Ensemble-Made Chicago

Free Street Theater

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Rant Pants and Party Pants

Taught by Coya Paz

Because Free Street uses an ensemble process with diverse and rotating groups of people, the company employs a range of exercises that are designed to get people energized and talking to each other very quickly. One of their favorites is called Rant Pants/Party Pants, which was inspired by an Albany Park Theater Project exercise called “I Come From _______” and a Sojourn Theatre Company game called “Where I Come From.”

Sojourn Theatre is an ensemble theatre made up of artists based around the country and dedicated to using performance as a form of civic engagement. Although Sojourn was founded in Portland, Oregon, it has deep ties to Chicago: artistic director Michael Rohd is a graduate of Northwestern University and has worked with many Chicago companies. Rohd says that his version pulls from the game “Circle Dash,” which is itself “a variation of lots of Spolin circle games.” He developed the exercise during a workshop process when “the invisible diversity in the room was really getting in the way” as a way of giving participants a way to self-define. He notes that there are many other similar games, but that “mine came in a moment of me adjusting to a need in a situation, and inventing, as far as I knew, what I was doing.”

Both exercises, described below, get people who don’t know each other moving and building connections around shared experiences, but Free Street Artistic Director Coya Paz wanted a version that felt more “Free Street”: “We’re less interested in a person’s cultural identity than in prompting dialogue about what they’re thinking about right now, the things that are influencing their everyday life. That might be where they come from, but it is as likely to be the fact that there are no buses running in their neighborhood.” In Rant Pants/Party Pants, participants are invited to collectively celebrate the good and passionately acknowledge the bad. 

From Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Collaborative Creation, by Coya Paz and Chloe Johnston, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press.

Sojourn Theater: Where I Come From

1. Circle up and talk.

Have participants stand in a circle. Ask a volunteer to step into the circle and fill in the following statement: “I come from ________________.” Encourage participants to choose small and specific details about the environments, cultures, and communities that have shaped them: “I come from bullet holes and sprinklers on the sidewalk…. I come from cool desert nights and pink sunrises… I come from traffic so slow I read books while I drove…”

2. Respond.

After the volunteer has offered a statement, tell the group that anyone who has a similar experience or background should runs into the middle. Then everyone, including the original volunteer, must run to reclaim a place in the circle. Whomever is left without a spot remains in the middle, and offers their own “Where I come from.”

3. Repeat.

Repeat this with a new speaker. If the original volunteer doesn’t find a spot in the circle, they must come up with a new statement. The game should start with describing place, and as it goes on the facilitator should encourage participants to begin describing identity and finally values. 

Albany Park Theater Project: I Come From

1. Circle up and talk.

Have participants stand or sit in a circle, and, one at a time, complete the following sentence: “I come from ________.” Tell the participants their responses should focus on literal place: “I come from Chicago/Humboldt Park/the corner of Division and Western.”

2. Build on it.

Once everyone has spoken, go around the circle again but this time, have participants focus on details of that place: “I come from Currency Exchanges and fast food restaurants.” For the third round, have them focus on values: “I come from Spanglish and evangelical churches.” 

Free Street: Party Pants/Rant Pants

1. Party Pants

Have participants stand in a circle. A volunteer steps into the circle and describes something they are loving right now: “I love ___________.” For example: “Macaroni and cheese...my mom...these new shoes.” 

2. Join in.

After the volunteer individual has offered a statement, tell the group that anyone who also loves that thing should cheer loudly and run into to the circle and have a 10-second party of dancing, jumping up and down, hugging each other: “It should be the best party ever - a ten second New Year’s Eve welcoming in the best year of your life.” The goal is to collectively celebrate a moment of sheer joy. If people do not love the particular thing that has been offered, they should still be supportive with clapping and cheering, but stay in their place in the circle.

3. Repeat.

When the party is over, everyone runs back into the circle and someone should volunteer to join the middle. This repeats until everyone in the circle has gone at least once, and for as long as it still seems that people are having fun. 

4. Rants Pants.

A volunteer should step into the circle to offer a short rant – a passionate statement about something that is bothering them. Have them complete the sentence “I hate it when _______________.” This can be a big problem - systemic injustice, for example - or a small one, like having to wake up early in the morning. 

5. Join in.

Rather than running into the middle of the circle to affirm the statement, have the participants stay where they are and perform 10 seconds of fury and discontent: pounding on the floor, booing, yelling, shouting etc. They should do this even if the thing that has been offered is not something that particularly bothers them.  Talk to the group about how it is important to acknowledge the challenges of each other’s experiences.

6. Repeat.

This repeats until everyone in the circle has gone at least once, and for as long as it still seems that people are having fun.


  • While the “Rants Pants” may seem to focus on the negative, Free Street finds that allowing people to “over-perform” their anger in the company of others generally is cathartic and prompts relaxed discussion about the issues that came up during the exercise.
  • Similarly, if a discussion or rehearsal has touched on particularly upsetting issues, Free Street might close a session with “a minute of rage.” Everyone is invited to pound on the floor, screaming and yelling until they run out of energy. They note that there are few environments where people, particularly youth, are given the opportunity to express anger and frustration in low-risk ways.