FEL!X’s dramatic historical improv methodology has proven effective with children, adolescents, and adults in both school settings and therapeutic environments. The dramatizations have focused upon culture and identity, bullying, dating and friendship, acceptance of “the other,” responding to social cues, and social unrest. Most recently, FEL!X has been adapted to develop resilience to crises.
The name FEL!X alludes to the Latin word felix, meaning lucky or successful. By stepping into the shoes of a wide range of historical characters students better understand how others in the past successfully navigated similar challenges. The developers of FEL!X first tested the methodology in a behavioral health clinic. In this setting, historical role-playing clearly proved to be a significant healing modality, allowing participants to focus on mental health outcomes without the constraints of an academic curriculum. Following this successful application of FEL!X for young people with communication challenges, the developers recognized that the FEL!X methodology could be readily adaptable to other settings and suitable for a wide range of content.
How FEL!X Works
FEL!X incorporates trusted therapeutic and educational techniques based in social-emotional intelligence and social cognitive theories. Research has shown that acting, which requires the participant to step into the shoes of others, leads to growth in both empathy and theory of mind.
By using historical improv, FEL!X methodology creates a comforting distance from which participants can explore sensitive topics such as vulnerability, abuse of power, and trauma. Improvisation encourages students to engage completely and empathize with their character, taking into account their personal circumstance and historical context. FEL!X’s methodology, unlike historical re-enactment, does not use a prescribed script.
FEL!X provides a safe and engaging environment that encourages participation and collaboration. Behavioral rules – agreed upon by all participants – are well-balanced with game-like features. FEL!X participants “step into the shoes” of historical figures from diverse generations, cultures, demographic, and perspectives.
A carefully constructed sequence of prompts eases students into discussing uncomfortable issues from multiple points of view. FEL!X then provides an opportunity for each participant to talk about the topic from their own personal perspective, surfacing struggles they may have resisted acknowledging either to themselves or to others.
FEL!X Is Fun & Effective!
Former first Lady Abigail Adams and General LaFayette with his horse.
FEL!X is an innovative, immersive methodology that guides students to explore sensitive topics as they playfully stretch their imaginations through dramatic historical improvisation. FEL!X uses history to create a comfortable distance from which to explore difficult topics from multiple points of view. FEL!X programs have examined topics such as: building friendships, understanding social cues, imbalance of power, bullying, building connections in Israel, stress, trauma, privilege, and social justice.
FEL!X provides a safe and engaging environment that encourages participation, collaboration, and creativity. Behavioral rules – agreed upon by all participants – are well-balanced with game-like features and collaborative activities. A Prop Box provides fun disguises, decorations, prizes, and art supplies.
The FEL!X methodology consists of 4 key steps.
Step 1: Build Background Knowledge
Students become familiar with background materials which include discussion questions, historical fact sheets, and character bios of individuals who were alive around that time in history. Each student chooses a character and prepares to respond to the discussion question. In order to improvise or ad lib a meaningful dialogue without a script, students must deeply understand their character’s personal circumstances and historical context.
Step 2: Dramatic Historical Improv
Students take turns going “on stage,” to respond to the discussion question in character. After each character speaks, classmates give feedback in character by holding up response cards.
Step 3: Reflective Response
The class returns to the present day. Each student is asked to respond to the same discussion question from their own personal perspective. After each student speaks, classmates respond as themselves by holding up response cards.
Step 4: Imagine your Future Self
Walking in the shoes of individuals who have navigated catastrophic events, gives students an experiential understanding of the feelings and motivations of a diverse group of individuals. This leads to the realization that the choices of others may be similar to theirs, and results in greater empathy.
In the culminating step of the full FEL!X program, the study of the past connects to the future. Students now imagine themselves in 30 years. As students tell their stories, they reveal how they are shaped by the past, and how knowledge of the past gives them tools to be more hopeful and resilient.
Why FEL!X Works
FEL!X incorporates trusted therapeutic and educational techniques based in social-emotional intelligence and social cognitive theories. Research has shown that acting*, which requires the participant to walk into the shoes of others, leads to growth in both empathy and theory of mind.
By using dramatic historical improv, FEL!X creates a comfortable distance from which participants can explore sensitive topics such as vulnerability, abuse of power, and trauma.
