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The Art of Play: Ways to Play Every Day with Originary Arts

[Image Credit: Originary Arts]

Nikki Shaill, creator and curator of new company Originary Arts, explores how we can all be that little bit more playful every day. Think you’ve forgotten how to play as an adult? Let Nikki share some simple ideas to rekindle your playful nature in everyday life.

Last year, I did a rather scary thing. I went down a slide in a children’s playground. And (wait for it, here comes the actual scary bit), when I whooshed out at the bottom I got down on one knee and asked my girlfriend to marry me. Glamorous and sophisticated, it was not. But an accurate reflection of me and my commitment to play? Yes.

My name is Nikki and I am passionate about the power of play. It isn’t just for children. Or extroverts. After working in creative learning and participation for 20 years, I’m launching Originary Arts this month. A new creative company inviting people of all ages to make space for joyful experimenting and play, whether through poetry, printmaking, paper cutting or puppetry.  

“It is a happy talent to know how to play” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, but as adults we often forget what came so naturally to us as children. Play can drop down our list of priorities as we grow up, due to competing pressures and stresses. When did you last play, I wonder? Not counting computer games or sports.

Recently I enjoyed learning more about why play is important in so many ways at Wellcome’s ‘Play Well’ exhibition. Just because you don’t love the idea of heading to Ballie Ballerson this weekend, doesn’t mean you can’t rekindle a passion for play as a grown-up. Like learning styles, there are different types of play to suit us all.

Here are 25 ideas to get you started. I’m sure you can think up many more ways on how to play every day too. In fact,  I challenge you to a game. How many more can you name in 3 minutes? Ready, set, play!

⦁    Play with your food.

Cut your sandwiches into triangles. Doodle with noodles. Make a pizza face. Surprise a friend with a note written on their banana. Pretend you’re a witch concocting a spell as you chuck ingredients into the pan. Have an impromptu indoor picnic on the floor. Swap your knife and fork into the opposite hands.

Not one for cooking? Play a game of ‘takeaway roulette’: order something you’ve never heard of/decide you’re going to pick the 5th item on the menu whatever it is/ask the restaurant owner to ‘surprise you’.

Eat your pudding before your main. My mum used to call these ‘Back-to-Front Dinners’ and it spiced up even the most mundane of menus. Oh the power of novelty!

⦁    Play with your shadow.

Lying in a tent at night with torches on, it won’t take too long before you try to remember how to make a rabbit shape with your hands. It ends up resembling a creepy crocodile instead but it’s still fun. Shadow play needn’t be just for summer festival camping. Your own shadow is a wonderfully reliable playmate. A faithful companion, come rain or shine. Well, definitely come shine. Like the eternally playful Peter Pan, chasing his shadow and stitching it back on, get to know your shadow self a bit more. Pull shapes. Try your best to escape it. They may be a longer legged version of you or have a strange shaped head.

There’s a reason why Olafur Eliasson’s installations at Tate were such a success last year. I noticed that whilst many adults were busy trying to get the perfect Instagram shot, it was often the children who were having the best time. They instinctively knew what to do in front of those lights and I was inspired by their unfiltered experimental moves.

⦁    Take inspiration from your younger self.

What did you enjoy doing as a child? Looking back to our favourite childhood pastimes can help rekindle our relationship with play as adults. I actually haven’t changed much since I was little. Doodling. Dressing up. Paddling in the sea. Making up stories. Walking along walls. These still make me happiest.

Loved building dens as a child, treat yourself to making a pillow fortress next time you have a lie in. Spent hours with playdough? Grab some clay and get experimenting. Or bake some fun shaped biscuits or a lion bread sculpture worthy of a Hollywood handshake. Imagine “What would seven year old me do in this situation?” and then I dare you to try it.

⦁    Play with words.

Road signs, shop names and newspaper headlines can all become games with a bit of imagination. Letters, words and language are ready to be scrambled, twisted and invented. Anagrams, metaphors, alliteration. Puns at the pub. The Countdown conundrum. Writing secret acrostic messages into work emails. Playing with words is a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious challenge for our brains.

You don’t even need a piece of paper or a pen to have fun with words. Try it whilst walking down the street or on the bus. Rediscover those classic games you used to play to make journeys fly by. I spy something beginning with. Make up new lyrics to a favourite song, no matter how silly they are. Get those synapses buzzing. Or if you’re having trouble getting your mind to relax, name things beginning with every letter of the alphabet to help you nod off. You’ll be zzzing before you reach Z, I bet.

[Image Credit: Originary Arts]

⦁    Make up the rules. Then break them.

To quote good old Mary Poppins, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and - SNAP - the job's a game!” If you’ve been to a supermarket with a toddler lately, you’ll know that even the most seemingly mundane activities can provide unlimited opportunities for playful games with the right attitude. You can make up your own rules as you go along. Don’t step on the cracks. Spot as many red items as you can.

A wonderful departed friend used to love teaching people how to play a special version of chess. She’d sit in a cafe and silently push the salt shaker towards you. Look you deep in the eyes and say in a serious voice “Your move.” As the unexpecting opponent, you’d ask “But what are the rules of this game? How do I know how to play?” And the joy of it was that nobody knew except you. Making the rules of the game up step by step, they evolved and shifted between the two players in that moment. Improvisation and collaboration are two of my favourite elements of play.

I’d love to hear how you get on trying out some of these playful ideas. Share your favourite every day ways to play with me via social media? You’re invited to the Originary Arts Launch Party on 23 February. It’ll be a relaxed afternoon of arty party games, playing with paper shapes and seeing what I’ve doodled on GreatArt’s windows too. Or come and get creative at one of our other upcoming events and workshops. It’s never too late to rediscover the joy of play.

Originary Arts: www.originary.co.uk | Instagram | Facebook  | Twitter

Originary Arts upcoming dates:
Originary Arts Launch Party, Sun 23 Feb, GreatArt, Shoreditch. Arty party games, vegan snacks and pop-up window art exhibition.
Chess themed Life Drawing, Mon 19 Feb, Queen’s House, Greenwich. Leather armour clad Queen and Knight do battle in a regal heritage setting whilst you capture the battle in sketches.
Sketchual Chemistry, Thurs 13 Feb, Sanderson London. Queer burlesque artist Rubyyy Jones poses to be sketched in costume designs by Prinx Lydia.
Half Term Pattern Play Families Workshop, Weds 19 Feb, GreatArt store, Shoreditch. Geometric shapes and mural design workshop for children and their families.
Paper Theatre: RA Late, Sat 15 Feb, Picasso themed playful paper shaping fun.
Green Man and Obby Oss Folk Late, Fri 2 Feb, Gunnersbury Park & Museum.

Play Well, exhibition at Wellcome Collection, free, until 8 March
Antidote, games and improvisation workshops for adults
Bureau of Silly Ideas, creators of controlled chaos and play in the public realm
Michael Rosen’s Book of Play! Jam packed with many ideas
Playing the Archive, research on the nature of play
Right to Play, empowering children globally to rise above adversity through play

[Image Credit: Originary Arts]

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