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Dialogue on Trauma-Informed Creative Practices

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

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MOLLY: Hey all my name's Molly she/her. I'm the founder of Grey Box Collective um, and I'll take a few moments to introduce myself, Grey Box Collective and trauma-informed creative practices. Um, before everyone else does their intros and we start discussion so a little bit more about me um so I've just always found movement fascinating uh whether that is movement modalities, dance techniques, or like larger social justice movements or how individuals move through a system of higher education and with that it's led me to my MFA in dance, Masters of Ed in higher Ed focus on educational psychology and in that time I've also founded Grey Box Collective. So, in a nutshell Grey Box Collective we make weird art about tough stuff. Um we are interdisciplinary, we are experimental, post-dramatic with a ‘D’ um and our work uh really is focused on like holding multiple truths and unpacking some stuff that doesn't normally get unpacked in a more traditional um setting. And so through all of that um kind of what came out of that even further was trauma-informed creative practices and um I said it one day after doing some halting work like, oh we really should have like this trauma informed creative practices thing, and when I went to google it uh it doesn't exist so I started talking a little bit more succinctly about that work um and so trauma-informed creative practices is a methodology of um, and a practice really, of embracing and embodying compassion and curiosity into spaces of creativity and learning. So it's not just about what we're delivering it's also and how we're delivering it. And I will toss it over to Ji Sun to do a little more intro.

JI SUN: Thank you Molly, my name is Ji Sun I go by she/her I'm theater artist, performer, and musician and thanks to Grey Box Collective I think I can call myself like baby step mover uh because I was always like told that like, oh no you don't know how to do, that and then but Grey Box Collective like taught me that like you have body? Okay, then you dance like whatever you make, that's the movement. So like it kind of liberated me um and I work with Grey Box Collective as a performer and a music director and composer. Um so today I'm gonna dig deeper how this trauma informed practice helped me and my team to create an innovative but also very thoughtful art piece um especially during pandemic. Um so yeah I think this practice actually helps ensemble navigate uh in a very organic way um putting repertoire and the bodies over archive world is words yeah all right. I think next is Chris

CHRIS: Hello, uh I am Chris uh he/his and I am a teacher, I am a director, a theater teacher, a director I work with students from um currently from ages well from grades 6 through 12. And I apply uh trauma from creative practices through the classroom I also do a lot of work uh other work whenever I uh direct in um larger spaces I utilize it as more of an um a like production structure in how that works through what I call um culturally responsive artistic practices. And how trauma informed trauma-informedness and trauma informed practices uh work in there as well and uh for Grey Box I have done education work with Grey Box I have did some stage matching work I have done some editing work I have done all sorts of things uh and it has always been a delight, and um trauma form creative practices really is such a universal I think really important um way of approaching uh working in a creative space uh especially with young people. And yeah so we're gonna move it on over to Sarah.

SARAH: Thanks Chris. Um hi everybody, my name is Sarah I use she/her pronouns um I've done a flurry of things with Grey Box I started out as a performer in one of a performances called It's Not That Simple, um when I was revamped in 2018 um, and then I've moved into several other roles including education programming with younger people I've directed device performances with young ones um so I guess my the title I like to use for myself as artist educator because I like to dip my toes in both the creative side and the education side um and most of the people I work with typically range between like elementary to middle school I've worked all the way through adult but especially in the past year with a lot of the online teaching a lot of my work has been in the elementary through middle school range I'm going to hand it over to Lizbet.

LIZBET: Hi there, uh I'm Lizbet and words to describe myself um it feels kind of corny but like when I have to write things like on the internet or whatever I'll be like artist educator facilitator world changer and I'm like these are like big claims you know but but I'll go with that right now um and with Grey Box I have performed and then directed and then am also trying to figure out what these things look like because even that's like a bit more capacious than I thought so we're we're playing around with structure I'm like cool and also getting involved in the educational side of things um in terms of the work that I do particularly using trauma-informed creative practices um I I get paid to teach theater at a small private liberal arts college and um this this right this is something that I that I use there and also I do summer camps with young people and a foster care system involved young people and then this is another big place where um I apply trauma informed creative practices so now that we've kind of established who we are right all working kind of under the umbrella of Grey Box Collective in our own respective ways um we're going to kind of start with some questions that we will ask one another to get out what it is we do and to kind of you know share where we're coming from so I would like to start with this question and this is for everyone um how would you describe trauma-informed creative practices in one sentence and you can and feel free to un-mute yourself when you would like to respond Sarah: All right um okay one sentence, when one sentence starts now. Being curious and open to newness amongst your um students, so I guess I'm thinking about like a classroom or like darn it there's more than one sentence students but explaining it also to like anybody you're working with okay.