FEL!X’s methodology provides a safe and engaging environment that encourages participation and collaboration. Behavioral rules – agreed upon by all participants – are balanced with game-like features. A carefully constructed sequence of prompts eases students into discussing uncomfortable issues from multiple points of view. FEL!X then provides an opportunity for each participant to address the topic from their own personal perspective, surfacing struggles they may have resisted acknowledging either to themselves or to others. Modules include a set of student assessments that identify problems that may need to be addressed, as well as measure students’ progress.
Learning to view contemporary issues through a historical perspective develops critical thinking skills, cultural awareness, a greater understanding of broad issues, and a sense of being part of history. In addition, multiple social-emotional skills (self-expression, self-confidence, empathy, listening, and the ability to foster dialogue) are richly enhanced.
Mounting evidence shows that children are emerging from the recent pandemic not only with educational setbacks, but also setbacks in social and emotional skills. That’s where GraffitiWall’s FEL!X steps in. FEL!X is an innovative, immersive program with a methodology that guides students to explore sensitive topics as they playfully stretch their imaginations through historical improv. FEL!X modules have examined topics such as: building friendships, building social skills, building resiience, understanding social cues, imbalance of power, bullying, and building connections in Israel.
FEL!X uses history to create a comfortable distance from which to explore difficult topics – from stress and trauma to privilege and social justice. The FEL!X methodology is a powerful tool that helps students feel more connected to their emotions and in greater control of their lives.
Walk In Their Shoes. Stand Tall In Your Own!
For additional info please contact Linda@GraffitiWall.com.
* Thalia R. Goldstein & Ellen Winner (2012) Enhancing Empathy and Theory of Mind, Journal of Cognition and Development, 13:1, 19-37, DOI: 10.1080/15248372.2011.573514
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Building Social Skills FEL!X
FEL!X: Building Greater Empathy is a fun and playful social skills program for teens ages 12-17 to learn about themselves and engage with others. FEL!X uses historical improv to create a comfortable distance from which participants can practice using interpersonal skills to navigate the social landscape.
FEL!X helps teens learn skills in:
Making social connections
Understanding and using empathy in social communication
Recognizing feelings in other people
Sharing a fun group experience
Using creative thinking
Learning about history and historical figures
Recognizing and communicating their own feelings
Walk In Their Shoes. Stand Tall in YOUR Own!
Current Schedule of the 2 Day Social Skills Program
Oct 12 and 19 from 4-6pm in Oakland County, Michigan
Feb and Mar in New York City
To participate in the 2 Day Oakland County, Michigan Program, contact psychologist Dr. Bill Bloom at firstname.lastname@example.org or Art Therapist Tessa Bird at email@example.com
To participate in the 2 Day NYC Program please contact Linda@GraffitiWall.com.
To schedule a 10 Day Social Skills Program or any of the other FEL!X Programs, please contact Linda@GraffitiWall.com.
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July 22, 1849 -November 19, 1887
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
Born in New York City as the middle child of 7 siblings, Emma Lazarus’ writing was encouraged by her father. She made mentors out of famous poet colleagues like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her poem “The New Colossus” became famous and is now inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Views on lihiyot/security
Despite her acclaim, Lazarus still faced anti-Semitism and witnessed growing tensions towards Jews in America and abroad, spurring her to call for a Jewish homeland decades before the word “Zionist” even existed. Through essays in American magazines, such as “Russian Christianity vs. Modern Judaism” (May 1882), Lazarus included a personal plea for informed understanding of Russian Jews and their situation. And another essay, “The Jewish Problem” (February 1883), she observed that Jews, who are always in the minority, “seem fated to excite the antagonism of their fellow countrymen.” To this problem she offered a solution: the founding of a state by Jews for Jews in Palestine.
Views on am/peoplehood
Emma Lazrarus was respected as a masterful poet at a time when few women writers were taken seriously. She had to contend with American and Jewish middle-class prescriptions for womanly behavior.
Emma Lazrarus conveyed her deepest loyalty to the best of both America and Judaism, and she made overt references to Jewish culture.
One of Emma Lazrarus’ poems is called “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport” and it ends with announcing “the sacred shine is holy yet.” Though she explained in 1877, “my religious convictions ... and the circumstances of my life have led me somewhat apart from my people,” in the 1880s she changed her opinion and wrote Songs of a Semite as a collection of poems where Lazarus battled against both anti-Semitic non-Jews and complacent Jews. In “The Banner of the Jew,” she urged “Israel” to “Recall to-day / The glorious Maccabean rage,” and she reminded readers that “With Moses’s law and David’s lyre” Israel’s “ancient strength remains unbent.” And in The Dance to Death, Lazarus celebrated the courage and faith of the Jews who were condemned to die in Nordhausen, Germany, in 1349 for allegedly causing the plague.
Emma Lazrarus’ writing benefited from the complexities of her identity. She would not have been as effective on behalf of Jews if she had not believed deeply in America’s freedoms, and she could not have been as passionate a writer if she had not uncovered her own meaningful response to Judaism.
Views on Chofshi/freedom
When learning of the Russian pogroms in the early 1880s rekindled Emma Lazrarus’ commitment to Judaism. This change in attitude is evident in her writing, with works such as “Songs of a Semite: The Dance to Death and Other Poems.”
Emma Lazrarus volunteered for the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society—meeting Eastern European immigrants on Wards Island.
Emma Lazrarus’ best-known contribution to mainstream American literature may be “The New Colossus” written in 1883 for an auction to raise money for the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal.
Emma Lazrarus has contributed to the belief that America means opportunity and freedom for Jews, as well as for other “huddled masses.”
While she was widely published in her lifetime and mourned by colleagues and activists, Emma Lazrarus’ family’s decision after her death to censor her Jewish essays and poems left her work in relative obscurity for decades.
Views on B’artzenu/our land
Emma Lazrarus promoted Zionism throughout the 1880s. In “An Epistle to the Hebrews,” a series of fifteen open letters that appeared between November 1882 and February 1883, Lazarus suggested that assimilated American Jews should recognize their privileged status as well as their vulnerability in America, that all Jews should understand their history in order not to be misled by anti-Semitic generalizations, and that Eastern European Jews should emigrate to Palestine. Emma Lazrarus was also worldly, and posthumously, her sisters published her final works: “By the Waters in Babylon, Little Poems in Prose,” and “Hebrew poets of mediaeval Spain,” including translations of Solomon Ben Judah Gabirol, Abul Hassan Judah Ben Ha-Levi, and Moses Ben Ezra.
Bonus Fact: ________________________________________________________________________
FEL!X was developed by GraffitiWall LLC, an interactive media company, with the guidance of mental health professionals and educators. The core creative team of FEL!X includes Linda Gottfried, the founder and creative director at GraffitiWall, LLC whose background includes developing interactive experiences for entertainment, education, and healthcare, Joseph Gottfried, M.D., Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist and Professor at the University of Colorado, and Karen Snider, M.Ed Harvard, Former Project Director at the Boston Children’s Museum and Deputy Director for Exhibitions at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.
FEL!X: Building Social Skills Team
The core team consists of Linda Gottfried, child psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Gottfried and Karen Snider as well as Dr. Bill Bloom and Tessa Bird.
Dr Bill Bloom is a Licensed Psychologist in the metropolitan Detroit area. He works as a neuropsychologist and diagnostician for children with Autism and other developmental issues.
Tessa Bird MEd, ATR-BC is a skilled, compassionate professional art therapist who uses several mediums to meet the physical plus socio-emotional needs of her clients. She works closely with families/caretakers to assure that skills learned/developed are sustainable thus improving quality of life as Tessa genuinely cares about all people she encounters.
FEL!X: Building Resilience Project Team
Graffitiwall LLC assembled an interdisciplinary team to develop content and figure out logistics for the program FEL!X: Building Resilience.
Mikole Grindel, Polaris Expeditionary Learning School, Poudre School District (CO)
Gerald Evans, high school English, Louisa County Public Schools (VA)
Tehilah Eisenstadt, Director of Yachad and Family Education at CBE (Brooklyn Synagogue), social justice activist with children/girl’s safety and education focus, and host of the summer 2020 pilot for FEL!X: Building Resilience.
