Transformational Play

On January 31st I was invited by my colleague Cheng Zeng (pictured above on the bottom row holding a bottle of wine) to lead an improvisational play session with people who were quarantined throughout China. The last thing I thought of that day was that 6 weeks later I, too, would be sheltering in place due to the COVID19 pandemic. Since then, I have been awed by the transformational power of play.

As a faculty member of the East Side Institute, I began to lead free play sessions with co-facilitators from around the world. We had sessions with more than 100 people playing together across borders, sharing our emotions and experiences in a virtual space. I also ran some smaller play sessions with facilitators, coaches, drama therapists, activists and educators to offer training in how to use play to help people connect and build community during these trying times in our world.

A human resources leader who I had worked with in the past, joined one of these sessions and subsequently brought me in to run a play session for employees who are struggling with the isolation of working from home, away from coworkers and who were experiencing a great deal of stress and anxiety. This same HR leader introduced me to a colleague of hers, and when I thanked her she responded, “I’m happy to pass along your services because you really are helping people through an important time in our nation’s history.” This is the power of play.

Over the past few months, I have volunteered, along with an amazing group of play and performance activists, improvisers, clowns, musicians, educators and therapists, to create the Global Play Brigade. We are now a grouping of 160 activists from over 40 countries. We believe that integrating and utilizing play, improvisation, clown, theater and therapeutics into everyday life is a vital methodology for creating hope, possibility, emotional well-being and development.

Sometimes people view play as frivolous or about “having fun,” but I like to say that play is serious business! In play we can be who we are and who we are not/who we are becoming at the same time. We can be isolated, anxious, frightened, angry and upset and yet – we can perform. We can play with all of the difficulties in our world to create new responses, new emotions and new ways to come together with our differences to create a better world.