It came to me this week when I arrived at the end of a six-week beginner’s acting course. I’d signed up for the class to get the creative juices flowing in a different direction after years of sitting on my tush penning novels. But juice flow was only the beginning.
The class of ten was taught by a quick-witted sprite named Peter who led us in a variety of theater games. In the first game, we walked around like Martians exploring everything in the room, from the patterns in the rug to the contents of a fridge in the corner, as if discovering an alien planet. In another game, each student became an individual part of a machine, while in another we conveyed the entire emotion of a story through the mere act of knocking on a door. As amateur actors, we fantasized ourselves passing strangers on a park bench and learned a hundred different ways to say “yes.”
After each class, I went home wondering why in God’s name this experience felt like the greatest thing to happen to me since chocolate covered coffee beans. On the last day, I had my answer when I became fully aware of the only directive Peter had given us before each activity. “Don’t think about it,” he’d say. “Don’t plan, don’t try to impress anyone. Just go with whatever comes to your imagination or stirs your heart.”
Where the hell else does anyone in life instruct you to do that?
For three hours each week, each of us students stopped playing the part of pawn in this chess game called life and became silly, spontaneous and utterly creative free spirits. No longer were we frustrated artists, bored worker bees or stuffy corporate suits. We were kids again, diving into the sparkling pools of our own imaginations.
Perhaps you think I’m suggesting tapping into your latent talents and enrolling in an adult education class. My friends, I’m suggesting something far more radical: Adult play dates.
Think of it! We make appointments for our children to play with other children and take our mutts to dog parks to sniff each other’s rumps. Why don’t we do the same for ourselves? In a world of mass layoffs, natural disasters, civil wars, social isolation and everything else that makes grownup life such a hoot, don’t we deserve a few hours each week to let loose and have fun?
And I’m not talking knitting circles and girls’ nights out for the ladies, flag football games and poker for the gents. I’m talking hardcore, get-your-hands-dirty child’s play. For instance, get a typical household object, like a wooden spoon, pass it around with friends and imagine what else it could be. Is it a giant’s toothpick or perhaps the artificial leg for a very small goat?
Make up words and shout them at the top of your lungs. Pick characters out of a hat and act out their meeting on a subway platform. Write the beginning of a story and let your friend write the end. Eat a popsicle. Roll down a hill. Wear a tiara and a purple tutu. Pretend to be a gazelle loping across the jungle with your friend, a hippopotamus, on your tail. Do hippos even chase gazelles? Who cares? Now, anything is possible!
And run! Run your little tail off. Ever notice how kids just run all over the gall dang place, sometimes for no apparent reason at all? Don’t they look free and happy? Remember the feeling? So just run without a bus, a dog off its leash or a paycheck at the end of your path. Play TV Tag if you really need a goal.
Who needs that end-of-the-day glass of wine or even therapy when you could have a play date with a group of good friends? So I say send the kids to Grannie’s and turn off the tube. It’s play time.
And you’re ‘it.’
[Image from dumage.com]