Columbian Hypnosis

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  • Number of participants = Any
  • Theme = Power dynamics
  • Duration = 30 minutes
  • Difficult for participants = Level 1
  • Difficulty for facilitator = Level 1

Summary

Participants work in pairs to lead one another through a space, with each participant following another participant’s hand. This activity requires trust, awareness, and non-verbal communication, as students work together to move safely through the space.

Learning Objectives

  • A drama activity to experience power dynamics: being the leader and being led
  • To reflect on feelings of power and vulnerability

Materials

  • Large space
  • Open area

Flow of the Exercise

  1. Divide the group into pairs. Ask each pair to decide which one of the participants will play the hypnotised person. The other participant in the pair shall be the leader.
  2. The leader holds his/her hand – palm forward. This is the hypnotising hand. Ask the other participant to act totally hypnotised by this hand and start following the hand, keeping a constant distance from it (say six inches). The leader slowly moves the palm the way he/she feels: up, down, left, right or at any angle.
  3. Ask the leaders to experiment with different levels. They can do so slowly or fast, smoothly or with jerks, and even make it very challenging for the other participant to follow their hand (over/under furniture, on the ground, on knees, etc.).
  4. Do this for five minutes.
  5. Swap roles and do this for another five minutes.

Debriefing

  • How did it feel to participate in this activity?
  • Which role did you prefer—being the leader or being hypnotised? Why?
  • When you were a leader, to what extent did you make your partner’s task more difficult?
  • Did you feel vulnerable at any point?
  • What is the link between this activity and power dynamics?
  • How does this relate to racism?

Variations

Group hypnosis

  • Divide the group into sub-groups of four to five participants. Instead of one hypnotised, each sub-group would have three to four hypnotised participants.
  • Give the leader two hypnotising hands and/or other body parts (such as knees, feet, back of head, etc.).
  • Have one participant go into the middle of the circle to be the leader. Another person from the group follows and is hypnotised by a body part or ornament he/she chooses (e.g. hand, ear, foot, ankle, earring, bangle or head). Then another participant steps in and chooses to be hypnotised by the body part of any of the two participants in the circle. This continues until the last person in the group is hypnotised.

Double round

Another variation is that instead of doing just one round where the participants swap the roles once, do double rounds to notice if the participants take revenge on each other based on their experiences from the first round.

How to pair people up

  • One method for pairing people up is to ask them to spread out in the space and walk around. After a couple of minutes, ask them to stop.
  • Stand in the middle of the room and divide the group into two halves such that there are roughly equal number of people in each half.
  • Ask them to stand in two lines on either side of the room facing each other. Then, proceed towards the person standing directly opposite them. This approach leads to quite good random pairs and can be used frequently.

Possible Follow up Activities

Use this strategy to discuss how power dynamics and leadership functions within a story or historical event. This could be used in conjunction with the method Timelines to better understand the power dynamics of these historical events regarding racism and colonialisation.

Alternatively, you may like to explore issues of discrimination, making the group aware of positions of power in society and of mechanisms of oppression. This can be done in conjunction with the method Check Your Privileges!, using realisations around power dynamics to talk about privilege.

If the group wants to continue talking about discrimination and racism, you can implement the method Do Not Act Like Me! which focuses on understanding discrimination, reflecting on your own prejudices and exploring experiences of interpersonal discrimination during everyday life.

There should be the possibility to empower Black People and People of Colour who are facing racism and/or have already had bad experiences within power structures, provide them with a safe space. You could find strategies to cope and share their experiences by using the methods Empower Yourself or Forum Theatre.

Recommendations

Be careful if someone has already had a bad experience within power structures because the person might remember old feelings. Offer the participant a safe space. Tell participants that they can leave the room whenever they need to.

Definitions, Helping Tools and Materials

Example of a Columbian Hypnosis by the Theatre of the Oppressed Laboratory: Occupy the Empty Space.

Adapted from Augusto Boal

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