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Post-playshop Dialog

IV. Pre-dinner Meeting
1. Playful Evaluation
2. The Meal as a Metaphor
3. Between Freedom and Constraint
4. Creativity as Playful Synergy

IV. Pre-dinner Meeting
November 29, 1999, 17:30

We settled back into the room and it seemed so cozy as it was dark outside and the lighting was soft. Most of all, it really was warm and we were able to have a comfortable and fruitful discussion until dinner.

1. Playful Evaluation

Miya: Now that we have watched the video, exercised and watched the sky, the next issue is: How should we proceed? We could think about the research methods that we used, for example, videos of participants and videos of researchers. Is evaluation necessary? What is evaluation? How can we help people carry elements out of Playshop? What are our long-term goals? Videos will be sent to participants along with an evaluation form. We would like them to comment on their day, using the format of a storyline. Any thoughts?

Edith: To me, the notions of evaluation and playfulness are extreme opposites. Participants take risks on a make-believe stage and they need to feel that they are on safe ground and free from the usual ways in which people are usually judged and evaluated so they can suspend the usual fears. Evaluation is an intrusion into the world of play to which they have been invited. On the other hand, researchers need to get better ideas from people who participated on how to optimize the play. It is important to make a distinction between summative and formative evaluation. Summative evaluation relies on external standards and testing by outsiders. I'd like to avoid the usual boring sociological questionnaires. It is necessary to invest in a projective test in which people are put in the role of the organizer and asked how they would do it differently. This puts them in a constructive or designer mode. It is an indirect way of asking their opinions. Asking for opinions directly only yields a boring range between "yes, I like it" and "no, I hated it." We should think of questions to optimize this process next time.

Ruth: The stickers, comments, and drawings are valuable feedback. We should have them transcribed because they can give us helpful insights. Playshop activities emphasized non-verbal communication so I also think we should ask participants to draw.

Nobuyuki: In a formative (koseiteki) evaluation, participants are asked what they would do to change the workshop. In contrast, in summative (sokatsuteki) evaluation, participants are simply asked whether they liked the workshop or not. Sesame Street employs formative evaluation.

Edith: We should take the notion of the "client" seriously and everybody has different ideas about what a workshop should achieve. This includes teachers, parents, children, organizers, designers, and sponsors. We should think about how this Playshop could become a seed to do it successfully.

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2. The Meal as a Metaphor

Jogi: In addition to looking at Playshop as a performance, their holistic metaphors are possible, such as preparing a meal. What materials were there? Who were the cooks? What kind of consumption took place? Does it fulfill a hunger or address an appetite? There is a difference between these two ends. Did Playshop address a specialized desire that wants to be fulfilled in a particular manner, that is, in a manner that was appetizing?

Hillel: Does this hunger refer to the innate feelings of the participants? How can guests become cooks? How can the boundaries between cook and guest can be erased?

Jogi: The body innately wants to be playful and it wants to awaken its senses. If we take the metaphor of meal preparation, we can see that the ambiance and activities promote the transformation of participants into cooks who then come to understand their true hunger. The body has forgotten its hunger for playfulness and the master chef suggests ways to listen to the body. The themes of Playshop awakened the body. At this point, it is still a group process, not yet an individual process.

Yoshiro: Yes, Playshop was an appetizer for everyone.

Jogi: This discussion is based on a few assumptions. First, the body is not allowed to have its say regarding what it wants. It is not allowed to eat what it wants to eat. It is not allowed to express its desire. Second, the Playshop has awakened that desire and created an appetite. And, third, the cook is not yet the eater of the soup. In other words, it was group activity and Playshop was awakened desires through group activity.

Miya: Actually, the cooking and meal metaphors had been in our minds and we were originally going to call the book an "appetizer book."

Nobuyuki: I think of Playshop in terms of an Italian meal. The antipasto and first and second courses were prepared at Playshop. The Post-playshop meeting represents a "bittersweet reflection" or dolce.