JI SUN: Um I will say starting the process of the day with checking questions of how their mind heart bodies are doing

CHRIS: My sentence is proactively creating spaces that are thoughtful and encourage self-awareness and encourage curiosity.

MOLLY: One of the ways I've been thinking about it lately in a short phrase is allowing humanity to show again in spaces of creativity and learning

LIZBET: Um, I'm thinking and, and I have to write everything to process so something about right like permission doesn't feel quite right but we'll use that as a placeholder, right? Just kind of permission of who, what, when, why, where, and how we are.

SARAH: Awesome um thank you um okay, so then now that we have like a gist like a very vague gist of what trauma from creative practices is um I would love to hear from everyone including I guess myself about how trauma informed creative practice has supported us right in our role as a director, as an educator, um supported us in the past let's say the past year or if you would like to go before that that's also absolutely a-okay um so, how this has supported us in our roles?

JI SUN: For me, um can I go? Okay, oh for me like the example I just shared was like check-in question like how's your mind doing, how's your heart doing, how is body doing, and it's not only just checking started with the check-in but also aware of it and like how we move with that like that day. It reminds me and all of us at the rehearsal moment that like everything is like so present and fluid um many of the ensemble work usually have some kind of community like um rules at the beginning of their production right like it's a very common and I'm not saying that's like a wrong thing but like sometimes you you set up the rule but like every rehearsal sometimes like it feels different like your body and your condition than the whole structure or like the texture of the rehearsal could could be different but, but somehow we just putting that community agreement as some kind of constitution the very like archival kind of like mindset while we're using our body um even though like we put we set up the kind of rule for our own benefit sometimes it's just like it feels so rigid and like doesn't like flow with us like when we even create something so I think those check-ins and working with that uh really like really like help us to feel that we are in like present present moment uh also the fact that Grey Box Collectives work are usually focused on the mental health so it was really helpful for us to like check in and like that's that's not something, okay we checked in and I'll brush off, it's more about like checked in and aware of that and then how we're gonna create like you know based off that.

CHRIS: One of the things that I feel supported in a way of through trauma informed creative practice is just just bringing awareness to my own physical self like that is support in a lot of ways is just like my own like because I can't do I can't facilitate I think good you know trauma-informed creative work unless I am really aware of what's going on in me and how I

am doing my thing, and that so so it's like support in like empowerment I guess I would say a way, a way of empowering myself and empowering my own my own awareness and in that way uh also like Ji Sun, you mentioned the fluidity I like that I-I like the fluidity of you know like everything you know being an invitation being fluid like also I feel supported like the trauma informed creative practice uh for me also creates a space where like messiness is completely okay and and and it's fine for things to be messy and that I find very very supportive and very helpful especially working with young people.

MOLLY: For me so context this past year and a half pandemic teaching as an adjunct at up to three different schools um on average like seven or eight classes a semester and um like I would not have survived like I say it was like there like I I realize what I'm saying like I would not have survived as an educator this past year and a half, if I had not gone into this work around trauma and really understanding where it shows up in in humans, but like specifically myself and doing that work especially on zoom with zoom teaching um so many of like what activates me or what might trigger me like the zoom technology does it um and so to spend hours upon hours in spaces where I knew that I would be a little more amped up and my own responses would be like just below the surface it was really important for me to to understand that and then hold that compassionate space for myself as well um in in addition to to all the other bodies that were in the zoom spaces with me.

LIZBET: Yeah I'd have to say uh I realize more and more how much a lot of my responses to things and not all of them right because I think there's a tendency to over generalize because this can be new for a lot of people so, they're quick to say like oh this is a trauma response uh about everything you know and and that might be true for some people right but like there needs to be nuance around that and and what kind of trauma we're talking about. So, I found that yeah what I thought were maybe some kinds of trauma responses were a lot of like social anxiety and so it's helped me to be like oh even very minute things like I need to communicate these because these give me a response about like oh I'm messing up or whatever it might be and like I know I'm not the only person and so it's really been helpful to be like no it it's it's okay I don't have to like tell you diagnosis necessarily but I can let you know like it scares me if people walk up behind me or like please just don't touch me without asking and on zoom when we were all trying to figure this out in terms of teaching I'm just like I don't know how to facilitate in a way that like actually eases anxiety for myself so it's been a strong learning curve but it's a steep one. Um trauma informed creative practices has helped me just like build a structure and realizing like oh I need a structure um as as other people do as well. Uh, Sarah what, what about you? Sarah: Um like listening to all of you talk I'm like thinking back on like when like we first heard the news about COVID and that feels so far away. Um I remember that I so I was teaching I was like an instructor record for a class at ASU, so then it was spring break and then we came back and I was like we're all online and it was like me feeling the guilt of not being able to care for my students because I didn't know what to do, they didn't know what to do you know like they maybe had to move out they had to deal with um worrying about their families and

