[Dr. Dan Wiener introduces himself; then, two other RfG instructors, Mark and  Mo, introduce themselves.]

Dan: Good evening, everyone! This is our third cohort of the RfG-China Certificate Program. One cohort completed the 60-hour course last year and we presently have a second cohort that is half-way through the course. [Dan introduced himself and gave information regarding RfG.]

What is Rehearsals for Growth (RfG)?

RfG is a specific and distinct form of drama therapy that uses theater improvisation. [Dan asked students to raise their hands if they had any improv experience. There were a few hands raised.] You do not have to have prior experience with improv to learn in this course– we will learn about improv during this program. Improv has been developed as a performance form and a training method for actors. In RfG, we offer improv tasks to our clients from which they learn about themselves and their relationships. Due to my own background as a psychotherapist, I have mainly used RfG in psychotherapy but it has other applications as well. I would say that RfG consists of techniques constructed around enactments of short form improv games that teach people things about themselves and their relationships. What I teach in this course is largely drawn from my therapy practice, although as I have said, there are broader applications as well.

RfG is not a complete therapeutic approach but it can be used as a part of almost any kind of psychotherapy. Most therapy approaches are talk-therapy ones and most of them rely exclusively on verbal discourse. RfG is something that I have been developing over the past 40 years; I started offering classes in RfG to psychotherapists about 26 years ago. RfG is highly experiential and learning it is best done by experiencing directly the same RfG enactments which we will later apply with our clients and students. Much of the course will consist of learning RfG games and exercises during class sessions as well as during practice groups. We instructors will first introduce you to RfG games in class and you will then be practicing these same games in your practice groups. You will also be writing papers about what you learned in your practice groups.

Class Format: The format for the first half of the course will be fairly similar across classes. We will start with a warm-up, followed by some presentation of conceptual material that includes theory, rationale, and vocabulary of RfG.  Then we learn specific RfG enactments which are first described, next are demonstrated, and then are attempted by volunteer students in small groups conducted in Zoom breakout rooms. We will handle the feedback about what was experienced in the breakout rooms right after the enactments conclude. We will also have some time set aside to answer questions, though there may not be time to address all such questions during class. I encourage you to put questions into the written papers from your practice groups; these will be answered by instructors in the next class.

Let me give you some sense of the structure of this course, consisting of 15 four-hour classes. We will be dividing each class from 7-8:50 and 9:10-11. We may not use these exact times to break but we will always take a 20-minute break about half-way through.

A few ground rules for the course. Group rules are a way of structuring the class…how we will function together. Because we are using the Zoom format, it is important for students to keep their sound off until asked to unmute. You can activate the raised hand reaction to let us know that you have a question. The question may not be answered immediately.

Groundrules: The most fundamental rule is the pass rule. Participation is always voluntary. We will ask you to signal when you are choosing not to participate by putting “NP” on your screen so that you will not be sent to a breakout room. The pass rule is something that we honor so that people should feel free and ready before participating. Another rule concerns personal disclosures about yourselves. Disclosing personal information, opinions, or reactions is not required in this course. There will be times that you will be invited to share something that you experienced in the class but doing so is never required. Our mutual agreement is that any such disclosures you elect to make are to be kept confidential within the group. We do not report any personal details outside of the course. No one is identified outside of the course. This is on the honor system. Confidentiality is not something we enforce. We ask that you exercise discretion regarding any voluntary disclosures that you make. At this point, let me ask if there are any questions about the pass rule, voluntary self-disclosure and confidentiality.  [There were no questions at this point.]


[Intro] The purpose of a warmup is to encourage playfulness and participation.

Mark introduced the warm-up: “Wiggle in your chair! Make yourself be big.” [Mark raised his hands to make himself big and the students followed.] “Be far from the screen!” Then Mark said, ”Be small…be close to the screen.” Mark described the sound and movement. He said, “Say your name and give us a movement. Say your name and a gesture about how you feel in this moment. Unmute. We can also call on the instructors. [Dan reminded the students about the pass rule: “Remember the pass rule…turn off your picture if you don’t want to play. It is fine to only watch, just turn off your video.”]

Mark made a motion as he said his name. He then called on the next person. All the students who had their cameras on participated as well as Dan and Mo.

Mark, after the warm-up concluded: “This was a nice way of getting to know everyone. There was playfulness and curiosity in the room. We will keep having times of playfulness. As we will play throughout the course, people will have questions of why you do this…right now, we want to “play for ourselves.” We want to experience being a participant. Thanks, I’ll hand it back over to Dan.”


Learning from Concepts and from Experience

Dan: I will now explain a few concepts and introduce RfG terminology. We have two distinct ways of learning: one way is through concepts and the other way is by experience. We best learn from integrating both concepts and experiences. We can learn from experiences alone but without concepts, our experiences lack form, focus and a way of communicating our experience. Concepts, which are largely conveyed via language, allow us to connect our shared experiences with each other. Language leads to an experience of its own. Language points to experience so that people can relate to their own experiencing. If I ask you “what is a zebra?” and you answer that question, you need to make reference to my experience. You may say, ‘A zebra is a horse with stripes.’ Even if you have never experienced a zebra, if you can imagine a horse, which you have experienced, and then visualize it having stripes, you’ll have an approximation of a zebra. Notice though that we would say that a zebra is like a horse with stripes, even though “a horse with stripes” is not exactly what a zebra is like. Words point to experiences but are not the experiences themselves.

Concepts are vehicles that may carry experience from one person to another.

A story is told of a spiritual teacher who was asked by one of his disciples why the master needed to give him discourses. The master, instead of answering the question directly, said to the disciple, ‘Bring me some water.’ The disciple brought a cup of water to the master. The master said, ‘What is this?’ The disciple said, ‘Here is the water that you wanted, Master.’ The master said, ‘This a cup. I asked for water!’ The disciple said, ‘But Master, I can’t give you water without having something to hold it in.’ The master smiled and said, ‘This is why I give you concepts…because they contain the experience that I want you to have.’

The first time we encounter concepts, they are not fully digested, until we experience them, which then deepens our understanding. In much teaching, as well as in psychotherapy, words are used as the dominant or even exclusive means of conducting the teaching or therapy. In RfG, as much as possible, we try to provide experiences first that can later be described, analyzed and generalized from. So, this interplay between having an enactment…and then talking about it…and then going to another enactment…is what RfG is like. The most profound experiences that we are interested in take place in the NOW, the immediate moment, which is processed in a different consciousness then consciousness that lies outside the present moment.

A Demonstration

“What I am going to do is, I am going to first give you a verbal explanation of something…and then we are going to experience an exercise…which is intended to show that experience can add dimension to  words alone. For example, suppose we are having a discussion on habits. Who among us has a habit that we don’t want and are trying to break? I have a bad habit that I am trying to break! Raise your hand if you have a habit that you are trying to break.” [Several students raised their hands.] Using the words, ‘habits are hard to break,’ gives you some information. Now let’s experience a habit in action. [Dan led the students in a demonstration where they experienced first putting their hands together with fingers interlaced in an unselfconscious, natural way, noting which thumb was on top, and then changing their interlaced fingers hand position to their non-preferred way, with the other thumb on top.] “What changed in your feelings when you changed your hand position so your interlaced fingers now had the other thumb on top? We were talking about habits before, just using language. The familiar way of interlacing our fingers is more comfortable and we return to holding our hands in the more comfortable position. So, only when we make the effort to change what is comfortable can we change the habit. Okay! This demonstration has been done as an illustration of the benefit of using non-verbal experiencing along with verbally-expressed concepts to deepen our understanding.”

We will sometimes, though not always, have experiences that match our pre-existent concepts. It sometimes happens that pre-existent concepts shape our consciousness and attention such that we distort our perceptions and only experience that which we expect to experience. This is the basis for reversing the familiar saying, “seeing is believing” to “believing is seeing.”

