August 31, 2017

VanFringe Plays for Conflict Resolution Practitioners

Earlier this month, I joined conflict resolution professionals Amanda Semenoff and C.D. Saint on their podcast – Overthinking Conflict – for two conversations about theatre and conflict resolution. In the second of these conversations, we talked about how simply watching theatre can be beneficial to one’s conflict resolution learning, and I began blogging on the topic shortly afterwards. I plan to write more on each of the ways in which one can learn from theatre, but am conscious that I promised Amanda and C.D. a list of recommendations (or best guesses!) of plays at the Vancouver Fringe Festival of interest to conflict resolution professionals – and the Fringe starts next week!

I’ve broken my suggestions down to match the categories in my recent post – “eight ways in which watching live theatre can serve a learning purpose for a conflict resolution professional”. I’ve tried to identify one or two plays that might fit each category, but do want to warn that I have not seen any of these plays yet! (One of the joys of Fringe theatre is the low risk involved in checking out plays you know nothing about: the plays are inexpensive and short, and you will almost certainly hear about something else that is amazing while standing in line. So be brave about trying several plays in an evening!)

Observing and analyzing a contained conflict text

Check out these plays if you’d like to leave the theatre and discuss (or reflect on) the way in which a conflict builds:

  • no big dealNo Big Deal – “A woman, her boyfriend, and the man who allegedly molested her.” Writer/director Gerald Williams created a thought-provoking and well-received piece in last year’s Fringe – The Dance Teacher – and this promises to carry on some of the themes explored there. A good bet for conflict analysis opportunities.
  • Sechs – Six characters with different beliefs about relationships. Coded as funny/intimate/musical.

Observing a dramatized conflict resolution process

While it’s easy to find courtroom dramas and scenes of negotiation in theatre (or in film, television, etc.), there are far fewer representations of other forms of conflict resolution. There is, however, one play at the Fringe this year that seems to offer just that:

i am for you

  • I Am For You – A student teacher uses stage fighting and Shakespeare as a conflict resolution tool.

Learning about other ways of viewing the world

Theatre offers a glimpse into others’ perspectives, can increase empathy, and may well increase understanding. There are so many possibilities in this category, but I’ve tried to narrow my selections down to just a few:

  • Dramatic Works Series – This series of five plays showcases playwrights of Asian descent.  (I Am For You is a part of this series). They all look interesting!
  • Setting Bones – I’ve recently spent some time with two of the three playwrights for this show in their work as diversity consultants, so it’s one I’m especially looking forward to seeing. I anticipate a thought-provoking show with multicultural themes. Fringe New Play Prize Project.

Engaging with metaphor

Metaphor can be a powerful tool for conflict resolution practitioners. It can illuminate ideas and situations; and it can provide distance from and perspective on a difficult topic.


  • Hyena Subpoena – A combination of spoken word poetry and projections of the animals within us. The description speaks of a meditation on predators and prey, so I am anticipating this will fit nicely within the conflict metaphor category.
  • Multiple Organism  – I may be way off base in where I’m placing this piece in my categories, but I am absolutely confident in recommending it. Mind of a Snail has created some truly amazing work in the past, and I have only heard great things about this production. Check it out just for the creativity and a whole new appreciation for shadow puppets!

Reading meaning through physical theatre

So much of our communication is physical, but we spend so little time focused on physical communication. Take a chance on some very physical theatre to stimulate thinking about physicality and conflict.


  • Bushel and Peck – Alastair Knowles is incredible at physical theatre. If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing his work as half of James and Jamesy, you won’t need to know more. If not, here’s a review from this show’s previous run.
  • Breath-Ahhh – Theatre Terrific approaches physicality differently than most plays – from its inclusive cast and focus on accessibility for audience members through its  exploration of breath, this show promises to challenge the audience to recognize and think about the physical.

Observing others’ skills in scripted or improvisational form

This is a tough category to predict in advance. In the past, I’ve been impressed by a wide array of performers with incredible skills directly applicable to the work of conflict resolution: Tonya Jone Miller’s empathy, active listening and spontaneity in The Story of Os and the incredible awareness of audience member needs by James and Jamesy stand out amongst recent Fringe shows. If I come across examples this year, I will certainly share them.  Please share any you see with me!

Explorations of historical conflict

Plays which reimagine historical conflicts or conflict set in past times can offer fresh insights into both those conflicts and contemporary problems.

