On July 8, 2018, a group of 22 people from different faith traditions gathered at FUMC Colleyville for a Peace Together theatrical improvisation workshop hosted by Wendi Bernau of the Missional Wisdom Foundation and facilitated by Kyle Austin of the Dallas Comedy House.

During this event, Kyle Austin shared with participants some foundational improvisational theatre concepts useful for cultivating an environment of welcoming hospitality, such as creating an inclusive environment, collaborative brainstorming and listening skills. Throughout the course of the workshop, we played improvisational games that helped us to practice some basic skills, get to know one another and enjoy the process along the way. Most of the skills are elementary, like “don’t be the jerk,” but there is a profound truth behind that: if I am always drawing attention to myself and what I can do, I am actually hindering the group from the ability to co-create something beautiful together. Plus, I am going to stick out like a sore thumb and I won’t be funny to anyone but myself.

In the work of the grassroots Peace Together coalition, these key components help us build relationships in our community. The workshop captured a dual purpose in beginning to build some of those relationships with community members and also in coaching some of the Peace Together leadership in the collaborative process. One of the games was to invent a product with no limits on feasibility. After sky-high dreaming and brainstorming, which is fun and silly and over-the-top, in that mess of craziness there is probably a nugget or two of really great inventive ideas that can be mined and utilized in an actual event. I am hoping that our Peace Together steering committee will utilize this technique in planning our upcoming Peace Walk. When no one says ‘no’ to any idea, everyone stays engaged and lots more ideas flow freely. No one has to protect their ideas or guard their thoughts in this initial stage; creativity as well as the teamwork is enhanced and cultivated as everyone feels equally welcome.

One of the most basic skills in improvisational theater is the concept of ‘yes, and.’ In ‘yes and’ participants come to the gathering as equals. Each player must release his or her ego of being right, first, most experienced, or even funniest, in order for everyone not only to have a voice, but to have that voice heard, affirmed and included in the larger conversation. When everyone feels that their contribution is valuable, they are more willing to step out and offer more of themselves to the group and be a bit more vulnerable, which is a first step to knowing one another on a deeper level. For the Peace Together coalition, which seeks to bring together people from a wide variety of racial, cultural and faith (or non-faith) backgrounds, ‘yes and’ becomes the bedrock of our relationships with those who are different from ourselves because we must allow that space for difference to exist without judgment or condescension as we form friendships.

Another essential basic skill for Peace Together advocates is the ability to listen to understand rather than to reply. Kyle led the group through a series of story-telling opportunities that tested our willingness and ability to listen well to one another. Listening is a deep form of respect for another person because it lets the other person know that I am genuinely curious about their life and putting aside any assumptions I might be carrying. Listening means I care. Listening also indicates a willingness to change. If I am listening, I might learn something new and it may even convince me to alter my understanding of a person, situation or circumstance. If I think I already know what someone I’d going to say, I am probably not really listening to their actual answer. Further, if I am listening well and trying to understand where the other person is coming from and what they are saying, then I am not preoccupied with how I will respond when it’s my turn to speak again, nor will I interrupt the other person while he or she is talking. Respect, willingness and understanding: all these mindsets are necessary when intentionally engaging in fruitful conversations with people who are different from ourselves, as we do in Peace Together.

I heard all positive responses from the 22 people who were present that Sunday afternoon. For some, it was merely a fun time to play and relax. Others saw great value in the key concepts for use in other settings. I am also aware that there were a few other Peace Together leaders who wanted to come were out of town traveling. Therefore, it is my hope to offer another of these workshops with Kyle in the near future at another venue.

Peace Together: Let’s talk about building relationships with our neighbors and truly learning from one another. Join us as we seek to understand our differences and foster peace in our community. Large and small events are hosted at various sites in Northeast Tarrant County, Texas. Visit www.peacetogetherevents.com to learn more.