If you’re familiar with Augusto Boal’s work this exercise will strike you as familiar as it draws from his theatrical explorations. Sculptor Pairs encourages more vulnerable embodied communication and, subsequently, invites a candid consideration of personal boundaries and issues of Consent. You can use the game as a stand-alone icebreaker, ensemble builder, or as a leaping off point into more physically dynamic and emotionally connected play.
Players, divided into pairs, select an appropriate area to serve as their work space and nominate someone to serve as Player A and Player B respectively. The facilitator provides a prompt to spark the exploration, such as a personal relationship, emblematic location, or provocative theme. Player A serves as the first sculptor and should imagine a detailed image inspired from their own life that they would like to craft. Standing approximately three feet away from their subject (Player B) they should use gestures and hand movements to animate and adjust their partner’s position into the imagined and desired pose, all the while working in silence and without actually making physical contact. Player B should endeavor to translate these instructions as best as they can while remaining open to (silent) feedback and adjustments. Once Player A is happy with the details of the pose, they should then step into their created image and complete it with a self-selected position of their own so that the image now contains both bodies in combination. If their image requires physical contact they should first seek verbal permission from their partner – “can I put my arm around your shoulder?” When everyone has completed their tableaux, the leader may move focus from one image to another (with players relaxing when they are not being observed) so that the ensemble has a chance to view and discuss the work of their peers. Reverse the roles and repeat.
Player A and B are exploring the relationship of siblings.
Player A takes a moment to determine the essence of a relationship image and stands a few feet away from Player B. Player A gestures for B to grab a chair and sit in it and they do so. After pointing to one leg and then the other, B understands to sit cross-legged in the chair. Placing an imaginary head in their hands, Player A re-positions B’s head so that it is leaning back a little and then recommends a more joyful expression by modeling it on their own face. With an additional move, B’s arms eventually are adjusted, one sitting on their left thigh, the other holding something that the subject assumes is a drink of some kind.
Player A steps back and assesses the image and tweaks the angle of B’s head with a hand motion.
Player A: “Is it okay if I touch your hair?”
Player B nods and A now enters the image as a presumably older sibling brushing out B’s hair with an expression of care and laughter. The picture is complete.
Concentrate on the depth and success of the silent communication, the subtle ways that sculptors are able (or unable) to craft their intent, and the process through which both players can find joy and comfort working together on something that can innately feel a little intimate or vulnerable.
Traps and Tips
1.) Contextualize the prompts. This exercise works well to plumb the depths and shades of our own lived experiences and I would recommend setting it up with this more personal focus (rather than just making pretty pictures). Relationship prompts work well as a starting point as they tend to more readily spark our imaginations. Be sure to acknowledge that everyone in attendance may not have the same or any experience with a given prompt. In the case of siblings, for example, it would be completely in the spirit of the game to model the absence of a sibling (perhaps with the artist not entering the frame) or an image that captures the desire of what a sibling would have felt like. Similarly, if you’re tackling juicy themes, I always allow the inversion of the proffered dynamic if this is the sculptor’s instinct (so “justice” becomes “injustice”) as this attitude encourages a rich diversity of tableaux. At the end of the day, it’s highly preferable that the resulting image is personal and meaningful rather than fictive and empty.
2.) Honor the silence. There is something potentially unsettling about conducting this exercise in silence especially if you are accustomed to leaning on your verbal acuity. Embrace this way of working as it demands and unlocks for many a very new way of communicating with our scene partners. Avoid the temptation to settle at a generic approximation of your intended image and fight to realize the specific details that you view as important. This might require taking a completely different gestural approach if your initial attempts prove clumsy.
3.) Celebrate the creations. If you’re dealing with large archetypes or themes as the prompts you’re likely to create a complex and engaging gallery of images. It’s worth taking some time to unpack the threads that emerge. Are there widely held experiences that are reflected across multiple images? Do some tableaux effectively model unexpected tensions or delightful differences? What specifics are clearly being communicated to the audience or might inspire a subsequent scene? Are there any unintended messages or physical elements that hamper the perceived artist’s intent? Discussion between rounds also affords an opportunity to assure that participants are appropriately accepting the challenges of the exercise while also feeling seen and heard.
4.) Consider a next step. I’m so often struck by the amazing variety and specificity of images crafted with this technique and how much we can communicate without uttering a single word. While there is certainly no need to move these moments into scene work, this can serve as a logical next step, especially if you’re looking for ways to craft richer scene openings that aren’t purely reliant on dialogue to get the ball rolling. Pairs can be given new individual prompts to inspire a brief sculpting session prior to beginning a more traditional scene, or after exploring a series of different prompts could elect to use a favorite to adopt as the lights come up on the action.
While you are perhaps unlikely to incorporate the sculpting device per se into your scene work and initiations (although, why not?) hopefully the trust, specificity and heightened physical awareness gleaned from this exercise will infuse your process. If your company struggles to represent a certain category of relationships or themes, this dynamic also affords a mechanism for slowly breaking it down in rehearsal to enable greater awareness, understanding and comfort.
Connected Concept: Consent