  • An Arrangement of Shoes – This play is set in an Indian train station during the Gulf War, and also apparently references considerable Indian history over the past 70 years.

Explorations of neuroscience, mental health topics, and other content that enriches our practice

There are so many areas of study that inform conflict resolution practice, and many are well-represented in theatre. In particular, deeply personal stories of mental health topics can bring insights that help us improve our practices.

  • Periscope – Last year, Megan Phillips brought a fascinating study of anxiety to the Fringe – Not Enough.  This year, she is bringing another personal story to the stage – or rather to Ocean and Crow Yoga (likely to be an intimate venue).
  • Katharine Ferns Is in Stitches – A show about mental illness, domestic abuse, and drug addiction that had solid word-of-mouth (at least in the queues I was standing in) at the Edinburgh Fringe over the last few weeks.

Please do let me know if you stumble across other shows that should be shared with conflict resolution practitioners! And I hope to see you at the Fringe!


July 19, 2017

Learning Conflict Resolution through Theatre

This morning (very early!), I joined Amanda Semenoff and C.D. Saint for their podcast, Overthinking Conflict.  The topic we discussed was how watching live theatre can be useful for conflict resolution professionals. Our discussion was wide ranging, and we touched on a number of reasons a conflict resolution practitioner might want to watch live theatre (many of which apply to other forms of art, too).

During the conversation, I was asked about recommendations for shows, and was sorry that I couldn’t refer to the upcoming Vancouver Fringe Festival performances because the Fringe program hasn’t been released yet.  (The launch party is Thursday, July 27th, 2017.)  Fringe Festivals are a particularly rich opportunity for conflict resolution professionals to explore plays. After all, there’s always a hodgepodge of domestic and international performers; plays are short, so risk is low (you aren’t trapped for hours wishing you’d made another choice!); standing in line for one performance gives you the chance to hear all about a dozen more shows; and the variety is incredible!

As I told Amanda and C.D., I’ll put together a list of recommendations for conflict resolution practitioners once the program is available, but, in the meantime, I wanted to ruminate further on the kinds of learning one can take away from live theatre.

Ultimately, I came up with a list of 8 ways in which watching live theatre can serve a learning purpose for a conflict resolution professional:

  • Observing and analyzing a contained conflict text
  • Observing, analyzing, or participating in a dramatized conflict resolution process
  • Learning about other ways of viewing the world
  • Engaging with metaphor
  • Reading meaning through physical theatre
  • Observing others’ skills in scripted or improvisational form
  • Explorations of historical conflict
  • Explorations of neuroscience, mental health topics, and other content that enriches our practice

Just as my conversation with Amanda and C.D. allowed only enough time to discuss a few ways we could talk about theatre as “homework” for conflict resolution practitioners, a single blog post doesn’t really give me scope to reflect on all of these topics either.  As such, I’ll concentrate only on the first topic here, and revisit the question over the next short while to discuss the remainder of the list.

Observing Conflict – Cause and Effect

Theatrical performances, especially those following the pattern of traditional European theatre, almost always focus around a central conflict. While there are variations to the pattern, and artists have consciously sought to create productions that resist that pattern,  theatre generally explores conflict.

In a typical, chronological narrative structure, the audience is able to observe a conflict develop and come to a point of crisis. Unlike real life conflicts where it’s virtually impossible to witness all the contributing factors, the contained nature of a well-structured drama allows the audience to see how conflict builds – often from multiple perspectives. As a student of conflict resolution, this chance to observe whole stories and to understand multiple perspectives creates an opportunity for reflection: Where have I seen those patterns of communication before? What kinds of changes in the characters’ communications could prevent the looming crisis? If a mediator were inserted into the mix, when and how would they seek to shift the dynamic?

Some years ago, I was involved in a project that asked the question: what if Hamlet and Gertrude had been able to mediate their family dispute? Our initial intention was to create a short video we could use to start a conversation with large law classes about the differences amongst dispute resolution processes. Instead, we launched many conversations about conflict prevention across multiple narrative art forms! I can say now with great confidence that there are hundreds of ways in which conflict resolution practitioners could have saved Romeo and Juliet! (I won’t even try to describe how little show would be left if conflict resolution students were set loose on Seinfeld: if you strip away the conflict, it really is about nothing.)