Concept: the “performative frame”

We are moving on to the “performative frame” concept. We knowingly perform in an altered way in front of those who we think are watching us…Still, by implication, we are not aware of performing when others are not watching or when we are not consciously shaping our behavior to look a certain way to pursue a certain result. In RfG, we don’t make a sharp distinction between performance and non-performance. We take the view (frame) that we are always performing. There are some further implications about the “performative frame.” Win RfG we look at everything we do as a performance but our performance is like a rehearsal rather than a performance that is judged with consequences by others. Often in life, someone says to us, ‘What are you doing!? Can you account for your performance, for what you have done?” This person has expectations for what we are doing or what we should be doing. So, when we are at work in an organization, and our supervisor asks us what we are doing, we expect to be accountable to the boss. We have to give an answer that justifies the value or purpose of what we were doing when we were called out. Under those conditions, the behavior itself which the boss is asking about, as well as the answers we offer that boss, have consequences. The boss may approve or disapprove. It may affect our lives, as the boss has influence and power over us. Even when we behave in a way that we are not conscious of, once we are in a situation where the boss confronts us, there likely are consequences for how we answer the question.

In the work environment, because the boss can ask at any time what we were doing, we are always performing and our performance has consequences. However, let’s say we are no longer at work. We are socializing with our friends. What we are now doing in our performance…we are not accountable in the same way as we would be at work. We have more freedom to be expressive without judgment. This is more like rehearsal. Even in a work setting, when we explain in advance that we are going to try something, we are not judged in the same way. We are going to be judged as a rehearsal rather than as a performance. We are announcing in advance that we are rehearsing something rather than performing it. We call this practice “RfG” because in many of the enactments, we are trying things out without consequences with how they turn out. Words are used similarly in theater. Mistakes are tolerated in rehearsals but not in front of a paid audience. In RfG, when we offer an enactment to a client they are not under much pressure to perform because they have the pass rule operating… and when someone chooses to try something, it’s understood that there is no judgment about what results in their performance. Of course, people bring their own internalized self-judgments into thir performances, but that’s a more advanced subject. This ties into the next concept, which is play.

Concept: Play and the Playspace

I understand “play” is not an easy term to explain. With that awareness, I say…Play is an agreement among all persons engaged to enter the “playspace,” an imaginal realm where words, gestures and actions do not signify what they ordinarily do. Sometimes the agreement to pretend is not overtly stated but is implied. This is because the atmosphere that proceeded the enactment was understood to signal a pretense. So when Mark took us through the warm-up earlier, there was not a right way to do the movement and sounds. There were no consequences or standards by which we would be judged in playing. We were in the playspace, and were far less influenced by anticipating the consequences of our performances. Put another way, this was a kind of rehearsal. When we as therapists are inviting clients to play, the therapist signals to the clients that we are now going to do something unusual that should neither be judged seriously nor has real life consequences.

In RfG, the specific kinds of improvised enactments we perform do have structure, or rules. But following those rules faithfully is not actually necessary to get benefit from trying them. Instead, we undertake them to have an adventure, a non-habitual experience.

I am now going to ask Mark to help me demonstrate how Mark’s warm-up would look and feel like if I conveyed my expectations of his performance.

Dan: Mark, I am going to ask you do the same sound and movement as before, when you led us in the the warm-up.

Mark. [Mark makes a sound as he raised his hands to the screen.]

Dan: Now do it again, but lean forward and be more vocal.

[Mark did it again, learning forward and being louder.]

Dan: What is different, Mark, with how you feel from doing it the first time to the second time.

Mark: I am more conscious of myself.

Dan: Let me again change the way I talk to you. Now could you just change it, anyway you want.

[Mark does the action/voice again, but his tone is more playful and his hands spiral up into the air.]

Dan: What was different from you?

Mark: It was much more free. I could play. There were no rules constraining me.

Dan (to the class): All I did the second time was ask Mark to change but I didn’t say how. He was more spontaneous when he moved the way he wanted to.


Dan: We are going to experience, throughout the course, offering instructions to people without influencing them into meeting our expectations. When they are not encumbered by being influenced to meet our expectations they will likely experience personal discovery. We are going to visit this concept in later classes. Deeper understanding and emotional insight are facilitated through having experiences when in an exploring, playful mindset. More about “play” later in the course.


[Everyone was encouraged to take a stretch break. We all stretched.]