Nancy Haven, High school history teacher for a new magnet school in Newark, NJ that focuses on Global Studies
Nannette Gottfried, psychotherapist
Robin Platt, educator and content developer for interactive media
Project Advisors and Contributing Content Experts
We’d like to acknowledge how much the pilot has benefited from the guidance, feedback, and encouragement of our advisors and experts. We thank you all for your generosity of time and spirit.
Andrew T. Mink, Vice President for Education Programs at the National Humanities Center
Marianne Hardart, film and theater actor
Jim Pensiero, WSJ Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
Simon Feil, stage, voiceover, TV & screen actor
Tani Cohen Frade, lead instructional teacher, middle school Judaics and History, Luria Academy
Rachael Gray-Raf, Outgoing Director of Curriculum at Sager Solomon Schechter Day School of Metropolitan Chicago and consulting on reimagining experiential learning for online spaces
Breanna Holtz, middle school English and history, Caesar Rodney School District (DE)
Rachel Mann, Education Director, Shaarei Tikvah in Scarsdale, NY
Jared Morris, middle school instructional coach, Madison County Public Schools (VA)
Ginger Park, English, Windsor High School (CO)
Jeremy Schneider, awarding winning journalist for the New Jersey Star Ledger
Student Mentors: Sam B and Isabelle L
Lucas M and Davita E
Videos & Testimonials
FEL!X: Building Resilience
Student talk about how FEL!X’s historical improv gave them a deeper connection to history. They share how creating bios and role-playing their future selves in FEL!X’s final session enabled them to reflect back with greater resilience and creativity as they considered the effects of the dramatic events of 2020/2021 on their lives.
FEL!X: Building Resilience During Times of Crisis: A sneak preview of students, educators, and a journalist during the Black Plague Session
Student Mentor, Sam provides helpful tips for FEL!X: Building Resilience A student’s point of view
Sam, a FEL!X: Building Resilience user during the summer session, reflects on FEL!X four months later
Click here for a short video of Ashey and her mom
FEL!X: Building Connections in Israel
In this Israel Class, students used dramatic historical improv, to stage and discuss topics so they could better listen to the many voices that make up Israel - from ancient times to today.
Thoughts on the Power of FEL!X's Methodology
Actors describe how researching and stepping into the shoes of a range of personalities helps one rethink ones preconceived notions and biases.
Thoughts from FEL!X Alum and Contributors
Advisor, Andy Mink, Vice President of Educational Programs from the National Humanities Center, describes how FEL!X develops “historical empathy”:
"All too often, we teach and understand history while knowing the punch line to the joke. Events seem inevitable; steps taken seem obvious in their value or their mistake. One of the most important practices in history education is to engage students in historical empathy—that is, to consider that each day, figures in the past responded to the circumstances with the knowledge available to them, just as we do today. These historical figures interact with each other; they consider choices and pathways; they do the best they can to grapple through complex problems and issues. FEL!X is an ideal tool to practice and develop strong historical empathy by inviting students to assume the roles of experts and leaders in the moment—without nostalgia, without present-ism. I believe that this work is critically valuable to the way we educate our students today.”
Joseph Gottfried MD, Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colorado
“As a psychiatrist focused on the treatment of those afflicted with mental illness I find that FEL!X has been especially useful in my practice. Two patients, in particular, greatly benefited from the FEL!X program. One suffered paranoid schizophrenia, the other severe depression and autism. Neither of them had ever engaged in any type of relationship of significance. After sharing the FEL!X experience, they became friends, and are finally experiencing a very rewarding and supportive relationship. I can say with 100% certainty that these friendships would not have happened if it were not for the FEL!X program. FEL!X has led to so much excitement in the children and adults who participated, that at each appointment they eagerly request to do FEL!X again.”
“By examining the parallels between their own experiences in a pandemic and historical experiences, students realized they were not alone and the world had come back from things like this before. It created optimism. Academically, students found a way to connect to history. This allowed them to appreciate learning about history and appreciate that they are living through history.”
“The FEL!X program was a creative and challenging format to help middle and high school students think about their current circumstance without specifically speaking about themselves. They were pushed to think differently, collaborate with others, and learn a bit about other times.”
