Identity Improvisations

Students in the same counseling class provided another example for a critically enriched improvisation when they invented the idea of separating the role from the player: All students in this class improvise counseling situations either in a live role play or in a videotaped version, making themselves remarkably vulnerable to the gaze and judgment of others who are asked to provide reflective feedback to presenters. One group of players presented their videotaped scenes and pointed out that they had discovered it was helpful for them to speak of themselves not as “I” or by their real names but, instead, in the third person and in their role as, for instance, “the counselor” and “the client.” The rest of the class immediately followed suit and also referred in their feedback to those who had shared their work in the third person. Accepting the idea created a space in which students could keep down fears of being personally judged, which in turn allowed them to make themselves vulnerable and look critically upon the roles they cocreated. Eventually, they began to question how the improvised roles reproduced stereotypes of “clients” and “professionals” alike. Students discussed how they came to hold these stereotypes; how they inadvertently invoked them verbally and physically; and how they could challenge themselves to alter their own performances of gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Since then, I have gratefully shared this idea of linguistically separating “player” from “role” with all subsequent counseling classes, many of which have incorporated it. And the question ofhow students think they came up with their characterizations has also become part of my repertoire.

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