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Yes, And... Reflections from our Executive Director

December 05, 2023 2:00 AM | Maddie Provo (Administrator)

The energy and inventiveness of the Reacting community is a sort of perpetual motion machine. It’s powered by people’s eagerness to lean into the mantra of improvisational theater. They like to say “yes, and.”

When instructors pose challenging questions, others rush in to answer. Then they usually end up raising interesting questions of their own. Consequently, my interaction with Facebook is mostly clicking the “like” button. When someone else has already posted something wise or clever – or wise and clever – I feel silly adding a comment of my own. “Yes,” I think. “You’re right! Good point!” Click! Click! Click!

All this leads me to wonder, when the band is playing improvisational jazz, what is the point of a director? Over the last year, I’ve generally found that the answer is that it is a lot like teaching Reacting – just say “yes” as often as possible. 

I started figuring this out at the beginning of the year when Naomi Norman asked me to present the keynote for the 2023 Winter Institute. I said yes and presented “Building Brave Spaces for Reacting.” This generally went over well, probably because I was clear that most of the ideas came from Mark Carnes’ book, Minds on Firetalking with Allen White, the comic strips of Charles Schulz, and my experience at Knutpunkt

When Ray Kimball proposed working with the authors on one session games, I said yes. When Bill Offutt started the short games subcommittee of the REB, I said yes. When Kelly McFall’s students made a student perspective video and asked to put it on the website, I said yes please. 

Immediately after the Winter Conference, Jenn started planning the 2023 Annual Institute, which would mark our triumphal return to Barnard College. Jenn was eager to maximize the impact of meeting face-to-face, so she dropped the usual breakout sessions, which are easily replicated online, and reorganized the schedule so that everyone could participate in working groups dedicated to addressing the big challenges facing Reacting. When Jenn explained her plan, my response was, “Yes, let’s do that.” Clearly, I was gaining wisdom and growing into the job. The video interviews that we did at the AI bear out that my response was the correct one. 

This schedule overhaul gave me the opportunity to facilitate a working group about the relationship between generative AI and Reacting, which yielded a document for our growing online library of materials for instructors. Of the others, another highlight was the group focused on Reacting in high school, which was organized by Chris Jones. It allowed instructors who had been working in isolation to coordinate their efforts. One of them,Mark Whitters, just landed a grant from the Upshur Institute for Civic Education to continue this work. 

The Annual Institute at Barnard also provided an opportunity to playtest the “Fall of Athens,” a mobile phone delivered, one-session game that Jenn and I adapted from Mark Carnes’ popular “Athens Besieged” with Trey Alsup and Lauren Kelly of Experiential Simulations. As expected, there were some bugs, but not enough to scare off intrepid volunteers for fall playtests – including me! I’ll be running it as a Tony Crider-style “epic finale” in my FYS as well as running it at the Science Center of Iowa’s “mixology” event, which will show how well it works with drunk people.

I also said yes when Mark Pleiss, the director of my college’s CTL, asked me if I could “do some sort of game thing” for new faculty orientation. We co-presented the resulting “New Faculty Game” at this November’s POD Conference in Pittsburgh (it’s a big conference for CTL staff). The first version was written by Amy Berger and David Stewart as the “University Game.” Mark and I honed this down to the essentials, play-tested it with our new faculty, and then pitched it for the conference. It is not exactly a Reacting game, but it has all the principles and is better than death by icebreaker, the norm at faculty orientation events. My ambition is to use it as a “gateway drug,” enabling us to gain more traction with CTL staff. We shall see.

The work that Jenn and I were doing was punctuated by Maddie Provo hosting outstanding online events about player safety with Allen White and universal design with Jamie Lerner-Brecher, as well as faculty happy hours. She also continues to do amazing and innovative things with individual, departmental, and institutional memberships. (So much so that we needed to upgrade our site license to handle the volume). 

Similarly, when Jamie Lerner-Brecher saw there were more areas where the Reacting community could benefit from her expertise in Disability Studies and student support, she proposed making some short videos. We said “yes. do that,” and now we can all learn from here videos on Reacting and Anxiety and Reacting and Autism.   

Meanwhile, Noah Trujillo steadily added to his job description. He started as digital resources manager, but as the year passed, his work grew to include coordinating student workers, formatting game materials, editing video, and compiling analytical reports about the operation of our website. 

In the middle of all of this, Maddie and Noah decided to start work to overhaul the design of the website. They both work part time, but their curiosity, commitment, and energy mean that they do more with a handful of hours than most people get done in a week. 

How did I unlock this potential? I nod sagely and say, “Yes. Do that. Do that thing that you just said.” I am excited by the prospect of being able to say “yes” much more in the coming year.

Nick Proctor is the Executive Director of the Reacting Consortium. You can read his other blog posts and updates, including last year's look back.

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