Concept: “Offers” in RfG

We are going to move on to something else. Another term from the world of improv that we use is “offer” which means ‘an invitation’. Anything that is communicated is an offer, not only a verbal command. Accepting an offer influences your behavior and feeling. It’s a proposal, an opportunity. Anything that can be noticed is an offer but not everything that is offered is noticed. Human consciousness is very selective in what it pays attention to. In communication between people, if they are more focused on each other, the degree of responsiveness is increased. Offers can come outside peoples’ communication. Subjectively, the world is always offering us stimuli, including from our physical environment. Usually, we only pay attention to things that change. Until I say something, you’re not aware of the lighting in the room. If I change the brightness you will notice the difference. The fact that it is changing draws our attention.  Everything that I’ve been saying about offers is leading up to focusing on our responses to offers, which is what we are more interested in. Noticing an offer is the first necessary first step; the next step is what we do with the offers. We can say we accept an offer or block an offer in how we respond. We are going to be playing a couple of games and exercises that explore the impact of our accepting or our blocking offers. Responses to offers lie on a continuum from full acceptance to full blocking. We will next use verbal offers to make the point more fully.


[Mo and Dan do a demonstration on accepting and blocking offers.]


Mo: Hi Dan! Would you like to go to breakfast with me?

Dan: [Pretended that he was writing something, not looking at Mo.]


Dan (to class): Notice that I totally blocked Mo’s offer by not acknowledging that she had spoken to me, expecting a reply.


Mo: Hi Dan! Would you like to go to breakfast with me?

Dan: I’m really hungry. I’ll look to see what is in the refrigerator.


Dan (to class): This time this time there was more acceptance as I respond by replying to her with a speech turn and by referring to food and hunger. I would label this a partial block.


Mo: Hi Dan! Would you like to go to breakfast with me?

Dan: You know, I don’t feel ready to do that. I’m not feeling too hungry right now.


Dan (to class): How many saw that as more acceptance than the last time? Though I still didn’t accept her offer (refusing or saying “No”), I was more accepting of her offer than before, in that I acknowledged her invitation to go to breakfast. This was a partial acceptance.


Mo: Hi Dan! Would you like to go to breakfast with me?

Dan: I would like to come to breakfast with you but I have an important phone call to make first.


Dan (to class): How many of you saw that I was even more accepting of Mo’s offer than in the last example? Because I said “but” this is called a “Yes, But” response, an example of a partial but not full acceptance.


Mo: Hi Dan! Would you like to go to breakfast with me?

Dan: I would love to! There is a little place around the corner that has pancakes and I would love to have some!


Dan (to class): How many people think I accepted Mo’s offer? (Most students raise their hands.) Notice that I accepted Mo’s offer, matched her enthusiasm, and I added to (or built upon)  her offer by suggesting a place where we could go for breakfast.  We call this a “Yes, And” response, which is a full acceptance!


Mark: Volunteer students will now be joining breakout rooms, with three people in each, two players and one observer. One player will make any statement, a verbal offer; then, the other player will respond with a statement intended to accept, partially accept, partially block or fully block their partner’s offer. Try to vary responses on different turns so your group experiences a variety of accepting and blocking responses. Then the observer will report what she/he thought the degree of blocking was and all students will first share the degree of acceptance/blocking they experienced and then report on how each verbal exchange affected them. After this, students will rotate through the roles of player and observer, so that each student takes the observer role twice.


[Students go into Breakout Rooms to practice for 4 minutes]


Mark (once all have returned to the Main room): We are going to spend a brief amount of time talking about the experiences you’ve just had. When you were a player who made the first offer, were you aware if your partner blocked your offer? Did you feel the blocking? Raise your hand…. How did you feel when blocked? (students share words and short phrases describing their reactions).


The students seemed to enjoy “Yes, And.” Several students made comments regarding the positive effects of playing “Yes, And.”  


Mark: “Yes, And” is building on, moving forward. You are co-creating something. You are building something totally new with your partner. In the group I was watching, I didn’t understand the language, but I saw the excitement building in the scene.




A third RfG Instructor, Margot, joins and introduces herself to the class.


