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When Workshops Work

Last Friday I traveled to the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute in Irvington, NY to give a 3 hour remix workshop to 20 high school females. My goal was to convince them that they should remix. I showed them my favorites  ones, told them why they should participate in the online communities they had previously been spectators in and went through the steps on how to make a mashup. Then I abandoned the technology and just talked to them, on the floor, in a giant group circle, about popular culture. What were they watching and why? To my surprise (because rarely does this actually happen when planned) we had an open and honest conversation about privilege, representation and solidarity among women. Did I mention we were in suburbia?

Later that night I had two new high school Facebook friends and the next morning, both friends posted their new YouTube channels. One even had her first remix. I was blown away at the turn around time and the excitement to remix. Despite tech troubles, we focused on simple ways to talk back to pop culture through remix: add a new voice over, add a song to a different trailer, use additive text, etc. to change the meaning of the original content.

Below is the remix one of the 15 year old students made. It is a great example of taking an oppressive fairy tale and placing a new song over the image to create a different and more critical reading of the text. Instead of using the song “Apart of Your World” from the Little Mermaid (the fairy tale where the female lead losses her voice and wants to leave her under water friends for the walking, land-based Prince), Arielle floats around to “Can’t Hold Me Down” by Christina Aguilera.

I do a lot of these types of things. What made this workshop work so well? 

Isolation: The young women were only with each other, not with their school peers or their male friends. As a result, there wasn’t a fear of retaliation and judgment.

Pop culture as the hook: Everyone had to ultimately shared what they were watching on TV and why. This seemed to be a more intimate question than I had initially thought and one that got the ball rolling for a frank conversation about their personal lives.

Stories: I used examples from my life, specifically, how watching too much Sex and the City for QueerCarrie messed with my sense of self, my body image and my concept of the feminine. Many of the young women could relate to internalizing a show’s voice over to the extent that it narrated their lives, even once they were away from the TV. They sited this was true with SATC and Gossip Girl.

Here’s what didn’t work:

Relying too heavily on technology: My whole workshop was dependent on each student having a computer. When those computers were down, I lost a crucial “hands-on” aspect of my workshop. In the end, the students took turns on my computer and they all walked away with their own remixes using the Gendered Ad Remixer but it would have been nice to have them all working on their own remixes at once.

Not knowing what to expect with technology ahead of time: The above would have been avoided had I made something similar to this, although phrased a little nicer with an offer to participate in the set up and clean up. (Is that overly feminine to do? I add that only because I think a woman with this rider would be seen as a bitch, and that’s really too bad because she’s asking for what she needs. File under: double standard.)

What are the techniques (conscious or unconscious) that you use for successful workshops? I’d love to hear from those especially who work with technology and video as this seems to be the biggest hiccup in presentations, lectures, talks, etc.

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3 thoughts on “When Workshops Work

  1. Hi – just discovered your awesome work! I think you should create your own version of Seth’s Tips & Requirements for places he’s presenting. I use something similar but less detailed – now I’m going to add some specific technical requirements to my requirements sheet that goes out with every contract for a presentation.

    • Thanks for your kind words about my blog! I think tech requirements are a great way to ease the headache and minimize the unknown that usually accompanies talks. As much as we’d like to think wifi & projection are standard, it can be an issue that brings workshops to a halt before they even start.

      Sent from my iPhone

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