Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Penguin Tag

A couple of years ago I took an improvisational comedy course. Every Sunday evening from fall through to spring, our group gathered in a room with nothing in it but a few folding chairs, to conjure up skits from nothing.

We'd shuffle in the door still thinking about the outside world, sometimes with worries on our mind. Perched on folding chairs, making idle conversation until the teacher showed up, we were our regular, moderate selves.

But you can't make magic from moderation. The teacher's first priority in each class wasn't to impart information to us. It was to shake us free from our rational, linear selves. He wanted to rev up the crazy. He wasn't happy until he saw us being downright rambunctious, because that is when the comedy magic happened.

My favourite of all our warm-up exercises was Penguin Tag. It's exactly like regular tag, except for one additional rule: your knees must remain touching each other at all times. He wouldn't warn us in advance which warm-up was coming. He'd get us all up and standing in a circle, and then suddenly bellow:

"Penguin Tag! I'm It! Go!"

There would be a mad scramble as a dozen or so people frantically waddled around the small room, trying to evade It. I don't suppose it would make a great spectator sport, but I can tell you that it really gets the adreneline pumping. It only took about three minutes of Penguin Tag before we were all flushed, laughing hysterically, and completely in touch with all the wild possibilities of the child mind.

Exuberance is a wonderful thing, and sadly lacking in adult life in mainstream North American culture. Where it exists, often chemicals have been called upon get us there. It's tragic.

The other time I was part of a group that frequently had spontaneous, non-chemical, unplanned expression was when I took a course called "Soundwork as Soulwork". It involved improvised group singing, drumming, and movement. Sometimes we were more "in the groove" than others, and there certainly were times when I felt like a silly fool, but there were also magic moments when we touched something truly beautiful together.

Once I attended a black Baptist church in Indiannapolis (with my ex-in-law family), and there was a lot of improv going on there. I particularly remember one older lady who sat behind me, prim and proper in a navy blue suit with white trim, and a matching hat. She came bursting out with spontaneous praise in response to everything the preacher said.

"Yes, Jesus!"

"Thank you, Jesus!"

At the time I thought it was really weird, and I felt uncomfortable. Now I think back and I understand the spirit that moved her. Celebrating the divine should make us want to shout out in joy and agreement!

My current church is much too well-behaved and quiet. The congregation is Baptist, liberal, and multicultural. There are approximately equal numbers of white, black, and Asian faces in the crowd. The black folks are best at giving the pastor an "Amen" here and there. There is one lady, old as the hills and with eyes clouded by cataracts, who belts out "Praise the Lord!" at regular intervals. She makes me smile.

But the rest of us sit quietly, and take flack from the pastor for being too restrained. I'm as guilty as the rest. I have occasionally found the juice to give an audible "Amen", but most of the time I'm as quiet as the proverbial churchmouse.

The hardest part is Going First. If there were just a few more people expressing exuberance, I tell myself, I could do it too. It's like I feel I need permission to be heard, to possibly call attention to myself.

Granted, I'm new there. Maybe as I feel like less of a stranger I'll feel less shy. Because if someone has to Go First, if someone has to be the one to establish Permission, why not me? There's no rule that says a little white girl can't shout out Hallelujah!

Instead of switching churches, I'd rather see what I can do to bring that kind of spirit to my local church. I can't be the only one who's waiting for a cue to loosen up. The pastor would definitely like to have a more lively congretation, and he lets us know that every week. I pray to be brave enough one day. That's the kind of devotion that God deserves.


Nilsa S. said...

Your post reminds me of the movie theater. And how in MOST theaters, we hush those around us when they get too loud. Yet, in some movie theaters, it is encouraged to be involved in the movie. Much like that baptist church. And it really provides for a different experience than just passively sitting there waiting for it all to be over.

mex (aka Syb)..CONTACT ME via EMAIL at this address: LauderdaleGT@yahoo.com said...

Quiet churches kinda get on my last nerve too. The +udder+ thang that rubs me wrong is the "meet and greet" activity that some places do.. the one where you have to "chit chat" w/ the person seated behind yew or something.


And THANKS for the post!! I was in spark WDs!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Maybe you should suggest that the congregation play penguin tag before church? It's no surprise that I tend to blend in when in a crowd, but a truly good church should be interactive. A sharing of vision and beliefs between the pastor and the congregation.

whatigotsofar said...

I would love to take an improv comedy class or course or whatever. That sounds like so much fun.

unsigned said...



You spelled multicultural incorrectly.

Claire said...

What a lovely post! And I'm so taking penguin tag to my drama class this morning!


Sparkling Red said...

Nilsa: We're so used to being passive. School, TV, movies, books - we just sit and absorb stuff. But when you meet an experience halfway, it has so much more potential for tranformation and deep learning!

Syb: We do "meet and greet" occasionally, but I don't mind it. Everyone is SO HAPPY to shake each others' hand - it's really sweet!

Ron: When I start my own church, penguin tag will definitely be mandatory. ;-)

Whatigotsofar: The improv comedy classes were pretty much nonstop fun. I highly recommend the Bad Dog theatre on Danforth east of Broadview. The facilities are a little shabby, but the place rocks.

Unsigned: I did? Thanks for the heads up.

Claire: Awesome! I hope to hear how that goes.

Dianne said...

why not you!? white girls can bring it!!

I still play in puddles and piles of leaves and I always feel better for having done it.

U2 did a video in a small gospel church in the south. to hear the choir going and then have Bono jump in was pure exuberance.

my ex's aunt sang in a gospel choir. I used to go to practice to listen from the back in the corner. One night the pastor came upon me tapping my feet and clapping my hands and singing out - "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine ..." and I got louder and louder. made every single person there smile. It felt great!

Sparkling Red said...

Dianne: And that is exactly why you are awesome! :-) I aspire to be that bold.

Aurora said...

Speaking out during a sermon is definitely not my style. I grew up with the idea that sermons are all about having an inner conversation with God and the pastor. I still find revival-style preaching kind of weird, as you did in Indianapolis.