Kazuyoshi: I first thought that traditional learning and Playshop were different in terms of the improvisation -> making -> reflection process. However, each has its own motivation -> action -> evaluation. In summative evaluation, the motivation is given, but formative evaluation requires that one find his or her own motivation and then make a self-evaluation. We don't know what our motivation is and this is why we need an appetizer: to bring out our desire to be playful and help us understand and create our own actions.

Nobuyuki: Returning to the Italian meal model, we can say that the first course was the guided session led by Takeo. It warmed the participants up. It provided a motivational environment and stimulated the children. But, guided learning is not the end. After participants have been motivated in the first course, they construct their own works in the second course. There is no motivation or goal if the exercise starts with the second course. Motivation is not automatic. Motivation requires props and design, something that attracts attention and looks interesting. It has to connect with what children want to do.

Yukio: The metaphor of cooking is easy to understand, but it is also ambiguous. Just who were the guests of Playshop? I was a participant, but I also felt like a cook. What did I make?

Hillel: At what point did you feel that you were a cook?

Yukio: I felt this way during the "What are you doing?" game.

Nobuyuki: Children probably came to Playshop expecting to have something good to eat, but they began to realize that it was better for them to cook their own meal than to eat something that was provided by others.

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3. Between Freedom and Constraint

Edith: What do we call this process? Maybe "guided improvisation" is a good term. Playshop started out in a guided manner and gave way to more improvisation. How much guidance should be given? At opposite ends of the spectrum, there is the pretentious example of "Brain Opera" by Todd McOver?? and then the sandbox theory that tends to undervalue the amount of guidance that people need in activities. The Brain Opera performed at Lincoln Center is an example of the unsuccessful use of technology. In this performance, participants could produce their own music at interactive stations or "forests." But, the interaction was simply meaningless banging that treated participants like automatons. It didn't give them the opportunity to harmonize with others or allow for open-ended interaction. Simple instruments would have been better. It was demagogic in its insistence that everyone could become a musician and that this was possible without any guidance. On the other hand, there are many guided rituals in which the guides believe that they are giving more guidance than is really being offered. The key is what people bring to these rituals.

Yukio: As a participant I felt playful, but I also felt controlled. Without the pantomime, I would not have come to feel playful and that made me understand how professional Takeo is at what he does.

Milton: Yukio has raised an important point: there is a tension between providing the experience and giving a choice of activities to the learner. Everyone got the same course for the appetizer and first course. Children's museums offer different activities so children can have a choice, and yet the museums focus on certain experiences that they tend to foreground to encourage participation. As a matter of fact, there's one area of science and museum research called "visitor or participant research."

Koby: Children are born with various programs: programs of the body and programs of the mind. Even newborn babies know how to breathe, etc., and adults engage in complicated actions by combining these programs. Playshop started with pantomime which turned on the program of the body. The vest-making switched on the programs of the mind. These programs require logical and sensitive information to get started. In Playshop, logical and sensitive information put the programs of the mind and body into high gear and produced a creative flow.

Ruth: Each person responded and did things differently, even when they laced the vests up the back. There was improvisation even from the beginning. I think of Miles Davis who said, "Do not fear mistakes. There are none." Improvisation starts with not fearing mistakes. This is the key to the mind and body connection and the key to performance. This fear freezes the body.

Koby: Actually, the designer of the vests was very surprised by the wonderful results. Even though they were made of the same material, they were all unique and turned out differently from his intentions.

Miya: It took courage to actually cut into the material as some people did.

Edith: Miles Davis had an instrument that imposed constraints on him. Creative people need constraints. The question of how much improvisation should be allowed leads to the question of constraints. It's possible to generate all possible variations with constraints.

Ruth: For an actor, the body is the instrument.

Hillel: I am reminded of another quote by Miles Davis, "Don't play the notes, but play between them." This raises important cultural questions because in Japan, teachers usually insist on playing the notes.