I felt like I struggled that that spring in terms of like me trying to be an effective teacher and feeling like I was failing in terms of taking care of my students um but I think trauma informed

creative practices and the continued work around it that I did with Grey Box even in just conversations right with Molly. I think that helped me recalibrate my brain a little bit in terms of like understanding like okay like I want to care for them but also like I'm not okay right now like I am in this like pandemic and I am in this confusion with them right I did not get a heads up before it happened um, so then that has helped me a lot, um especially since I've done so much online teaching with all the summer camps uh last summer being online and several into fall and winter as well I'm still having a better understanding of how I need how I can structure the zoom space for me and my students, you know,so then it's it made me reflect back on okay like what do I want to achieve as an educator? I want to create ensemble um so then thinking of new ways that will both serve me and my students um in a way that wouldn't feel make zoom feel stressful so, I guess if we think about trauma informed I had to think about um and reflect on what were some of the stresses that came out of us suddenly moving online right and, now the stress is now we are going out of online but maybe it's also hybrid and there's a lot of confusion about that so, it's recalibrating all of that um so uh yes for me as a as an educator I think it's supported me in terms of just like checking in with myself um and checking back in with my students to make sure that like that we're still we're still okay right everybody's moving at a different a different pace through this.

MOLLY: Shall I hop in to talk a little bit about this structure that we seem to keep talking about but not actually naming okay so um uh there's like an overarching structure that is used for um like a more durational kind of thing like so if you're looking at a semester a rehearsal process there's that I think the one that we're all actually talking about is like the daily structure so the five steps yes um so it's checking in, um taking some time to resource, a resource um is anything that leaves us feeling grounded centered and in the present moment, it's a time to let nervous systems do what nervous systems need to do to kind of get it out of the way before like more work can happen um so, we check in we resource and we warm up and the warm-up is your bridge between wherever people are at at the end of that resourcing to get to the content that you're working on today um if that's curriculum, if that's devising, whatever it might be, so that's the fourth one and then finally there's a checkout that you also like seal it, so it's like vegas rolls, like what happens here stays here we tie a bow on it we get to walk away. So the structure that we're talking about is the um checking in, the resourcing, warming up, doing our content of the day, and then uh checking out, yeah Lizbet. With a seal it, cool. Yeah...

SARAH: Awesome, thank you Molly. Um I'm gonna give it like uh the five second teacher thing of I have a question but I also want to open it up to like if any of you have a question you would like to ask the group or a specific person.

Okay, I'm interested now that we know a bit more about the structure um and I think we all have you know we have all steps into different roles some of us right like Molly and Lizbet you are at least in the present moment, a lot of like in the higher ed you're in the higher ed like sphere um and I think like, myself, Ji Sun and Chris we are in like the k-12 sphere um so I'm interested in hearing from whoever has an answer as to how this structure maybe has um fit or modified itself as you teach different age groups or if you teach in different spaces I guess talking more about like where's the flexibility in this structure if I want to apply it?

MOLLY: Can I hop in and do one more follow-up on the structure? Um so the rigidity of the structure those five steps those stay very consistent um but like the what happens within each of those five is where all the flexibility fluidity can really happen and so that's rooted in um like was with trauma histories like that predictability is really um something that's necessary to grab on to that's something that I've also found this past year teaching like even if I was walking into a space having no idea what I was teaching, I knew that we were going to start with a check-in and we were going to start with some resourcing and I know I could get through that and by the time that was done I could figure out like the next steps so yeah there is rigidity in those steps but then the fluidity and flexibility comes in what I'm guessing are the answers to Sarah's question.

CHRIS: I mean the thing that I always do is a very specific type of check-in that's uh root that with all of my students whether they're 10 year-olds or 18-year-olds and it does I use the exact same one with all of them and it doesn't like the age difference doesn't matter um it all depends on like how I explain it to them and how we just go through it um but it's a it's a specific one about nervous system and um whether you're in a you know ready to learn zone which is a green zone, a red zone which is an like a highly activated zone with lots of energy, and then the blue zone which is like uh like think of like freezing or like tired or low energy or whatnot I I do that I just start with that and the thing that I really love about that is depending on my students one kid is like I'm in a red zone with blue flecks and some green and then a yellow stripe and I'm like sweet what does that mean and then we just go but it's in a way the check-in creates an ensemble building which is a really lovely thing that that is and depending on the group of people I'm working with it's so it just flows back and forth and it's it's a delight you know and of course it helps me and I always take part of the check-in as well right, I am I'm with them in the process with them always.

