We started playing with this exercise in the rehabilitation centers of Esmeraldas, Ecuador. We were trying to understand how youth participate in their community. The young people we were working with had been pulled to violence, drug use and unintended pregnancies. In the rehab centers, we met young people full of wisdom and in a space of deep self-reflection. And yet, for many that was the 4th, 5th, even 13th time they were back in the center. Why? One thing that rang true for most was the rejection they faced when they went back home. They felt judged, misunderstood and eternally labeled as something they were trying so hard to move away from. We ran this Stereotypes Improv exercise as a way of airing some of those experiences and confronting those labels.
It’s got social theatre written all over it. We can’t pin down who came up with it first, but Susan Goldstein writes about it in the power of stereotypes.