Over the years, conflict resolution students have shown me that some of the deepest, and clearest, conflict analyses comes from grappling with a performed, and contained, conflict. The finite nature of the material coupled with the relative linearity of most performances – or sometimes the intentional non-linearity chosen to highlight aspects of the conflict – offers a much tidier “text” for examination than any real life conflict can. Just as role plays are utilized to learn conflict resolution skills (even when some students must observe due to numbers), observations of performed plays allow for both individual reflection and discussion with co-learners.

One further reason that it is relatively easy to grapple deeply with issues in a play is one’s emotional distance from a performed conflict – all the more so when the conflict is known to be fictional. As mediators (or lawyers, arbitrators, etc.), we often try to find a place of empathy with enough distance to be able to offer alternative perspectives. Theatre allows us to step into that place and to become familiar with its feel. Film and television offer similar experiences, but the degree of control we have – to pause, rewind, re-view – makes the experience less immediate (less like the experience in real life) than live theatre.  With live actors, we experience greater immediacy, and, of course, there is a risk of things going wrong, of something unexpected happening, which connects the experience more viscerally with real life.  In fact, sit in the front row and the experience is entirely different than watching a film!

Here are three plays coming up soon on Vancouver stages that offer great opportunities to observe and examine conflict.  Consider getting out to the theatre this summer! And bring a colleague for post-theatre discussion!

  • Bard on the Beach will be showing The Merchant of Venice this year, and, even better, showing Shylock for a short run at the end of the season. Most people know something about The Merchant of Venice, and it certainly offers lots of familial and commercial dispute, a discussion of the interrelationship between law and mercy, and a great deal to discuss in terms of anti-Semitism and, by extension, other forms of bias. Shylock is a play that is often performed in combination with The Merchant of Venice because it explicitly examines the challenges of performing a text that cannot be separated from the prejudices of its times. It is well worth watching both!
  • In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play). I haven’t seen this yet, but its nomination for a Tony in 2010 bodes well. I’m anticipating that this one will offer a study in cognitive dissonance as its characters struggle to recognize the possibility of mistaken assumptions underlying culturally accepted “truths”. The fact that it involves a marital relationship increases the likelihood of it offering a window into a familiar interpersonal conflict.




February 24, 2017

Game Jam 3 – Open for registration!

CoRe-Jolts-Game-JamWe had so much fun at our second Collaborative Game Jam in June 2016 – and even more as we brought one of the games created there to production – that we decided to make the CoRe Jolts Game Jam an annual event!

If you’d like to spend a weekend with a group of creative and collaborative individuals exploring ways to solve any number of problems through game design, join us at Game Jam 3, May 5-7, 2017.

What to expect from a Game Jam?

We’ll spend our first evening together getting to know each other, discussing the kinds of games we are each interested in creating or playing, and developing a shared understanding of collaborative games and their potential. We’ll play a few games to get a feel for them.

Game JamOn Saturday morning, we’ll form teams to begin work on games. Teams are self-selected based on shared interests or objectives. Groups will spend Saturday developing their idea, and building a prototype. We’ll take breaks throughout the day for refreshments and chances to discuss what is happening in different groups. Occasionally, that leads to some mixing and matching of groups – bringing new skills and ideas to the task.

Sunday morning is typically devoted to readying a game for presentation to other teams, while Sunday afternoon will be used to share creations, ideas, observations, and any future plans.

Whether or not your team creates a complete game during the weekend, you’ll have fun, learn a lot about collaborative games, and come away with new ideas about how to work together!

What if we create a game that we want to produce?

cards-in-handEveryone attending our Game Jams agrees in advance that games and ideas arising form the Game Jam can be developed further, however, all participants in a game’s creation will be consulted about future production. No one is committed to take the game further than the Game Jam.

We have taken one game from Game Jam to Kickstarter and commercial sales – Zombie Fight or Flight. Our experience of doing so was incredibly positive. We had a group of 7 people committed to working through the full development process, and we collaborated in the process. We learned a HUGE amount about everything connected to game development, and are happy to work with teams or other groups of participants in supporting development of the next great thing, too!


Check out our Game Jam page for further information, and register soon if you want to be sure to attend in May. If you have additional questions, email us at


October 25, 2016

Zombie Fight or Flight launches on Kickstarter!