JI SUN: Um when I work with the kids like super young, well like six, five, six years old sometimes it's really hard for them to verbalize how they feel um like why they feel that way um and that way we do our checking with like bodies and some kids are really shy like they they want to participate they don't know like how to say it and then I

always like allow them to have like options like okay this is what I feel, like this is how I feel, this is a gesture if you feel like you're too shy to share about your emotion you can always steal how I'm feeling so like that's like one kind of like adaptation I do uh when I work with like super young and super shy um children.

LIZBET: I, uh, in you know zoom school what I've been doing at least has been you know my checking consists of like name, how you doing, what are you thinking about, then I ask any care to shares and need to knows, so those are just things that you know people should be aware of in in our space together I'll generally mark what that space is our learning space, our creative space, you know whatever we're together for under that understanding and this is generally right where people could share you know pronouns or like I have sense sensitivities right so I'll often share that in that space and also write mood and then um I will I will play a song or I'll ask someone if they want to be DJ and then i'll give them right like the hosting abilities and usually someone will pull up Spotify and then we'll just dance to a song right like whatever they choose and and that's kind of you know starting to resource and warm up and then we check out it's pretty much the same right; how you doing, what are you thinking about, but if people want to do a care share I need to know and then I try and wrap it all up together by asking some question that takes us back either to the material or to the larger you know um something that came up maybe during the the check-in about how people are right just to kind of bookend it but I have found it's helpful when I'm doing these camps with people to also have it written like the big like poster board paper sticky note right because they're like what am I supposed to do? At least when in person, um so making sure that that's available in a different way and then also thinking about accessibility since things are moving back to in person or you know already are then having just like a one-pager for people with this structure laid out in its five pieces and then the specific prompts for check-in and checkout so that way it's not the like anticipating anxiety of like wait what do I have to answer and getting it wrong so that's what I tend to do.

MOLLY: Similarly one of the classes I teach is at a community college but it's for high school students and so I would have the road map of the day always written out so that there wasn't ever like some kind of emancipation and also those questions I normally do what are you holding on to from last class or what do you hope to focus on with this class um as an option if if we don't have access to how we're feeling today or don't want to share that there's some other response that can be there and I also do similar to to what Chris was saying of like where you in I use the full color wheel um and instead of having students say that out loud or or what have you I have the high schoolers have like a little wooden block that they get to decorate and they put that block wherever they are on the color wheel so it's a more non-verbal little um a little more anonymity in some ways so that they can come in they they put their block where where it is um and then we we can begin class.

LIZBET: Is the block on the the color wheel on the desk always?

Molly: Yeah, yep... Sarah: I'm so glad, I was gonna ask you to bring up the blocks. I'm glad you brought it up. Um, I normally mix up the order of the color wheels so that way there's no like well it's like this supposed to be the good colors that's where I'm supposed to put it so, like it's always in a different order.

SARAH: Awesome.

CHRIS: That's what I got I got my stuff from from you doing that right my stuff was adapted when you talked about that and I'm like oh that's so good but I even have to I have to worry about my language all the time when someone like says green zone I'm like cool or like I'm like great I always have to have neutral language every time someone shares something right because you're talking about you don't want it what is good and bad it's like no there's no good and bad it's just what you are.

SARAH: Yeah um I want to I would like to share like a like a content like TICP part um because a lot of us talked about the check-in um so one of the content ones the specific example I can think of is when I shifted from the in-person to zoom school with with undergrads um the way in which I apply trauma-informed creative practice is I noticed that a lot of students didn't want to be shown on video right or or maybe they didn't want to un-mute themselves so part of being informed is that I'm not going to force them to like show up in in that way if if that's not what they're comfortable with right now um and I just told them I was like as long as you respond in the chat some way somehow so that I know you are there like that is that is fine with me um so modifying the way in which I chose to have them interact with the content of the day was one way that I did it so I also had more breakout rooms so, that they didn't have to feel afraid of speaking in front of a whole group of students that maybe they you know in the class even in the live classroom they may not have met everyone they usually have that one person that they talk to right so putting them a smaller breakout room so that I could replicate that sense of have being able to speak to someone sitting right next to me and therefore in person with the younger ones when I had rehearsals with them in a device process I was working with six to nine year olds and I, I tried to reflect as best as possible structures creative structures that they were familiar with just to like make the like learning curve a little less deep all right so it's also building on the idea of scaffolding so, I did stations which actually is a reflection of moment work but I

did stations where there are different things that they could explore certain times right which is something that at least for me is something I had a lot in kindergarten right we have the error with the computers we had the error with the clothes that you could dress up with right, so not so not so organizing the creativity a little bit so that they could really get in and focus and enjoy one thing and then when they were done with that they could move on to the next thing um so modifying for the age group um that I was working with and the needs that they were at least presenting to me in that moment.