Dan: I want to introduce a couple of new concepts that we haven’t discussed before, the distinction between what I call “survival mind” and “adventure mind.” I use the words “survival mind” for how most adults think and function, as opposed to “adventure mind” which is the predominant way that young children operate and think.  Survival mind is characterized by purpose and intention, a way to see what is coming next, and anticipate making choices that are better, thereby improving your survival, success and comfort. All of us rely on survival mind. If we cross a street which has traffic, we look both ways so that we are not hit by a car. In our interactions with other people, survival minds leads us to shape the impressions that we are creating in the minds of others. Most often, we want to create favorable impressions. We intentionally act and speak in a way that will make a good impression on those other persons who matter to us. As we accumulate life experience, we increasingly rely on routines, habits and memories to deal with novel situations. Adventure mind’s craving of comfort and minimal effort interfere both with seeing things in a fresh light and trying out new behaviors.


One way to know if survival mind is active (and most of the time we are in survival mind), is to ask ourselves why we are doing something and what for, what we hope to achieve by doing it. If we have any answer, other than just taking an interest in or pleasure in the moment as an end in itself, it’s survival mind in action.


Adventure mind, by contrast, is characterized by full attention to the present moment without striving for any result. The consciousness of adventure mind is totally present-centered. Some examples of adventure moments in adult experience are times when we are fully absorbed in (usually) pleasurable sensation, such as viewing a beautiful sunset, fully listening to music, laughing at a joke or gazing lovingly at another person. Due to our over-training in using survival mind it is difficult for many adults to access pure adventure mind; one good way to get back to experiencing adventure mind is to play with young children, letting them take the lead. Whether it’s your own children or someone else’s, if you play with children, you likely will experience the heightened contrast of your habitual survival mind with the more elusive adventure mind experience and functioning.


Let me next point out that we mislead ourselves in labelling certain activities as ‘playing games,’ implying that they’re performed solely in adventure mind. Conventional activities that we label ‘games’ have rules, skills and objectives. For example, in the game of ping-pong…there are paddles, balls, the table, rules, how the ball is served, what happens when the ball is in play, rules for scoring that depend on where the ball lands, etc.…While playing ping-pong there is purposeful striving; we are making effort to perform skillfully, attempting to win against an opponent. While there may be present-centered involvement and pleasure while playing ping-pong, we are not fully playing in adventure mind but also competing, in survival mind. As adults, we are mostly operating in survival mind, sometimes operating with a mix of survival and adventure minds, and only rarely are in pure adventure mind.

Adventure mind functioning is more prevalent in very young children who are absorbed in moving pleasurably or in playing with a full attention on a toy…or interacting with a pet animal or another human. If the child loses interest in a toy, he drops it and finds a different toy or interacts with another person, but there is no holding onto or returning to his initial interest, as the child no longer pays attention to a prior activity. There is also no striving or attempting to strategize to choose from different alternatives to avoid danger or to bring benefit. However, even young children start to develop survival minds in terms of the degree to which they practice activities for a reward, say of getting parental attention or a smile.


What interests us in RfG is trying to induce more adventure mind functioning, particularly by offering clients to enter the playspace, during RfG enactments. Improvisation itself is a rehearsal which impels us to be present-centered, though there remains the challenge of our habitual survival mind striving to succeed/avoid failure. More about this later in the course.


As noted before, one reason why we are always pulled to survival mind functioning is that we have a strong need to maintain comfort, approval and safety. We use our mind in survival mode to avoid trouble. When we as therapists try to include clients in play, we need to attend to their psychological safety. We need to put them at ease so that they are not worried about whether they are judged for not playing well.  To have beneficial influence, they need to trust us, so they need to view us as trustworthy. The noted American family therapist and Social Worker Virginia Satir promoted psychological safety as a necessary precondition for having a productive relationship with her clients. The usual client wants our approval. In therapy, particularly at the beginning, are asking clients to do unusual things and there is some discomfort in being asked to do or talk about things that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Once the therapist is seen as trustworthy it’s easier for the client to experiment without fear of being judged.  Therefore, it’s necessary at the beginning of therapy to build a trustworthy connection with clients so they feel safe in our presence. For this reason, we don’t usually start the relationship by offering these RfG enactments in the very first session. We need to meet and get to know them and to go over any rules before adding these unfamiliar activities. We’ll have a lot more to say and demonstrate this throughout the rest of the course.


