Blog Post

Program versus Mood: Guest Blog with Johanna De Ruyter

by | 28 Nov, 2022 | Blog, Collaborators, Collaboratory Podcast, Resources

In a recent episode of Collaboratory, we heard from a range of collaborative practitioners, including three main guests, David Lilley, Johanna De Ruyter and Callie Doyle Scott, who discussed the most important skills and capabilities for facilitating co-creative processes. 

Improvisation was a topic which Johanna explored during the episode, drawing from her experiences at Playback theatre. We invited Johanna to write a blog post about this and share more insights into the skills and approaches which are required for collaboration in theatre.

Johanna De Ruyter

Because Playback Theatre works with improvisation it is often surprising to people that Playback Theatre meets weekly to rehearse – but you make it all up on the spot, don’t you?! Yes, and to be able to improvise, we must develop by practising all sorts of principles and skills. To improvise effectively, we need to shift focus to privilege our spontaneity, playfulness, expressiveness, listening, sensing, not thinking, let alone practice and hone various theatre craft skills.  This includes addressing team communication issues and discussing company business (we are professionally contracted to perform at conferences, schools, and training rooms).

A challenge that comes up again and again as a leader of a company like this is how to manage the balance between what Jonathon Fox (Playback Theatre founder) in his book Acts of Service refers to as Mood and Program

‘Program implies a stance that is logical, instrumental, computational while mood implies the expressive, the relational.’

In a business context, it can show up as that moment when you arrive at a meeting to lead a team through a well-planned agenda and are instead met with a different agenda in the room. The ‘other agenda’ is within the relational field, or the group dynamics, and is often what is not spoken but can be felt and sensed. This dynamic is often referenced as the vibe or the energy in the room. It could be felt as a lack of energy – sitting back in the chair, withdrawn and or a distracted energy – on phones, laptop, and or the vibe, which can move anywhere up to outright hostility between people, all of which result in a decline in group cohesiveness.

The challenge for a leader when meeting this dynamic is to be flexible and be willing to let go of the well-planned program and respond to what is presenting in the group dynamic or the mood.  To do this as a leader, you must bring an awareness and sensibility to the emotional energetic dynamics of the group and a willingness to acknowledge this dynamic.

The fear or resistance in addressing this discordance is often that a negative emotion will overtake the whole program, it will be swamped in the need to spend hours discussing and processing the issue or worse, that the whole program will fall apart.

A core value of Playback Theatre practice is a prioritizing of and willingness to acknowledge all range of emotions.  We have learnt that if we don’t address discordant dynamics they can develop into deeper conflict between members, more sensitivity to feedback or resistance to fulfilling roles in the company business.

The dissonance will not just go away but will keep presenting in the cohesiveness of teamwork.

Research has found people move through many emotional states in a day, in fact some research claims up to 100!  So, emotions are everywhere and integrated within everything we do, when you multiply this by how many people are involved in a collaboration of any kind, well, its exponential and very dynamic!

So, when in group collaborations it is important to bring an awareness to the tension between – program versus mood.  It can be effective to shift your focus from achieving agenda items to sensing what’s happening energetically in the group dynamic – are people engaged, distracted or tense? A good barometer of the emotional dynamic field of the group is for you to tune into what you are feeling.  Allow some time to acknowledge it e.g. ‘I’m feeling a level of distraction in the room, what are you feeling? I am feeling some tension, I sense distraction. Using ’I‘ statements is vital to express what you are feeling rather than ‘YOU’ statements is more effective and encouraging.

If the issue is deeper and requires more attention and time, at least acknowledge it and agree to address it when you have more time. The irony is that by addressing the discordant dynamics you get through the program quicker as there is less resistance and more what we call in improv YES, anding (made up word) going on!

To hear more from Johanna De Ruyter and other featured collaborative practitioners, on which skills and capabilities are most important for facilitating co-creative processes and building generative relationships, be sure to check out the episode of Collaboratory, “Skills for Co-Creative Relationships”.

You can also find out more about Johanna’s work at Wicked Elephants Coop here and read their recent article “Poles Apart” here.