The Three Phase Approach

Helping refugee children with Spontaneous Village

Needs of refugees:

  • familiarity
  • trust
  • routine
  • community

Structure of approach:

Summary: The improv curriculum is designed to move participants quickly through games and exercises that lead to the development and habituation of pro-social skills (listening, imaginative play, constructive problem solving, collaboration). 

Purpose: to encourage participation, communication, agency, and community within the refugee camp. The program phases are designed to move participants through a process of social group development: Familiarity -> Trust -> Routine -> Community. These four stages of hierarchy can be closely linked the first four phases of Heroic Improv’s approach (Alert, Ready, Connect, Focus). The end of this program will fulfill the 5th phase, Move. 


Refugee program phases [1]

Phase 1 –  This curriculum is focused on building familiarity amongst the children through games that require them to share their likes and similarities and others that require collaboration and support to succeed. Play sessions twice a day 1-2 hours in length, depending on age. Participation is compulsory. Children should be grouped by age in this phase and all should receive identical curriculum. During this process, attention should be paid to developing a lexicon of favorite games to be moved into Phase 2. Other things to observe and build upon are emergent play groups due to similarity (gender, age, geography, proximity, personality). The belief in instituting Phase 1 is that, by speeding up the process of familiarity and encouraging an environment of mutual support through these games, it will help minimize stress while maximizing trust. The search for who to trust is one of the main concerns of refugees in camps according to anthropological research (Peteet, J 1995, Voitira E & Harrel-Bond BE 1995, Sommers, M 2001, Lubkemann 2002). The process of improvised theater generally results in rapid social bonding amongst participants (Fortier 2010 & 2013)

Phase 2 – This phase is designed to establish a routine of play sessions for the next 7-10 days. 1-2 hours long twice a day. Allow for more agency in this phase. Create a sign-up for play groups. The curriculum should vary more in this phase to provide variety and allow for choice. Invite performances by children who are interested for nightly entertainment (could also include music & dance). In this phase, we are trying to expand on trust and minimize the disorientation of relocation by creating a routine and building a community-based method for catharsis through expression and performance. The origins of modern theater improvisation lie in this form of application with immigrant populations in the 1930’s (Spolin 1963).

Phase 3 – Now we will use games as a way to envision next steps and prepare for transitioning out of a camp or shelter for the remaining days. Facilitators can lead narrative visioning games that allow children to explore and problem-solve situations that they expect to encounter during and after transitioning. By this phase, the belief is that strong intra and inter-group connections will have formed allowing for the engagement in more complex narrative exploration games. These games can be observed and used as an analytical tool for developing an effective exit/relocation program that minimizes impact on the children.

This entire experience has the potential to help the children find confidence and calm for the next steps. This is because of the strength of the social networks formed through 3 weeks of positive, regular, imaginative play with a focus on pro-social skills, and visioning their desired and potential futures at completion.

Staffing/Scheduling/Classroom Needs (ideal): 

  • Enough staff or arrange schedule to allow for instructor-student ratio of no more than 1:20.
  • Contact local arts in schools programs to mine for bilingual staff with capabilities and experience in this subject whose salaries are cost effective (match salary).
  • Classroom space to accommodate size of groups away from general housing or other activities.
  • An assembly space for evening programming.

Potential Friction Points: ·         There may be hostilities already embedded in segments of the population due to conflicts arising from identity, regional, or cultural differences.·         Poor nutrition, inadequate housing, poor hygiene could all become factors that would impede the efficacy of this approach. If basic needs are not adequately covered, it dampens the human ‘proclivity for’ and ‘ability to’ play.·         Political backlash for encouraging play and fun for immigrants.


Fortier, Brad. Long-Form Improvisation: Collaboration, Comedy, and Communion, Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010

Fortier, Brad A Culture of Play: Essays on the Origins, Applications, and Effects of Improvised Theatre, Lulu Publishing, 2013

Lubkemann 2002 “Where To Be An Ancestor? Reconstituting Socio-Spiritual Worlds and Post-Conflict Settlement Decision-Making Among Displaced Mozambicans.” Journal of Refugee Studies Vol. 15. Peteet, J. 1995. “Transforming Trust: Dispossession and Empowerment Among Palestinian Refugees.” pp 168–186 in E.V. Daniel and J.C. Knudsen (eds.) Mistrusting Refugees. Berkeley: University of California Press. Sommers, M. 2001. Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania. New York: Berghahn Books.

Spolin, Viola. Improvisation for the Theater. 3rd ed. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern UP, 1963.

Voutira, E. and Harrell-Bond, B,E. 1995.“In Search of the Locus of Trust:The Social World of the Refugee Camp.” pp 207–224 in E.V. Daniel and J.C. Knudsen (eds.) Mistrusting Refugees. Berkeley: University of California Press.


[1] Based on a 3-week deployment


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