development in organisations. We also have a new column on #designthinking, and a lot of other exciting reads...

Read on:


Image Theatre- Body work as language in group work

“Theatre has nothing to do with buildings or other physical constructions. Theatre - or theatricality - is the capacity, this human property which allows man to observe himself in action, in activity. Man can see himself in the act of seeing, in the act of acting, in the act of feeling, the act of thinking. Feel himself feeling, think himself thinking."

 -Augusto Boal

Image theatre is a participative style of theatre (actors and audience interchange roles to co create an act) developed by Augusto Boal, the father of Theatre of the Oppressed.  Based on the idea that a picture speaks a thousand words, image theatre enables the participants to express their stories in static images formed with body collectively (think the game of London Statue). Once images are formed, the facilitator creates discussions around how they view the images, what are the power dynamics they see emerging for example and what can be alternative ways of reframing the images in an empowering way, thus harnessing the collective wisdom of the group. By recreating new images based on possible actions suggested, the participants are able to experience new action. This is the “rehearsal for reality” that Boal has talked about extensively.

Such a processcreates a space for participants to enter their challenges physically, mentally and emotionally, in a safe setting,  view it from a distance as well as through the eyes of the group, brainstorm on reframing the perspective and allow oneself to discover a plethora of options in a seemingly choice less situation. As a facilitator, for me this process is very provocative, impactful and enjoyable in some of the ways I mention below-

  1. Embodiment- Image is a form of embodied language that emerges from our interaction within the world. Here words are suspended to let a new language emerge. Everyday experiences by the perception of the body, become an act of performance. This act (a moment of a story from someone’s life) can be witnessed, or be played with like a remote controlled video - moved backward or forward to the events in the past or future. This playing around with the images can offer several creative possibilities and perspectives for each person involved. Moments of insight become tangible and aesthetic, as the body pulsates with the memory of the emerging images.
  2. Story- Image is narrative. Since there are no words, participants share their interpretation of how they are seeing the story unfold. This often can reveal one’s patterned thinking in a non-threatening way. Often the images are not linear in its unfolding. This can make the analytical part of us feel stretched to make meaning of the constantly evolving story and thus step out of our comfort-zone thinking. When one relaxes into creating shapes in the air using one’s body, limbs in relationships to be named, without preconception, expectation - one can explore and uncover new possibilities that the thinking mind may not be able to fathom.
  3. Collective problem-posing process- it involves genuine participation of all those concerned in the learning and removes the teacher-learner hierarchy. The facilitator is not deemed to be the dominating voice of authority. The process is rather a collaborative venture between all present in the process. Due to its collaborative nature, this process becomes a powerful tool for learning and empowerment through dialogue.

Thus self-discovery through image theatre can be a very unique experience- as the body finds and leads expression in very fulfilling ways, towards deep insights beyond the realms of the thinking mind.