LIZBET: For a moment to build on what what Sarah um was offering I will say some some ways that um, working with system-involved young people right trying to in like a theater camp setting trying to also work with an organization with an established kind of structure in hierarchy of how things are supposed to work particularly you know I'm speaking about like non-profit agencies um sometimes right like we can want a bigger structure to say hey maybe this is how the whole the whole two weeks goes or this is a week right, but we get to take responsibility actually for just like the moments we have with people so what I ideally right spaces organizations would have some kind of like um processing room right in areas where people who sensorily get really overwhelmed can have quiet spaces you know there would be other spaces kind of reserved for people to have kind of what Sarah was saying like stations to engage with things so, this might be you know rocks from outside pieces of the earth there might be music or headphones for people to have a different kind of engagement bouncy balls right um just some kinds of kinetic things I give a lot of people clay to work with and um you know that's for a lot of people who the pathologizing medicalized model might say like oh these people have ADHD, right or anxiety and so um that's our we have four minutes to kind of wrap this up with the final question and what I'm offering.

SARAH: Awesome, thank you. That wasn't, that was a little snug but I feel like we touched on a lot of different things we should hopefully get into a like a juicy q&a at the end, um and in the last four minutes um I think it would be lovely if each of us could um share like a quick either thought idea or take away or question they were like we would like the people watching this to either think about or or yes like simmer on um as we move into the q&a after this, um yes uh so whoever is ready you can go ahead and mute yourself and share your idea or question?

JI SUN: Um, I think my biggest takeaway is that you can always make a good art um while not being jerk can I say this word the conference okay um because um I'm like that's my style i'm like naturally born a person like who's super test oriented and like I always like just like you I we agreed to work so like why do I need to check in with you let's work and that's it but that was my style of whole life and now I understand why it's so important to check in and like care and think about like our like you know mental like space and well-being so like I think it's gonna be on my like life-long journey for me to like oh oh something like that um but I think it definitely helped me to like be better educator and a better collaborator.

MOLLY: So, one of the things both Sarah and Lizbet was um your last comments made me think about and so, I'll -I'll share it out um is um one of the questions that I have found helpful to go back to for myself is like well what's the story so like if I'm in a zoom room and everyone has their camera off and I start getting flustered about like well what's the story I'm myself um and where is that story coming from um or like as I'm here with with my stress ball off camera um like what's the story of like oh well kids can't have you know things in their hands and be fidgeting during class why like what's the story um and and so that's been one of the kind of through lines that I have found helpful um in just unpacking the the really tiny moments that show up in class that mostly show up like internally for me that don't necessarily go go beyond that.

CHRIS: I always I've been like Molly that makes me also just think about like again what does it mean to just be present with people and to just be present with especially just the kids in the class and and just be like you know what is it what does it mean to just to to allow for the flexibility and allow for those moments and allow for just to be to be present and you know and compassionate and you know how can I, how can I you know just be just be present in that space is the thing that I think about a lot and I'm always like well how am I doing that and how am I modeling like how am I being transparent with them, like how am I being. Like if like how I like I need to make sure that I'm modeling what I am hoping they are learning you know and making sure that that is present in my in the behavior in that space I think a lot about transparency as well.

LIZBET: Um I would have to say my in the beginning the like permission not fitting and I'm hearing these other words i'm like yeah yeah okay maybe maybe trauma informed creative practices is about like acknowledging the who, what, when, where, why how, you know and and I feel more equipped to do that because I have a Phd and I'm moving through these different spaces and so just asking people to reflect critically on things like well what do you think, you know and why you know and like that comes at the expense of you know like what um yeah, thank you.

SARAH: Um, and I think my takeaway would be to encourage people to think about how um you know the fact that you're even attending this session um how that can be related to creating a more just system in whatever space you occupy or whatever space you are leading and because it does relate because it because it's going right back to I think what Ji Sun said earlier is just like how do you be more human or allowing the humanness to come into the room or maybe Molly said it and i think that all goes back to um justice right and both in our own lives and in the spaces we occupy yeah and um that is our time for this part of the session so, thank you all. Um, and thank you Lizbet for joining us for this session and this part of it. I know you're not able to be here live so everybody this is Lizbet um yes, all right, thank you! See you soon!

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