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4. Creativity as Playful Synergy

An idea or product that deserves the label, "creative" arises from the synergy of many sources and not only from the mind of a single person. --Mihalyi Csikszentmihaliyi

Yukio: What is creativity? Does anybody have a definition? Does creativity depend on someone saying it interesting?

Ruth: Creativity is more a process than a result. It is possible to destroy an object and still have had a creative experience.

Takeo: People tend to say that children are more creative, but I don't think this is true. Adults are more creative because they have more information to work with. Children with no information are limited in their creativity.

Nobuyuki: Creativity takes place when I encounter a different field that opens up a new drawer or avenue. It happens in an encounter with someone in a different field and consists of combining information from different fields. This requires background information.

Ruth: Praise or criticism stops the creative process and my rule is to leave commentary out.

Jogi: Creativity is not dependent on the amount of information one has, but the ability to play, the ability to be inventive, to take risks, and to see connections.

Takeo: My definition of creativity is premised on having a playful spirit. In my mime activity, I didn't want to give the participants time to think. I wanted the information to come out.

Nobuyuki: One example of a constraint at Playshop was the clothing. Everyone was given the same material. As a second constraint, Takeo provided people with the same basic skills.

Yukio: Does someone have to teach us the basics?

Takeo: Having a playful spirit comes first. Adults shouldn't think that they don't have a playful spirit.

Edith: "Information" is a confusing word. Paul Valery said that doing anything was 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration or hard work. I'd rather use the word "experience." The discussion seems to being saying it is not possible to convey your passion or artistry unless you learn to do something very well because otherwise it is not possible to inspire someone else.

Miya: Creativity entails taking risks. I agree that "information" could really be called "experience."

Koby: Creativity is the ability to combine programs. If adults have a playful spirit, they can combine new programs.

Milton: I like the phrase "playful learning." But, why is play important to learning? Parents want to know: why was Playshop important to my child's learning? George Lucas links playfulness with learning. When his daughter was six or seven, Lucas noticed that she could sing on key and decided that she should learn to play the piano and then she could sing along, but the daughter was not interested. One day, a few years later, the daughter announced that she wanted to learn and she was taken to a special teacher. The teacher asked her what her favorite song was. Since it was "Evita," the teacher played and the daughter sang along. The point of this anecdote is that one should start with a child's passion and build from there. We should start with what children want to do rather than abstractions. This also applies to other subjects such as mathematics and sciences.

Nobuyuki: There's also the karaoke method. One should start with what one wants to sing, expand the repertoire, and then perform. When students start with the piano scales and practice, 90% assume that they will never be able to play.

Takeo: Japanese people are good at mimicking, but not good putting together new sketches on stage.

Yukio: Learning should be playful, but this implies that learning is not always playful. The idea in education is that people must learn the basics because we do not know at what point they will become interested in science, for example, but if they know the basics they will be able to pursue this interest at any point in life.

Milton: It is motivation that drives learning. Learning starts with motivation and the current idea is that depth is more important than breadth.

It was decided that during dinner participants would discuss the types of groups. The after-dinner discussion would focus on research methods and how one might design another Playshop. This concluded this session of the meeting.

Dinner was served in a different room where a kaiseki dinner was awaiting. Each course was presented beautifully and there was a brief explanation of the meaning of the kaiseki dinner. The chef would come in later to explain the ingredients of each course and how it represented the season and the foods of the region. As dinner progressed, and we consumed much delicious food and sake, the conversations broke off in little groups as we were sitting at a long rectangular table and it was difficult to involve everyone in a single conversation. It actually seemed like the first time people could really relax and get to know each other, and really brought people together. Of course, after any big meal, there is a tendency to get a little drowsy. So we drifted back into "our room" to finish the evening off with a more informal discussion. The sweet sting of sake lingering in the air must have been the key to our excited after-dinner discussion!

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