Sometimes the best way to build team spirit is just to relax and have fun, says Ruth Markoe, founder of Theater to Go. Her company, a theater group with a twist, offers corporate team building murder mysteries and game shows.
And laughs. Interactive comedies “lighten the mood and help the teams get to know each other in a new way,” Markoe says. “We can produce unique shows to reinforce training seminars, tackle corporate issues, promote team spirit, enhance problem-solving skills, and promote new product lines.”
The activities are sometimes light. Markoe has teams come up with the paper airplane that travels the farthest, for example. “We give them three pieces of paper and some tape,” Markoe says, “and they have to work as a group to come up with the best design.” She did give a clue. “The design that always travels the farthest doesn’t look like an airplane at all.”
Markoe has had a love of theater since high school, she says, when she performed in school productions. But when it came to getting a college degree she took another approach. “I’m a pragmatist. I wanted to make sure I had a way to make a living,” she says. She has a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology from City College of New York, and received her master’s degree in communication disorders from the University of Wisconsin in 1970. She describes her time in Wisconsin cheerfully as “during the tear gas wars. At night the SDS would come out to protest and then the police would arrive with the tear gas. In the morning when we went to class we could hardly breathe the air outside our building.”
Markoe survived the ’70s, got married, and moved to Seattle, where she found a way to combine speech pathology and her love of theater.
In Seattle she worked in speech pathology and became active in theater, performing in plays of Beckett, Moliere, Brecht, and Durang.
When she moved to New Jersey in the 1980s she continued to pursue both passions. She still has an active speech pathology practice along with her theater career and founded Theater to Go (originally R and R Productions) in 1993.
She recently directed “Noises Off” for the Bucks County Playhouse, and she is also active with the Kelsey Theater at Mercer County Community College, where she has served on the theater advisory board.
“People think that Kelsey is just a student theater, but it is so much more,” she said. “Not only do they do great student productions they also have professional productions as well.”
The right program for the right team. When it comes to corporate team building productions, Theater to Go has several productions to recommend. She particularly likes to use a play titled “We the Jury.” The production is a live, audience participation jury trial in which the guests are sequestered over dinner to determine the guilt or innocence of the suspects. The guests are divided into teams to hear the evidence and question multiple suspects charged with the same crime, and after deliberation, decide on the guilt or innocence of the suspects. Each suspect is tried independently by his or her own jury.
Another favorite team building production is the game show format in which groups must work together at a variety of games. “The American Game Show Challenge” is a series of fun trivia contests and physical challenges. Some of the games include Whirl of Fortune; Note for Note, where teams guess the names of songs from movies, theater and television; and Tick Tack Trivia, where the teams answer questions in a giant game of Tic Tac Toe.
Markoe customizes each show, adding in a few names and facts from the group involved. “For instance in the game show we sometimes do a baby photo game where the teams must identify the baby pictures of some of the heads of their corporation or of the group,” she says.
Educating while entertaining. Theater to Go has also developed special educations productions. For several years the production company worked with the national Fire Department Instructors Conference as its creative partner in the production of entertaining instructional training vignettes that addressed significant issues faced by firefighters.
But whatever the show chosen, Markoe says the members of the team are sure to let their hair down once it begins. “Sometimes there are better ways to develop a tighter bond in a team than traditional problem solving. We allow the creativity to flow,” she says.
And since every team building performance that Theater to Go produces is light and tongue in cheek, “it helps people who only meet in the workplace to look at each other in a different light.”