Dimensions of Accepting/Blocking Offers

We will now add a little bit to the concept of accepting and blocking offers. We want to acknowledge that the verbal offers we explored earlier are also influenced by movement and emotional expressiveness.  We are saying that the three main dimensions of offers are verbal, movement, and emotional. This leads us to a demonstration enactment. I am going to ask Margot to do a series of interchanges with me, showing the simultaneous accepting and blocking of offers on different dimensions. I’ll be accepting the offer on some of the dimensions while blocking on others.



First Offer:

Margot: Hi! How are you? [Margot smiles and offers her hand in greeting.]

Dan: [smiles and shakes Margot’s hand] Fine. How are you?

Dan (to class): The offer was accepted on all three dimensions.


Second Offer:

Margot: Hi! How are you? [Margot smiles and offers her hand in greeting.]

Dan: [Dan smiles but doesn’t shake Margot’s hand] Fine, how are you?

Dan (to class): How would you feel if your greeting was blocked in the movement dimension?



Third Offer:

Margot: Hi! How are you? [Margot smiles and offers her hand in greeting.]

Dan: [Dan does not smile. He shakes hands with Margot but he speaks in a monotone.] Fine! How are you?

Dan (to class): There was acceptance on the movement dimension, but I was blocking on the emotional dimension, as my vocal tone was not friendly and inviting.


Fourth Offer:  

Margot: Hi! How are you? [Margot smiles and offers her hand in greeting.]

Dan: [Dan shakes Margot’s hand and smiles.] You know, I was just on my way to work on my taxes, because I want to be sure they are done early this year.

Dan (to class): I started talking about something quite off-topic, so this was blocking on the verbal dimension.


Dan invited questions, then sent volunteer students to breakout rooms. As before, there were groups of three students in each, breakout rooms, two players and one observer.


Dan: One player, the Offerer, will make any statement, a verbal offer, along with a movement and in a mood; then, the other player will respond with behavior intended to accept on all but one of the dimensions. You are each going to take turns doing this four times, just as Margot and I demonstrated.  Each time, the Offerer repeats the same offers on all dimensions. The first time, the responder accepts on all dimensions; on each of the next three turns, the responder accepts on two of the dimensions, but blocks on a single third dimension.  The observer then reports on what s/he saw occurring. After all four variations have been enacted, roles are switched so that each student plays the role of Offerer, Responder, and Observer.


[Students enter Breakout Rooms, staying for 4 minutes, then return to the Main room.]


Dan (to class): Were you able to detect the blocked dimension in the response to the initial offer? Raise your hand if you were aware you were being blocked…( all raised hands)… Were you accurate on identifying the dimension? [Many hands raised each time.] We will be getting a lot of practice in playing RfG games going forward, noticing the blocks that are made. The aim in improv is usually to fully accept all offers on all dimensions.


Importance of Practice Groups

The last thing we will discuss is important: practice groups. You will be assigned to groups according to your English language skills as well as your psychological background. Participation in the groups is not required but is strongly recommended. It’s a way both to learn and have fun during the course. If need be, you will be able to change practice groups.


I will mention a few benefits of practice groups. First of all, they increase the learning of your skills by giving you more practice to reinforce what we learned in class. It strengthens and improves your confidence. Because of your work in peer groups, you’ll be learning the skills of offering and directing others, which is how you’ll apply RfG training to your work and to your life. Being in practice groups increases your social connection to other students who are learning this material and who are learning at the same time. Lastly, it will deepen your understanding of the concepts and readings that have been assigned. You can discuss what you got from them and describe what questions you have. So, the recommended meeting is at least a one-hour meeting per week. I’m telling you from considerable experience that the time you put into the practice group is well worth it. All practice groups participants should have time to lead enactments. The practice group leader takes attendance and writes a brief report and should include questions that will be brought to class. The feedback from these reports also gives the instructors information to refine the course in order to improve our teaching. Please try to attend most of the time.


With this encouragement, I will end this class. It’s a privilege to meet all of you and we will meet again next week. I will not be in the next few meetings.


[Dan explains he will be teaching once every five weeks and that the other RfG instructors will be teaching the other classes.]