One of my teaching artist mentors introduced me to the magical power of “The Soapbox.” This activity gives participants the chance to stand on a box and rant about any topic they want for a full minute. No one will interrupt them. The floor is theirs for that minute and, in the words of Sara Bareilles, they get to “say what they want to say and let the words fall out.” This activity can lay the groundwork for writing compelling personal monologues, but it it can also simply be a cleansing opportunity to release something that we might otherwise suppress. It is a chance to be heard.
There are positive and negative rants. What would happen if, instead of shushing a child (or adult) who wants to rant about how much they love the movie Frozen, we let them pour their hearts out and belt “Let It Go” without eye rolling for a window of time? What if we let them get it all out of their system? Sure, it wouldn’t mean that they wouldn’t want to rant again some other time, but what a gift it would be if we could just shut up and let someone else radiate their love for something as loudly as they want.
As for the negative rants–sure we don’t want to get bogged down by other peoples’ pet peeves and hobby horses, but what if we gave them the gift of an uninterrupted moment to let out the frustration and poison that they’ve felt compelled to hold in? It isn’t celebrating negativity to let someone just talk about it. And it’s more than letting them talk. You are listening. And that matters.
The magic often comes from the listeners. They don’t interrupt, but they do laugh. They clap. They cry. They “hmmm mmm” and “YES!” and nod their heads vigorously. They listen passionately as the speaker rants passionately and for a precious minute–everyone is in it–whatever it is–together. Even if all of the listeners don’t agree with what the speaker says, they still listen and that is almost more powerful. With all of that listening and all of that release, the speakers shine.
To be clear, ranting is not something we should just do whenever we want. There is a time and a place for releasing what we bottle up inside. That is why this activity works. It creates a constructive environment for the participants to speak and listen. There is safety and comfort in the time limit, in the fact that it’s just a flow of consciousness and not a carefully rehearsed speech, and the benefit of ranting to a group of people is that they will respond only to parts of the rant that resonate with them. Audiences are honest. Speakers can sense from their audience whether or not what they are saying hits home. The parts that don’t land, that don’t seem to light up the listeners, might need to be examined more closely. This activity isn’t just about catharsis. It’s about speaking, listening, and really examining what we care about and why.
Sometimes, it’s tough to give voice to what matters most to us. I have used this Soapbox Activity several times and every time the students are reluctant to rant at first. I don’t have anything to rant about. Do I have to do this? I don’t get it. What’s the point? A whole minute?! Then they speak. They listen. And before you know it, they’re whistling a different tune. Can I go again? Is the session really over? Can we do this more often? And I hope that they do choose to do it again sometime–even without me there to oversee the process.