Enjoy the joy of play

Was there a time recently when you stopped to watch a group of children at play, heard their laughter and shouts of sheer joy as they ran around a park or playground, then giggling, grouping in twos and threes, began to tell one another pretend stories, untrue tales of grand adventures they’d imagined?

Did you marvel at the ease of “suddenness” as one by one they’d stop, wander off, maybe flop on grass, stare at the sky then drift off into a world of their own, a world of complete stillness?

This was childhood, a time without “shoulds” and “oughts”, a time of total unselfconsciousness, a time when we whooped and fooled around, unashamedly, doing that thing called “fun”, completely absorbed in the game of play.

As you watched, did you envy their freedom and wish you could travel back in time to enjoy again the looseness, the inventiveness, the free expression of those early days? 

The good news is, you can!  It’s all possible via the medium of InterPlay.  And there is an active group in Newcastle!  There have been two play sessions recently – each tailored to suit both newcomers and slightly seasoned players – gatherings designed to dip a sedate toe into the possibility of a couple of hours of wholesome guilt-free pleasure.

The theme for the April play afternoon was “Saying Yes, Saying No”; necessary skills that can always do with a ‘makeover’ from time to time.  With vocalist/teacher Trish Watts we learned that saying “no” opens up and widens the spaces in our lives, enabling us to say “yes”.

During the day-long gathering in May we explored the ‘deeper secrets’ of Inter-Play along with Trish and artist/improviser/storyteller Rod Pattenden.

I was blessed about ten years ago when a friend introduced me to InterPlay.  It was an instant love at first laugh. 

And no, I don’t roll about on the floor nor chase other players around the room.  Instead I listen to my arthritic knees and dodgy back and allow my body to guide me to do whatever suits on that particular day.  I let the wisdom of stillness, of stopping and gazing into nothingness, direct me.  I allow as many voices and stories that I choose to surface and even, as a well-known non-singer, I have actually opened my mouth to sing, surprisingly and spontaneously.

Intriguing as the simplicity and magic of InterPlay appeared at first glance, I’d always had a curious suspicion that there was more to it, that there could be greater depths to explore resting somewhere beneath that façade of fun.

Last January I was ready to delve into the deeper mysteries, exploring the wisdom of Interplay during a three day ‘Untensive’ in Adelaide.

With international leaders, Phil Porter and Agnotti Cowie, I learned the down-to-earth philosophy behind this form of “play”.  It’s an integration of body, mind and spirit using voice, movement, story telling and stillness interwoven with the challenge of creativity.

The group was large, around sixty men and women of all ages, including three from the Newcastle play-group.  Many had travelled from other states to take advantage of this annual event.

InterPlay is largely experiential, a little difficult to describe.

It could begin with a warm-up of gentle body movement, legs and arms, a shaking out of any leftover tensions, letting out loud sighs, walking slowly, increasing speed, slowing down, stopping, breaking into pairs with each taking turns with an “I could tell you about…” for thirty seconds, followed by a “This is what I noticed about…”.  Then with another partner, a gentle “hand dance”, then perhaps joining with another pair, using our bodies to make shapes around one another within a background of soft slow music, ever taking advantage of “stillness”, staying in that body shape for a period, then moving at will into another shape.

The theme for this year’s Summer Play was “Art and social change” and rough play we explored facets of social justice and hopefully found creative ways to inspire “change in our day to day world, for the better”.

I flew home with a suitcase jam-packed with highlights.  

One delight was being part of a group of five slowly moving to make shapes around Maggie, a woman with the face of an angel, who chose to care for her body by sitting in a cushioned chair throughout the Untensive.

Fellow Newcastle play-mate, Hamish McKenzie, found his bliss in the freedom of walking at his own pace among a group of comparative strangers, stopping whenever he wanted, leaning on someone nearby, then walking on again, if and when he felt like it.

However, I guess the most memorable for me was witnessing the potential for healing through the art of story-telling as experienced Adelaide InterPlayer Sappho, carrying a large and heavy handbag cradling her tiny black Chihuahua-cross, told us in words and action how ‘Tashi’ had arrived on her doorstep, limp, lifeless, unwanted, a victim of domestic violence.

As we watched, Sappho, speaking quietly, walked slowly up and down, using her whole body to describe her every emotion in vivid detail.  Some distance behind, a group of fifteen players, dressed in black, supported her by quietly humming and miming her every gesture. 

The simplicity, yet overwhelming power, of InterPlay continues to amaze.

Often during the day, I slip into the now-learned ease of ‘BIBO’ (as in Breathing In – Breathing Out’) to clear my mind before moving toward the next task.

Or sometimes I consider the possibility of using specific play structures as a means of tidying up lingering problems from the past.

But usually on play afternoons, I choose to do nothing other than skim across the surface, enjoy the joy of play and leave feeling decades younger.

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