“Students dove deep into acting, which was impressive. Most impressive was how they collaborated, in addition to beginning to find more examples and skills of hoping, coping and innovating. The very personal takeaways they shared on the final day were inspiring. They gave me hope that for all we can't know about (the) long-term effects of pandemic times on children today, they are ready to lean into all the complicated feelings and find something positive in the moment as well as dream into the future.”
“One of the biggest takeaways for me was all of the ways that others in pandemics dealt with what they were going through. The Black Plague and Spanish Flu may have (been) different diseases in different time periods, but they are still very similar to the current pandemic. People have dealt with pandemics and epidemics in similar ways throughout history.”
“(One of the biggest takeaways was) that knowing about events from the past can be a good way to help us learn how to deal with events in the present.”
Mental Health Professional:
“FEL!X: Building Resiliency has perfect timing for today’s pandemic, social injustices, and mindset of fear and pessimism. It allowed students to understand the intersectionality of today’s complex societal issues. Through role-playing, students learned history, developed critical thinking skills, and fostered empathy, all of which contributed to their resiliency… As a psychotherapist, it was amazing to see students who were struggling with fear and uncertainty in today’s world and watch them transcend it with hope, coping, collaboration, and self-confidence.”
FEL!X Methodology Is Customizable
From nurturing greater empathy to being more resilient, FEL!X offers six unique programs that have been developed and tested. All encourage participants to step out of their everyday lives and into the shoes of historical and literary figures, giving them a chance to confront a variety of challenging obstacles, as well as share their experiences more honestly and safely.
The FEL!X Programs are all currently available. In addition, the FEL!X team can help you develop a custom program to fit your needs.
For more information contact Linda@graffitiwall.com
FEL!X: Building Social Skills
Building Social Skills is a fun and playful social skills program for teens ages 12-17 to learn about themselves and engage with others. FEL!X uses historical improv to create a comfortable distance from which participants can practice using interpersonal skills to navigate the social landscape.
FEL!X: Building Resilience
Building Resilience challenges students to become more aware of their own implicit biases as they “experience” multiple perspectives social injustices that are exacerbated by historic crises.
Students walk in the shoes of figures from diverse generations and cultures such as a Taino Queen and Pope during the Taino epidemic, a Mongolian soldier during the Black Plague, or a Native American child during the 1918 Flu. In order to role-play, students must take into account each character’s personal circumstances and historical context. Students are then asked to answer the same question from their own personal perspectives.
Watch Students role-playing R. Rattus, a rat from the Black Plague
Students imagine themselves 30 years in the future
FEL!X: Understanding Social Cues
In the United States, some 3.5 million people now live with some form of autism. For many, autism makes it difficult to correctly interpret facial expressions and emotions, as well as show empathy, and that often causes them to be ostracized and bullied.
This FEL!X module is designed to help individuals who have autism spectrum disorder, since it’s been shown that autistic individuals often benefit from roleplaying everyday situations. FEL!X enables therapists and teachers who are working with the program guide their patients and students more effectively.
FEL!X: Building Friendships
This module focuses on helping participants become more comfortable with creating friendships by improvising interactions in a safe and fun environment under the guidance of educators and mental health professionals. During our pilot study we are happy to report first time friendships were established.
FEL!X: Building Connections In Israel
In this module students use improv to stage and discuss topics so they could better listen to the many voices that make up Israel - from ancient times to today. The module’s cast of characters includes a carefully curated group of personas that come from diverse religious backgrounds. This program is currently available through Makom Israel: The Jewish Education Project.
FEL!X: Bullying - Leveling the Playing Field
Whether on the playground, in sweatshops, in coalfields, or in personal relationships, there is often an imbalance of power. FEL!X: Bullying - Leveling the Playing Field encourages youth to experience one of Colorado’s most significant historical events, the Ludlow Massacre, from different points of view. The Ludlow Massacre, was an attack on striking coal miners and their families by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron Company guards at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914, resulting in the deaths of 25 people, including 11 children. The module addresses Intolerance, prejudice, bullying, and power on a large scale using the labor movement as an example. Students are invited to walk in the shoes of a wide cast of characters representing different, and often opposing, sides of the Ludlow story.
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