The Forgotten Art of Play

The only remnant of shame left to me is singing on stage. I can carry a tune given a bucket, even though I tend to slop a little over the side here and there. Truth be told, I’m a decent baritone. The quirk of it is that I have no problem singing in public, but when it comes to performing, I freeze. When I sing for the joy of it, I am belting the tune out, not caring of the opinion of others. It’s the lights, the stage and the formal audience that makes the difference.

Children make-believe without a wisp of self-consciousness.  They sing and act and play.  As we age, we grow inhibitions. People tell us what we can and cannot do, what we are good at and where we lack skill.  We lose confidence in ourselves and abilities, and stop stretching and risking.  I, like many, remember being a teen, and wanting to fit in so badly that I was willing to bend who I was and what I was interested in order to belong. I grew, and grew up, but I also forgot.

Improv reminded me how to play.

Playing is not perfect.  It is not consciously methodical, nor is it something that can be faked.  Playing is reveling in the joy of the moment and being unashamed of silliness.  Play is an attitude as much as it is a skill.

Some days, my writing is stagnant, and I stare at the blinking cursor, forcing words onto the page.  Other days, my words flow and I surprise myself with what I accomplish.  The difference is play.  When I’m “in a groove,” I’m animated and joyful. I take pleasure in the moment, in the scene or the blog at the edge of my imagination and at the ends of my fingers. I stop caring about being perfect, knowing that I can always edit later. It is when I make that mental transition from work to play, my productivity sky rockets.

I remember one of the only times I let go and sung onstage. “Nathan,” the older improviser advised me in a workshop, “It doesn’t matter if you can sing. Sell it. Play. Have fun and the audience will be swept away with you.”


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