My experiences over the past four days have added to my optimism that we may well be seeing the emergence of a new progressive movement–one that puts play and performance at the forefront of the fight for a more just and humane world. I’ve been a member of The Association for the Study of Play for almost a decade and I present at their conference every year. It’s always a good experience to spend time with fellow academics that research, value, and proselytize about play. However, this year was especially exciting. The conference took place in Newark, Delaware and was a joint production with the International Play Association (a group that advocates for play for all human beings). While there continues to be a concern that play is under attack in many key societal institutions, there is also a growing interest in and acknowledgement of the innovative ways that play is being used to reinitiate development, to cross ideological boundaries and geographic borders, and to challenge calcified roles and identities.
My colleague Tony Perone and I led a session/conversation titled Revolutions in Play: Advocacy, Research, and Practice, where we introduced participants to a few of the thousands of grass roots projects that are emerging around the world including: The Miracle Project and the Hunter Heartbeat Method, both of which create theatre with people diagnosed with Autism; the Memory Ensemble that does improv comedy with people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s; John Bohannon- who began an organization called Dance your PhD; and of course The All Stars Project, which builds environments for inner city youth to develop through play, performance, and pretense. People were particularly excited to hear about the opening of the All Stars new center in Newark, NJ that houses the Institute for the Study of Afterschool Development. The participants were very receptive and appreciative of being introduced to fellow play organizers around the world and it sparked a conversation about how one goes about bringing a movement into being. At this session we met Seniz Yargizi Lemmes, a fellow improviser who lives in Minneapolis and has a website called YesAndParenting.com and Pat Rumbaugh who told me about Let’s Play America.
Of course in addition to introducing people to the work of others, I got to meet and talk with other play organizers.
• Martha Llanos is from Peru and she uses puppets to organize children to become advocates for play and peace.
• Kaboom! is an organization whose mission is to make sure there are safe places to play within walking distance of every child in America. I’ve known of Kaboom’s work for years now, but this week I got to spend time with Danielle Marshall, Director of Community Engagement and Shawn Lin. We talked about how the All Stars and Kaboom! could work together to provide leadership to other advocates and practitioners of play.
• I also saw Joan Almon, a good friend and the founding director of the Alliance for Childhood, and Fran Maniella, the co-chair United States Play Coalition. I continue to be inspired by the commitment of these two women who have spent many decades advocating for the need for our nation to make play a national priority.
All in all the conference was a great experience and, as I said, it confirmed my growing experience that there is a grass roots play revolution brewing and we have to keep organizing it into existence!