Portkey and Introversion

Something I’ve noticed about Portkey.

I’m talking about this variation:

You take turns speaking in the present tense, describing a real location from your past, based on an object. If you threw me “wheel” I might say ” ‘Wheel’ takes me to my bedroom when I was 4 and my brother was 16. There are two beds, only a little shorter than I am. I’m pulling on mine to try to get it next to Mike’s. One wall is a neutral blue, with rectangles fading into and out of it – a mural Mike painted. The other wall has paintings he did, a three of spades with a magic wand. The room is smelling like fresh cold air coming in from the window. The metal from the bedframe is cold and hurts my hands as I pull.” Then someone takes an object from my description and takes their turn.

The two notes I give most often, if I am coaching at all (and I often don’t, and just let it go where it goes) are “Stay in the present tense – just be there and describe your surroundings” or “You are moving into storytelling – try not to – just tell us what you are seeing, hearing, smelling”

That isn’t exactly the variation in the book – but it will be in the next edition!

Most storytelling games that I know favor extroverts. This variation of Portkey is the opposite. It doesn’t have that social pressure of “Tell me a story!” Nobody is doing voices. Nobody is trying to be entertaining. We actually tell players to stop storytelling if they start. The extroverts find that a challenge. The introverts, having spent a lifetime of quietly observing, can close their eyes and tell us what they see.

Of course, one amazing thing about this game is we reveal quite a lot about ourselves by what we notice, and you get to know each other a lot better than hearing Joe tell his “The time I got busted in a Pachinko parlor in Singapore” story for his hundredth time.

I never noticed the thing about the introversion/extroversion until the last time I facilitated it. What do you think?

Dada Theater

I received this story from a theater professor. I wanted to share it with you.

I used Dada Theater in a UNI course, Theatre in Education.  This course also serves as a Capstone course SO…I have 26 students in the class; 13 or 14 are theatre majors and the rest are from majors across campus.

We are creating work in support of the department’s April production of Romeo and Juliet in three ways:  creating a pre-show workshop; creating a study guide AND creating an APP that will be used by audiences before and DURING the show.

Anyway, the first step in all of this is getting them comfortable working with a text that uses language that is “different” from their own.  They recognize the words but not always the meaning of those words.  I wanted to do an activity that would force them to use “language they know” but in a context that would require them to add some physical work to have their language choices make sense to someone watching.  
Dada Theatre helped me do just that!  They were limited by the words in their groups (4 to a group).  They were required to make sure that they established characters, location and a “relationship” between characters and each character had to speak 2 lines of dialogue.  

It was great fun and successfully got at the ‘thing’ I wanted them to discover…that making language come to life is at the heart of exploring Shakespeare 🙂

Dada Theater can be a little intimidating to suggest to a group, but it is amazing fun, and if you teach theater, you should try it with your students!


I’m loving the “Questions” game more and more.

I teach a 75-minute class. That’s a long time for a student – or for anyone. My classes are usually interactive with a variety of activities, but last Thursday was mostly me talking. Interesting, funny, etc. can take you so far, but not for that period of time. So half-way through, they needed a break. In the old days I would have said, “Take a ten-minute break” and they would talk and joke or walk around or something. These days – Phone comes out VOOM! – and then I say, “time to start again” and the phones get put away, or moved to the lap.

Which is fine in the sense of having a break, but not fine in the sense that it doesn’t really refresh the mind and body. It’s a break without the benefits.

So we played “Questions.” They wrote a “why” question, turned their paper over, and traded with multiple people. “So you don’t know WHAT the question is or WHO wrote it!” Then they wrote an answer – this was fun watching their expressions when it dawned on them what I was asking them to do. There was much laughter and sharing. The final step was “Pass the best ones forward to me – the ones that delight you!” I wound up with a handful which I shared with the class. And then we did more math, but the atmosphere in the class was… ready. We were together again.

Why do I pee blood? Because you have no money.

Why don’t penguins fly? Because they are tasty.

Some of them were silly and whimsical

“Questions” is a great game for large groups of people. Everyone plays at once, and it doesn’t take long at all. It’s a simple game with great results that make everyone smile.

