Theater Games To Mirror Daily Interactions

h/t to Howard Sherman who posted a link to a story about how theater can teach empathy to kids. The article talks about how common theater games like mirroring can cultivate active listening and learning in kids. Gaining these skills helps kids become better communicators which facilitates success in both interpersonal and professional relationships.

It’s the social dynamic of theater, the give and take, the volley of listening and responding, that expands kids’ capacity to read cues, think quickly and creatively, work as an ensemble and see things from another perspective. Theater provides an awareness of space, pausing, waiting for somebody else to talk.

What I really appreciated was the inclusion of examples regarding how the same training can help people whose profession employs highly specialized and specific language communicate with general audiences. Many articles discuss positive educational outcomes from arts experiences, but don’t give concrete examples of how arts based learning is useful for adults.

Scientists are trained to speak methodically, defend their arguments and use niche jargon, a communication style that doesn’t always land with a general audience, says Laura Lindenfeld, executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. Through improv, they are taught to make mistakes and laugh about it, to “give ourselves permission to fail and move on.”

“When scientists come into a room, they’re like, ‘Oh man, you’re going to put me through improv?’ ” she says. But after exercises like “the mirror,” looking intently into other people’s eyes, they realize they can’t succeed unless they’re in touch with the other person. Speaking becomes about making a human connection rather than pushing information — and that’s the point. You may have the most wonderful scientific finding, but if no one understands it, what’s the use?

Let’s be clear, even though arts professionals’ lives are saturated with these practices, they can be equally as guilty of using insider jargon if they aren’t actively employing the skills they have acquired in an intentional manner in all their interactions.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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