When I was a kid, there was a room behind our garage that my parent’s called the “play room”. It was an office for the original owner of my parent’s house, a bookie called Rocco Capozzi. It was a rectangular room about 8’x12’ with built-in cupboards along the narrow end, a built-in desk and door leading into the garage on one of the long sides, another door leading into the backyard on the other narrow end and two small windows high up on the other long side with a blank wall below them. The floor of brown linoleum tiles was cold to the touch year round.
Until I was 13, my brother and I shared an unfinished attic bedroom in our house, which stood about thirty feet from the garage. Then, I asked my parents if I could move out into the “play room”. In hindsight, that room and the solitude I gained by moving there set me on the path to becoming an artist. Thus began my 1st artist residency in the “play room” which later morphed into a profession in the theatre.
For many people, “play” is about eating, drinking, and watching TV or movies, listening to music, reading a book, or masturbation. Most of which is ultimately not very fulfilling.
But what is this need we’re trying to fulfill—this “play”? Is it a respite from “work”? Is it some need for restoration, some kind of taking “in” of energy and life?
If so, then TV and food and drink should suffice, but we know they don’t. Yet we keep trying the same approach toward satisfying our needs, expecting a different outcome than the boredom, ennui, or overweight that results from our repetitive compensatory patterns.
What are we compensating for? What if real “play” involved risk, fear, adventure and that was where life and energy came from? What if “play” is adventure plus risk, life plus fear, energy plus freshness?
We keep trying to repeat those 1st experiences of “play” we had when eating, drinking, or a TV show were fresh, alive, and new. But repeating a previous experience is death—comes from the so-called reptilian part of the brain—that area that needs safety, predictability, order, and black-and-white realities.
Nothing could be further from aliveness, vitality, or “play” than these futile attempts at fulfillment that often lead to addiction, boredom, or require higher and higher doses of familiar activity to reach the momentary goal.
It’s curious, though, isn’t it, that that’s the truth about “play”: it’s a moment, not a thing. It can happen anywhere. It has those characteristics I’ve mentioned like risk, fear, adventurousness, energy, life, vitality, and freshness. And it has something ethereal and spiritual at its core: presence.
This moment, right now, is full of the potential for “play”. Not the next one, or the previous one, or the ones we’ve tasted before, but this moment right here. How we attend to this moment determines whether it’s “play” or slavish boredom.
This is exactly the kind of dilemma playwright’s grapple with when writing a play. Whether comedy or drama, the plays we put on stage are stories that must create an experience of “play” where we drop all habits and expectations and are invited to be in-the-moment. Theatre is organized in terms of optimal levels of arousal. What better place to play than in the “play room” for adults?