Why does adulthood suck? Because life is funny and wants to ruin us.

Why does no one love me? Because Chipotle is my life.

Why do we have 40+ million uninsured US citizens? Cause Beyonce settled and married Jay Z.

Some of them reflected real anxieties

Facilitating Tips:
Especially in large groups – don’t overexplain this one! Either hand out cards, or tell them to get half a sheet of paper out. That’s it – until they’ve done so. Then tell them to write down a question beginning with “Why,” and that it can be about anything. And wait until they’ve finished. One step at a time.

Collect some of “the best” to share with the group. There are elaborate ways to do this, but the fastest is “Hold up the very best ones and I’ll collect them!” If you are doing a long presentation, you can break up topics by reading a few after each transition.

Why do you do this to me? LOVE!

…and this one elicited a moment of silence and then applause.

Pictures & Phrases

I’ve been asked, “What’s your favorite game in the book?” I don’t know how to answer, because I feel that I’m expected to dodge the question, “It’s like choosing who your favorite child is” or say something clever “Whichever I’m playing at the moment!” But the honest answer is Pictures & Phrases.

I wish it were one that I created myself, of course. Something I could say, “Only people who bought Social Nonsense know about XYZ.” But no, my favorite game in the book had to be the one that gets the “Oh! I used to play that!” response from browsers. (BTW: If you browse a book in front of its author, you are the most interesting person in the world at that moment and the author is watching you very closely and trying to pretend s/he isn’t.)

So – Pictures & Phrases. Why do I love the holy heck out of that one? It’s really easy to explain and not even slightly threatening to new people, while never losing its fun and surprises for people who do this often. Like Chips Ahoy cookies or pouncy kittens, it’s a classic I will never tire of! (“of which I will never tire?”)

Facilitating Tip: Don’t over-explain Pictures & Phrases. Have everyone write the song lyric without telling them what happens next. Then have them fold and pass without telling them what happens next. Etc. Etc. A delightful progression of surprises.

One time I was doing this with a bunch of college students, and one student wrote, as his song lyric, “It was the Summer of ’69.” The person who went after him was an unfortunately excellent artist. That was awkward. I’m not going to share that picture! But this one was from a workshop I just did in New York. They were all great, and I’m picking a few at random.


This story ends with two people crying.

Whenever I plan a Social Nonsense workshop I have Portkey right there in the lineup, and, for a long time, I would always find a reason not to do it. Not that I was scared, no no no, it was just THIS crowd, or THIS day, or something was running long, or or or or or… (I was scared)

I don’t know why facilitating Portkey made me nervous. I think it was fear of rejection – I’m asking people to turn to strangers and talk to them. What if they said “no?” Or worse, what if they said, “No, and you are a loser, Doug Shaw.” I knew Portkey was great, I’ve played it and seen it played, but something about the idea of introducing it to strangers caused the fear reaction.

So one day, I was presenting to the audience that frightens me most – high school students. Younger kids can be intimidated, and older people have learned to follow along, but if a high school student doesn’t wanna’, the high school student ain’t gonna’. And I thought, “If I do Portkey with these students now, I will never be afraid of it again.” And so I did. And it worked wonderfully. And then I looked at the counselor table, and there was distress.

The counselors’ jobs were to keep the kids in line during my workshop, and it became clear that they weren’t needed – the kids were enjoying themselves and into it. So they sat at a table in back and participated along with their charges. And at that back table, someone was crying, and someone else was tearing up. I got there as soon as I can, and didn’t get a chance to speak. The crying one said, “We’ve been working together for so many years, and we never really knew each other.” And then the tearing up one cried, just a bit. And I, erudite as always, said, “Wow.”

And another counselor – a big tough guy, made eye contact with me. Not smiling. Serious. “Wow,” he stated. And that really was all there was to say.

Since then, I include Portkey whenever I can. Yes, it is fun. Yes, it can get intense. But it is magical how it brings a table of people together, which is appropriate given its name.

Facilitating Tip: At least as of this writing, if you ask the audience, “Can anyone tell us what a ‘Portkey’ is?” at least one Harry Potter fan will supply that information, and be thrilled to do so.