PignPotato Games has just launched its Kickstarter campaign for Zombie Fight or Flight! This collaborative card game was developed at the CoRe Jolts Game Jam in June 2016.  PignPotato Games is made up of 7 Game Jam participants who decided to see if they could successfully launch the game created that weekend.

The group started by hiring Rachel Petrovicz to create amazing art for the cards, and have continued to test and improve the game over the past few months.  In the process, they’ve developed both ideas for classroom uses (for grades 3-12) and trainers’ notes for using the cards in conflict resolution and negotiation training.  In fact, the prototype decks will get a tryout on Halloween when they are used in the Continuing Legal Education Society’s course on Negotiation Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse.


The Kickstarter campaign will run until November 26th, but some rewards are limited in number, so check the campaign out soon if you’re interested in custom artwork, custom ceramics, or conflict resolution training and game jams!

Zombie Fight or Flight and Drunken Zombie Fight or Flight decks are available to ship worldwide, but if you’re in Vancouver, want to save shipping costs and can pick up on December 17th, make sure you choose the “without shipping option”.

September 4, 2016

Game Jam 2 produces Zombie Fight or Flight

It’s been just over two months since CoRe Jolts’ second Game Jam took place in Tsawwassen, and it’s well past time to report on the exciting developments coming out the event!

Sludge (#WorkingTitle)

Sludge (#WorkingTitle)

We had a fantastic group of mediators, lawyers, and students (including both experienced and inexperienced gamers) assembled for three days of creativity! Like Game Jam 1, the group arrived with many different ideas and objectives: the one common theme was that we all wanted to develop a collaborative game.  Over the course of the weekend, two different games emerged – a very complex game which we called “Sludge (#WorkingTitle)” and a fast-moving card game called “Zombie Fight or Flight”.  Both games had fans within our group, but “Zombie Fight or Flight” fit nicely with plans two of us had to develop training tools and so received a bit more attention over the course of the weekend.  As a result, Zombie Fight or Flight will be the first game created in a CoRe Jolts Game Jam to be developed for sale!

Zombie Fight or Flight cardback: Art by Tuna.

Zombie Fight or Flight cardback: Art by Tuna.

Zombie Fight or Flight

The zombie theme arose because Emily Martin and I were thinking ahead to specific training applications, notably a CLEBC course we are preparing for October 31st – Negotiation Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse. Even as the game developed though, it was apparent that the basic mechanics could be adapted easily to other scenarios: Pirate Fight or Flight, Space Aliens Fight or Flight, or even Forest Animals Fight or Flight.  In fact, we also tested a wide range of variations intended to make the game more or less challenging depending on age, gaming experience, etc. and began preliminary work on an expansion pack to keep the game interesting over multiple plays.  Those of us who stayed overnight also took the opportunity on the Saturday night to create alternative drinking game rules: Drunken Zombie Fight or Flight.

Sunday afternoon was spent in a discussion of how to carry the game forward, and resulted in the formation of “Pig & Potato Games” as the entity that will market the game.  In the last two months, we hired an artist (Rachel Petrovicz) who has just completed designing the cards; identified a printer and will be printing prototype decks in the next few weeks; and sketched out plans for a Kickstarter to launch the game.  All of these tasks have been learning tasks for our team, and have resulted in a continuation of the creative energy of the Game Jam – we are all still stimulating new thoughts and ideas as we advance the plan to fully realize the game!

We are on track to launch our Kickstarter in late October – in time for Halloween – so watch for news about the game and opportunities to play it. We’re planning several game nights for collaborative professionals as we explore the options the game offers for collaborative training, and even for possible use in specific types of mediations.

Interested in joining us next year?

After two incredibly fun and successful Game Jams, we know we want to have another one! The creative energy stimulated within the event, and flowing afterwards, is an amazing boost for any project -whether or not it leads to development of a fully formed game. The fact that Zombie Fight or Flight has emerged from this past game jam, and that we are learning new skills and gaining knowledge about game development, only makes the idea more exciting!  We are trying to find a date for the next Game Jam that will accommodate as many of our returning Game Jammers as possible, while also welcoming new folks to bring new ideas! We anticipate holding Game Jam 3 in Tsawwassen in spring 2017. Let us know if you hope to attend: we’ll send out periodic notices as we plan, and will canvass everyone on the mailing list for availability as we choose dates.  To be added to the mailing list, email a request to




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