Rythea Lee on Teaching Performance Art with The Zany Angels

Rythea will be teaching a workshop with Rose Oceania here at Earthdance, November 9-11, 2012, don't miss this great opportunity to study with incredible artists, find the humor in who you are, go deep, and get Zany.  Click here for more information and to register.

A Zany Angels Performance Art Class 
Taught by Rythea Lee
The Zany Angels workshop experience is rich and transformational experience because it is the crafting of autobiographical theater that springs from the body. Our warm-ups invite deep physicality and presence, warming into emotional awareness, coming then to our words and sounds. Monologues are made in an organic fashion, some spontaneous and some written and then performed. Our students through the years have expressed that the process is as satisfying as the product. That is our intention. This is not about being a performer, although it could be. It's more about how it feels while it is coming out into being- do you feel connected to it? Are you saying something that has impact? Does your body add a layer? Can you add in image or support from other artists in the group so your story or message is even more awake? How does it feel when you set the words and movement and do it again?
Here is a sample class to give some idea of how we teach. This is not what we will teach at Earthdance but like this. I hope this give you some idea of how we build a day or a session in the Zany Angels moving monologues method.

This class was for a group called Do What You Love, which consists of about 10 people who gather monthly to play and create on this subject.  I was invited to come perform and teach a class for people who were not familiar with the Zany Angels work. This is what I taught (see below) and it went super well. We had a fabulous time and funny, meaningful, surprising, and complex art was made. This is what a Zany Angels Performance Art Class can be like.


The Class

Movement: We began with people lying on the floor, closing their eyes, breathing, and resting. I talked them into following their body’s needs- stretching, moving, and/ or continuing to rest.

It is so important for people to slow down and move into kinesthetic awareness.

Lying on the floor is an excellent way to release the stress of the day and come into the present moment.

Writing: Everyone wrote for 7 minutes with the prompt “I’m the boss because…..”  I encouraged participants to write without stopping, coming back to the prompt if they got stuck, free associating as they go, writing into what pours out from this sentence.

Free writing with a prompt allows people to unleash their minds and emotions; to free up the logical, “normal” way we organize our ideas. Using a prompt is a way to push the mind off in a specific direction.

Movement and Words: We came back to the floor, closed eyes and let the writing integrate. I asked people to think of a sentence from their writing that speaks to the general idea of what they wrote, a sentence that relates to “I’m the boss….”  Then I had them create 4 postures of movement that was interesting or compelling to them (not related to the sentence). I had them make sure they connected one movement to the next so they could do it in a sequence.

Then we put the sentence with the 4 movements. People practiced through it, talking quietly as they put the movement and words together.

We got in a circle and showed our sentences with our movements. Each person had the phrase  “I’m the boss” somewhere in his or her phrase.

People are often amazed at their own ability to put words and movement together, even “non-movers.” The key to this exercise is originating the movement from the body and then adding the words on top. This makes for a wonderful juxtaposition and/or contrast of body and words.

Music: To free up the brain and get back in body time, we danced around the room to music. I told people to feel free to dance alone or with others.

Some people respond very physically to music. Just the act of playing an upbeat, fun song and opening up the whole space for movement, can be enough to bring people into a creative state.

Front to Back: This is an exercise Rose and I learned from Action Theatre that I modified for this class.  A group of 4 people come to the front while the rest of the class is the audience.

Part 1: Everyone (the group of 4) stands with their back to the audience. When I say “ GO” they all turn to the front and do 1 minute of movement that expresses how they are doing right now. When I say “END” they freeze.

This part of the exercise is a wonderful way to see movement and gesture as a language. When the participants turn around to the front and move their mood, it speaks volumes to how everyone is doing, plus it is often esthetically lovely.

Part 2:  The performance prompt is “I can’t do what I love because…” I tell them to finish the sentence in metaphor for this exercise. I tell them to go for exaggeration, instead of being literal, for example, “I can’t do what I love because of skinny jeans. The whole jean craze is keeping me from really going for it. I don’t even look good in skinny jeans…because…well, I’m not skinny!”


“I can’t do what I love because someone will plant a nanny-cam in my bathroom and publish the tapes to the Internet and it will prove, yet again, how unsafe it is to floss my teeth.”

Everyone faces the back. When one person is ready, they can turn around and face the front and begin the prompt and see what happens. If someone else turns around and starts to talk from the prompt, that person must stop and face the back. SO, there is only one person talking at a time.

Giving a voice to our blocks is a powerful tool.  It is especially useful when we are given permission to exaggerate our ideas. Humor often plays a big part in airing our issues in this way; we can then see the absurdity of our self-imposed limitations.

Round Two: We do the front to back exercise again in new configurations of four. This time the prompt was “I did what I loved and…”  Again, I say to exaggerate the results, go for fantasy and nonsense. This allows people to open their minds to what is possible if they do what they want and love.

It is just as powerful to express our positive, limitless, often unbelievable passions and dreams. It helps to name them through metaphor and fantasy so they can get big and wild.

Integration: To integrate the more performative part of the class, we do 8 minute timed writing. People can write about how they feel, what they learned, what they were inspired about or anything else. It’s an open writing time.

This time allows people to catch and document any insights they learned about themselves, each other, or the creative process.

Closure: To close, we sat in a circle and people shared what was new and enjoyable and/or what was challenging. After each person shared, I asked people to do10 claps together to indicate the official end.

Coming together to share in the end is often important because we recognize that we have been on a journey that made us more intimate and therefore required some courage. Clapping is a wonderful way to say, we are done!



Rythea Lee is a professional dancer and multi-disciplinary artist giving voice to personal and global stories of healing. Contact Improvisation has been a beloved and passionate aspect of her performances, workshops, and personal practice.  Rythea is a co-director of The Zany Angels Dance Theatre Company, a troupe that combines theatre, clown, and highly physical dance, performing in colleges such as Smith College, Mt. Holyoke College, Emerson College, Bard College, Hampshire College, to name a few, as well as conferences and theatres along the eastern seaboard (see www.zanyangels.com). The new Zany Angels show "The Inner Child: Don't Leave Home Without It"  premiered this Fall in Northampton to sold out audiences and standing ovations.  Read more about Rythea here.