Friday, July 30, 2010

“Work without play is like soup without salt” – how social games can be our teachers

This week I attended an inspirational course on social games, dance and music – and how to incorporate all these elements into the art of storytelling. ‘The Storyteller at Play’ one week workshop was led by Roi Gal-Or and Ashley Ramsden at the School of Storytelling at Emerson College, Forest Row, UK. I began each day wondering what wonderful things were going to happen to me and my fellow participants during the workshop, with a willingness to be open towards the unexpected and to be okay with uncertainty.


‘Laughter cannot flow if it is not allowed to be free and foolish’

‘We will be talking about silliness very seriously today’


I’d been working hard all year and was keen to start connecting with the little kid inside me. I felt it was time we all took a certain playful attitude to life with an element of saying ‘Yes!’ to life, a collective ‘Yes!’, a ‘We Yes!’ – it was time to play!


During the first day of the workshop, we spent time remembering all the games we used to play as children, and sharing these with fellow participants from other cultures and countries. The memories began to roll in, and the childhood games were brought to life again, games such as ‘hopscotch’, French skipping, ‘Finish’ – my most favourite game which I used to play on the streets of my neighbourhood in Lebanon and which I found out is also called ‘Thappo’ in India – marbles, prisoners’ camp, ‘what’s the time Mr. Wolf’, Grandmother’s footsteps, and many more childhood games were remembered. The week was then spent dancing, singing, playing a wide variety of games, reflections on these games and storytelling with play.


Social games can be great teachers for us; like good stories, games speak to us on many levels. In the playground there is an alternative world with its own rules and consequences which allows us to meet ourselves and others in new ways. Social games exist all over the world and are currently pushed away by digital communication. The way we communicate in life is changing, and we are beginning to avoid social games because of our lifestyle. All benefits of social interaction are being lost. It’s time to renew social games and bring them back in the playground with children and in all fields of life with adults. It is a part of the vocation of the storyteller to keep the wisdom of such games alive and pass it to future generations.


‘Fear is the smallest room in the house. Why stay in the smallest room? You need to spread your wings a little’

‘We have to play with our hearts and bellies’


Social games teach us many things about playfulness. There are many elements at play, including surprise, the unexpected, facing our fears, friendly conflict, secrets, being part of a team, feeling safe in a group, making noise, being anonymous, confusion and chaos, taking on magical characters, being silly, letting go, lots of different kinds of laughter, changes in breathing, movement, strategic thinking, making mistakes, anticipation, negotiation and decision-making.

This workshop has taught me how to bring the freedom and spirit of play into our daily lives. And as storytellers, this course taught techniques of how we can include a sense of playfulness in order to positively affect our relationship with our audience, our characters and ultimately ourselves.

‘I don’t know, but my heart is still with me’

‘I see life winking at me in everyone I meet’

‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’


Sometimes there are voices that keep us away from the main thing. We need to strive to find the moment of the day that was a gift, realising that moment of magic, and finding ways to integrate work and play in our everyday lives.


Finally, the most important lesson of this workshop is Rule # 6 – Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously.

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