Laughing to Live: what a few comedians taught me

Chris at Play - River Side Stories and Playback Theatre - 2013
Seriously funny? Sometimes i’m confused too. Photo credit: Remi Crist

The death this week of one of the funniest Americans of our time, Robin Williams, spurred me to release these words into the wild.  For my capstone course in Playback Theatre this year, I confronted a Creative Project of my choosing that was to be “out of my comfort zone.”

So when you enjoy improvisation, what could be possibly out of your comfort zone? How about scripted theatre?  No, better:  how about scripted comedy?  The idea hit a funny bone that jerked me into saying “yes” before I knew what I was getting into.

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Riding to Remember Homeless in Central PA, May 1-8

“Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man (or “the human one”) has no place to lay his head.” ~ Matt 8:20/Luke 9:58

Christopher Fitz training for the Homeless Horizons Bike Tour
Training for the 250-mile Homeless Horizons Bike Tour - post pneumonia and all

That pretty much summarizes my state in the coming week.  On Sunday, I leave Brethren Housing Association’s Campaign Kickoff Block Party for seven days on my bicycle, raising awareness about homelessness while trying it out as well.

Check out the full schedule, facts about homelessness and how we plan to highlight local challenges – and solutions – here:  Homeless Horizons Handout.

Of course don’t have all the solutions.  None of us.  Some people choose to be homeless.  Perhaps we need to find ways to let people be homeless.  But most of them, research says, want to have a place to call home, a shred of security in an otherwise insecure, changing environment.  And research also suggests that it would be far cheaper to us a society – monetarily and morally – to give them a hand up, rather then let them “fend for themselves.”

There are many solutions.  I hope you can be one.  Most of all, i hope you can ride along with me and my homeless shelter trailer next week.  See more at or follow tweets @brethrenhousing.

See you out there!

Playing with Forgiveness – Self and Others

Another Playback Theatre workshop is in the bag, and it’s been a thrilling ride. Eight intense hours with six others sharing a myriad of stories. By our conclusion at 5 PM, it was hot, and we were tired.  The day had been an intense sequence of stories and playing, and we’d struggled to name the common themes or “red thread” as we in Playback call it.  As we began to close, one participant suddenly interrupted, “you know what?  I think the ‘red thread’ is about forgiveness.”

The River Crossing Playback ensemble plays a scene of forgiveness  in Playback Theatre.I was bracing for a longer explanation, resisting another pull into a vast sea of discussion as I tried to facilitate a tidy ending. But that was it. “Forgiveness.” Hmm.  We moved to end.  And the more the day sinks in (now 36 hours old), the more it resonates. Sometimes the biggest gifts arrive at the most unexpected moments.

As with most workshops I facilitate, I spend the next day or so in evaluation, self-reflection and self-criticism. This one was no different. Even though i thought i’d wrapped things up emotionally with a spacious evening, the next day continued with somewhat humorous internal chatter of “what if’s” and “aw shucks.”  My practice of silent worship with Friends (Quakers) puts a spotlight on this kind of mental jabbering.  And so it goes.  Or does it?  When will i be able to just let it go?

The biggest realization for me, the facilitator is this: i also need to play our forgiveness.  Self-forgiveness.  The embodied art form that allowed us to develop a common story and process of seeking forgiveness (toward others) is also exactly what i need to enable forgiving myself.  In a world surrounded by disembodied media and disembodied social situations (including Friends worship perhaps), embodied arts seem to play an extraordinarily vital role in making forgiveness more than just a mental hoop to jump through.

This is about more than forgiving myself for choices made facilitating a workshop.  This is about the biggies:  the relationships i broke, the people i hurt, the family i grew up with, the anger i expressed, the jobs i lost, the people i let down, the oppression i supported, the victim i played, the ‘stuff’ i demanded, the debt i went into, the frivolousness i indulged in, the fear i cowered under. This could go on a long time. And i know i’m not alone. Most if not all of us have a decent list of self-forgiveness agenda.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that keeps us from forgiving (and fully loving) others. So how do we check things off of it?

More doing, less stewing.  That’s the phrase that came to me in Friends Meeting today.  We need practices to work through forgiveness.  We need to do, to act, to walk the talk. Just like every guide needs a guru and every counselor needs their own therapy, so every facilitator needs a forum where they can be facilitated. Can someone Playback me?

We are only as effective as our integrity – how much we walk our talk throughout our lives.  But many of us also live in an very impoverished world when it comes to natural, embodied community.   It’s often much easier to play roles – or escape them – than truly act – act out our true needs and our unselfconscious calling.  The task remains for us: maximize our real community experience, our embodied existence and our opportunities for honesty. Somewhere in there is a way forward to checking off all the “shoulda woulda coulda’s” of my last workshop – and a whole lot more.

Now anybody want to play that back?

The Jubilee Arts networking site is a place for practitioners to learn more, promote their own work and collaborate in this and other embodied, improvisational liberating arts. Click to find out more and play a part!