When I was little, I loved playing in our basement for hours with my stuffed animals, Barbies, Lite Brite and playhouses. I lived in my imagination creating stories and voices for each stuffed animal and was quite happy to play alone. That said, I would gladly put down my stuffed animals when my older brother came down to play “Big Bad Wolf” and chase me all around while I squealed with delight.
As I grew more social, I loved exploring the woods with my best friend. There was this magical forest behind her home where we would spend hours getting lost and bravely balancing over fallen tree logs to cross the creek.
Around the age of 5, I started performing a lot for my family by way of singing songs, telling jokes or creating funny stories to be enacted. (I still get teased by my family about my fireplace performances of Annie – the popular movie musical version from the eighties. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who watched that movie at least 87 times!)
Looking back at the way I played as a child gives me great insight into my dominant play personalities. And yes, you read that right. When it comes to play, it’s perfectly healthy to have “multiple” personalities. Allow me to explain…
In graduate school for drama therapy, I read Play by Stuart Brown, M.D. as required reading in my Creative Drama course. Dr. Brown is a renowned play researcher who writes about the benefits of play in our adult lives. At some point in our development (even sometimes as early as school age), we start to absorb the message that play is unproductive and a waste of time. Dr. Brown clearly outlines how play shapes our brain, expands our imagination and brings vitality to our lives. He argues that play can actually help us to be more productive.
One of my favorite parts of this book is Brown’s identification of 8 different archetypes of play personalities. Having language to describe my distinct play personalities excited me then and it excites me now. I’ve always yearned for someone else to help me answer the question, “What is my unique play style?”
For the past 18 years, I have been an actress, clown, playwright and drama therapist, and I could always point at those labels as proof of my playfulness. But despite being known as a professional “player” for the past 18 years, I still wanted to understand what made my way of playing unique.
You see, I often fell into the very human trap of comparing myself to others. (Has this ever happened to you?) I admired others who I perceived as wittier than me or more adept at dialects than me or more…(gulp)…creative than me. At age 40, I’m still learning to appreciate my unique gifts. The fact is, comparing ourselves to others only makes us shrink and ultimately disempowers our spirit. Ouch.
So back to the book and flash forward to present day. Dr. Brown’s book Play has popped up again as an inspiration for my new business and first playshop entitled “What’s Your Play Personality?” After years of working with different populations, with different ages, and in different venues from hospitals to schools to outpatient clinics to women’s centers, what I’ve noticed is this — Play is pleasure, and pleasure is power. I intend to help people harness their power through the pleasure of play. And I’m starting with helping others discover who they are as playful beings.
I bet you’re curious to know these 8 archetypes, aren’t you? I would much rather share them with you in an experiential way, which is the aim of my playshop. In looking at my personal play history, my play personality hasn’t changed too much from childhood. My play style has grown and expanded, but my most natural inclinations that I had as a child still remain when it comes to my adult play preferences.
Using Dr. Brown’s descriptions of these play archetypes, I clearly identify with The Storyteller, The Joker, The Artist/Creator, The Kinesthete and The Explorer. That’s quite a few, right? Chances are, you will identify with multiple play personalities and perhaps have ventured outside your comfort zone when it comes to play. Perhaps you feel most enlivened when it comes to playful competition. Perhaps collecting things or experiences is more your style. Or maybe you find yourself at the helm of organizing events or social outings, managing groups of people who look to you as The Director.
What I would love for playshop participants to walk away with is a better understanding of how they show up as a playful being that they hadn’t acknowledged before. Did you know that even something as ordinary as mopping your kitchen floor could be playful? How, you ask? My mom always sang or danced while she mopped the floors, for instance. You may or may not consider yourself a playful person, but spending more time knowing and expanding your play preferences will show you that you are innately playful and therefore, quite powerful in more ways than one.