I have a testimony of using the Human Knot exercise to bring a cast together and quickly get over the "don't touch me" heebie jeebies that people often have.
First we did a small group with the small kids and a small group with the big kids. Once they figured those out, we brough everyone together and did a big knot. It was a massive success!
Two weeks later, one of the leads - who had not been present for the Human Knot - was having a very difficult time touching a girl (who he is supposed to "be in love" with) and struggled to do the sword fighting because he was afraid to get hurt.
So I thought to myself, "We must do the Human Knot again!" Luckily, the first time was SUCH a success that the entire cast was excited to do it again, especially knowing that it would help out a cast-mate. This was a very fine group of kids, I might add.
So we got into one MASSIVE Human Knot.
Did I mention that my son and my daughter were in on this? They were. That's important to remember.
So there they were: tangled and sweaty and doing their best not to hurt each other. I have learned that the Human Knot in these situations isn't so much about teaching the kids to "figure it out" but rather to have them learn that I can see more than they can, so they can trust me to get them where they want to go. Which in this case is out of a hot, sticky, embarassing mess.
It transfers to the rest of the play process: during the Human Knot they build evidence that as long as they will hold on and listen and not give up, I will talk them through it, and lead them to open space and succes!
Well, this second time was a real doozy.
In the first twenty seconds, the frightened actor and his female counterpart ended up face to face, arms wrapped around each other, knowing they had to be resepectful of their incredibly tight personal space. It changed them almost instantly. They were ideally suited on stage the rest of the rehearsals and performances. But we still had to get out of the knot, even though my goal for that one boy and one girl was accomplished fairly quickly.
Fast forward through a gruelling 35 minutes and the center of the Knot was just as tight as ever, with my son wrapped in arms and pits and when I went to check on him, I accidentally scratched his arm with my wedding ring.
He cried like I had broken a bone. I tried to apologize and asked if he wanted to let go. He said, "No, we have to finish this."
I was proud of him then. But in about four minutes, I would be more proud.
Because we discovered that Liam was the Key to the Human Knot. Literally EVERYONE had to go over one of his arms and under the other before the Knot could be undone. And there was no other way. He was already emotionally shot. He had already been scratched and kicked in the calf.
I asked him if he was up for this. He squared his gaze at me, eyes full of tears, and with the most brave expression I've ever seen on one so young, he said, "If they all have to go through me, just get it over with. I can hold on 'till it's done." My eyes welled with tears.
"Okay, guys, this is how it's going to go. Everyone has to go through Liam. He is the Key. Please be careful with him; I know you are all tired and he's already been hurt. So be careful and pay attention!"
Even with the warning, he was kneed in the face 3 times, people stepped on his arms, one person came up too soon and hit his elbow a weird direction. He fell over once and someone fell on top of him. He was near to bursting. I could feel his pain and it hurt me.
But he kept going. "Just do it!" he'd say when I questioned him. I realized in that moment that his reaction was so emotional because it was a very physical reinactment of the summer previously, when he had played the unequivocal lead in the play and he had felt the pressure then of everything depending on him "just holding on."
It took another ten or twelve minutes. Everyone passed through my son's arms, and as soon as the last one was done - everyone formed in a circle, smiling and relieved - my son dropped their hands and turned backstage. And he cried. He gave out the most heart-wrenching, keening sob I've ever heard.
He released all the emotion that was pent up inside. I expected the cast to be judgemental of this emotional outburst. I feared it. Especially because up until this point, my son didn't have very many friends. People thought he was emotional and weird. This wasn't helping that impression. I was so worried people would actually think less of him, even as I thought more.
But as I looked around the stage, I saw only love, compassion, and concern. I heard them make comments of, "He held on so we could finish." "He was so strong." "That must have been so hard for him," and "He just broke down."
Many of the boys especially went to put their arms around Liam as he cried. They told him it was ok. Not one of the children in that room was embarrassed, overwhelmed, or frightened by his emotion, because they had all seen what he had done for them.
Now, I have told this story before to illustrate and teach a few things. One is that the kids really trusted me as a leader after that. Two is that my cast - even and especially the boys - were not afraid to cry. We had an emotionally healthy cast. Very close and careful.
But the third lesson I learned yesterday in Sunday School when we read Isaiah 53, especially verses10 - 13: