Learn to communicate better through theatre


On Sunday, August 28, 2016, Hannah du Plessis will conduct a repeat session of her much-appreciated applied improv workshop, “Show Up and Speak Up,” at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and it provides hugely valuable tools for life. Please join her there!


What if we all knew how to have hard conversations?

If I’m granted one big wish for life, it would be that all people everywhere will be capable of having difficult conversations —  able to speak up when they need to, able to really listen to another, able to stay present, connect and be transformed. For me, this is foundational to transforming our world into a place where we all belong and we are all able to care for ourselves and each other. 

Two greatly helpful tools

Two things have helped me on this journey of learning how to become someone like this and help others do the same. The first is the understanding of “nonviolent communication” — a philosophy and communication frame that helps us move difficult conversations from habitual habits of blaming, shaming or silencing towards a stance of openness. It gives practical ways to apply a view where we assume the best of each other, and provides a way of making ourselves visible in the conversation.

If you want to know more about nonviolent communication, you can visit the Center for Nonviolent Communication website, look at Marshall Rosenberg’s book, listen to him introduce nonviolent communication, or look at a talk I gave on it.

The second thing is theatre methods. For much of my life my default has been to keep quiet and keep things peaceful. When I wanted to speak, I silenced myself in anticipation of a dreadful conflict. This changed for me as I participated in a skit. In that safe environment I found myself role-playing a situation where, previously, I would freeze up. But because I knew I was in a safe and supportive environment, I tried on another stance. I summoned my powers, found my voice and used it to say what I needed. The liberation I felt was palpable. It just washed over me in a deep sigh. On a visceral level, I shifted a pattern I had long carried inside me, and saw that it was possible to speak up. The next time I faced the same situation in real life, I had an embodied memory to help me to stand and speak, not shrink into silence. 

Join me in a workshop to learn these skills

We don’t pop out of our cocoons ready to go. Everything that we want to get good at, we need to learn. Learning new  communication skills works wonderfully in theatre-like spaces where we can try on different stances, where we can practice saying what is difficult, where we can imprint a sense memory of what it feels to be present, to stay out of judgement, to lean into curiosity. 

In January this year I did a workshop with Ted Desmainsons called “Show-up & Speak-Up” of which you can read the write-up below. This Sunday at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival, I am giving a similar workshop. If you’d like to playfully engage in learning a new communication frame, please join me! The price is set up on a sliding scale so that money doesn’t stand in the way of your learning. I’d love to have you there, please come!


Here is a description of the January workshop written by Tina Calabro.

I had the pleasure of participating in the “Show-up, speak-up” workshop on January 26. The three-hour workshop was billed as a improv-based learning opportunity aimed at helping people explore new ways of communicating, especially in challenging situations, and to “try out” these new ways in a comfortable, friendly environment. 

The workshop delivered on its promise, due in large part to the engaging personalities and expertise of its leaders, Ted DeMaisons and Hannah Du Plessis. The first half of the workshop focused on the physicality of communication through “applied improv.” Mr. DeMaisons led the group of about a dozen people through a series of cleverly connected improvisations. We were up and on our feet for much of the time, playing with postures and personas, and reflecting on their effect on us.

Ms. Du Plessis led the second half of the workshop, which tied the broader, more physical lessons of the first half to a tighter focus on real-time person-to-person communication. Ms. Du Plessis presented the concepts of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication. Through a series of exercises in pairs and small groups, we  experimented with roles and language in different types of communications situations. 

Throughout the workshop, the leaders maintained a playful yet productive momentum, and created a safe and peaceful space for personal exploration. I especially enjoyed the active improv aspects of the workshop. I benefited from exploring how posture influences not only how I relate to others but how I regard myself. The targeted communication exercises reinforced effective principles that often escape us when we are involved in challenging situations. 


By | 2017-06-28T18:44:04+00:00 August 23rd, 2016|Categories: Events, News, Past events, Workshops and Events|0 Comments

About the Author:

The shape of an instrument informs its sound. The shape of Hannah’s work was forged in South Africa under the oppressive political system of apartheid. For the last three decades she has pursued the question: “what does it take to create a life-affirming world?” She has done so as community leader, design professional, researcher, facilitator, professor, improviser and artist.

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