The Art of Playing - An Activity & Rationale
The Pantomime Fairytale
One of my favorite introductory lessons that gets students thinking about how to tell a story and create empathy by communicating only with physical / non-verbal expression is centered in the art of play and creative expression.
Depending upon the curricular topic/domain, and the context within which this activity is placed, it could be easily adapted to be more or less specific to the fairy tale form, and could allow for verbal or linguistic elements in addition to the physical action. Any story could serve as the basic structure, and I have also modified it to use props/costumes/etc... or to allow for students to explore genre, convention, character, plot, or other story elements in greater detail.
It is important that students and instructors understand the intended purpose of the activity, and responsively tailor all elements (rules, guidelines for success, materials/resources) and the requirements for the process and product accordingly.
Within the context of this activity, students must engage bodily and think dimensionally about how to best tell a story without actually using any words. In this way, they must work on a transformative level as well, forcing them to re-think new solutions to old problems; and the more limited they are in terms of resources, the more inventive and playful they must be in imagining and creating all elements of the story for themselves and for the audience. There is also something distinctly childlike about the pretense of pantomime which allows students to connect and play in imaginative ways through this activity.
Playing with Movement
The art of play requires an abandonment of fear and a complete surrender to the serendipity possible in things meaningful and useful beyond their intended purpose. It is these unlikely combinations of elements which are discovered (often through play or in the midst of play) which provide new solutions to even the oldest of problems. In this way, play allows the participant to synthesize and practice many divergent mental skills simultaneously and without "trying to". Often the seriousness of "working" on something creative can completely squelch the joy out of the creative process. Games and play allow for more freedom, and limit the fear of failure--or at least make the mistake-making process okay. Students involved in play are almost always fully engaged and are often learning in powerful ways without ever knowing that they are learning, since they often assume most learning to not be "fun" and therefore anything "fun" must not be education!
The art of choreography, dance or the design of planned movement for performance or some other culturally motivated purpose allows the "dancer" to play on many levels and with many variables. All kinds of play are used in the context of choreographic design, including practice play, symbolic play, and game play. Practice play occurs almost daily when engaging in exercises, and I often use games designed like "Simon Says" to help students engage in practice play with various elements of dance or specific techniques.
In the choreographic process, we also engage in play with the many elements that comprise choreography---including play with lines, and play with shape/form, space, time/music, patterns, spatial formations, socio/cultural contexts, and forming new patterns from combinations of or by altering old ones. Like many other inventors, choreographers find themselves connecting things because they are there or because it serves a need. In this aspect, play with movement or lines can be used in the experimentation process for solving choreographic problems. When a movement or sequence is not working the way it should, it is up to the creative collaborators to play until a better, more effective or organic pattern is achieved.
Improvisation, spontaneous creation and play with perspective are also parts of the choreographic process, and in a theatrical construct this would include a variety of other elements of play. The symbolic play aspect is represented in the emotional empathy of the dancer/actor and the choreographer/director with an experience or idea that becomes a part of them as they move through space. This often requires a verisimilitude and suspension of disbelief common to all of the performing arts, wherein artist and creation merge and become one entity. Media interplay, human interaction, and play with emotional states and embodying an abstraction are all integral aspects of the theatrical dance experience. Furthermore, experimental choreography – playing with parameters, including the random or patterned mixing and matching of all things allows for the kind of combinatorial creativity used by many of the most innovative choreographers of modern times (Laban, Cunningham, Graham, Limon, Taylor).
Joy, freedom of expression, affective safety, confidence, risk-taking and a lack of fear of failure are all important to the playful development of choreographic ideas and details. This process also
demands a sense of openness and sense of humor, a kind of personal candor and a willingness to become vulnerable and not so serious at the same time. In short, when we play, we connect with the inner child, and often discover ourselves along with inventions or "new" solutions to "old" problems.