The Joy of Play

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How can we forget the joy of play? Playing with your whole body (like tag) brings a greater joy. Working with a group towards the goal of fun (heart-rate up, eyes shining, smiles uncontrollable) is something I highly recommend.

I just started Drama Facilitator training with NAYD (the National Association for Youth Drama) in Ireland. And boy, I’ve had so much resistance. But I figure, if I’m there I might as well give it my all and so I’ve thrown myself in and been given a huge gift: experiencing the joy of play. The desire to bring more play into my acting drove me to create Story Haven with Amy Elise de Jong back in 2010. We created a drama/story curriculum for young people that encouraged play and creativity over performance. It was just what my soul needed at the time. Now nearly seven years on, I am getting an unexpected jolt that goes beyond my acting.

This joy of play has a broader application too – life. Yes! What if life is always giving us “offers” (a.k.a. opportunities) just like the best improvisation? As adults (and even as children) we tend to delineate between good and bad offers and more often than not we say “no.” So what if we tune in more fully to that little voice inside that is willing to dare to be different, to step out of our comfort zone and to take an offer and courageously say “YES” even if you don’t know where it is going to lead. I think we would all be surprised by what LIFE has for us. And yes, sometimes the offer comes by as a delay or a death or a break-up, and we should mourn what we need to mourn. But even then, maybe we should be asking, where is the opportunity in this?

And it doesn’t even matter if we get it right! Maybe we misread the offer, say yes and find ourselves on a completely unknown, unexpected and unfamiliar path. And that’s okay too. Sometimes getting it wrong is the disguise for inspiration for those around you, because this life is not lived in isolation and reaching out and saving a friend is just as important as saving ourselves! So next time the opportunity to play comes up, say YES, and dive in. You will not be disappointed!! Laughter is the best medicine and the great connector.

My Creativity Reinvigorated by Stories

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There came a time about eight years into my professional acting career when I was craving the safety and creativity of play. Somewhere along the line my sense of play disappeared in favor of my professionalism and pursuit of my “career.” I had lost perspective and the connection to why I love to do the work in the first place.

So, I decided to start a children’s program that would rectify that loss and save the kids today from the fate that I suffered. I spent a few months developing my curriculum, training (including taking a business course through Rising Tide Capital) and prepping for the pilot workshops. I was lucky enough to be able to use the church I was attending at the time, Grace Church Van Vorst, to run the pilot program and also met my partner in crime there. Amy Elise and I had gone to the same college, just one decade apart, and here we were in Jersey City. Meeting her was the saving grace that gave me the confidence to continue and she helped me develop the curriculum and expand the program. Since the program was based on stories and was created to provide a safe space to play and grow, we chose the name Story Haven.

AmyandAnnaWhat was unique about Story Haven was that though we focused on story and play, there wasn’t an element of performance for the parents, it really was story and play for play’s sake. Yes, the children gained confidence, learned how to respect one another and developed their communication skills, but most important to me was that there was a safe place for these creative beings to explore their imagination and strengthen their individuality muscles. It was beautiful to witness and to be a part of the Story Haven workshops. I still remember the sense of pride and joy I had when amazed parents would come up to us and share stories of their children coming out of their shells and of course the squeals of joy when we did the Funky Chicken.

IMG_20140404_121335As time went on it became clear that the amount of time I needed to put into Story Haven to help it grow, was more than I was willing to provide. My acting career, theatre company and money-making jobs took precedence. But then an opportunity emerged for us to write a Story Haven book – all of the stories used in Story Haven were original stories written by Amy Elise, Rev. Nick Lannon and myself – and we jumped at it. How wonderful would it be for Story Haven to have a life outside of the workshops. As the common element in all of our stories was grace, we were able to write a curriculum for Sunday Schools using what we had learned in our years running the workshops. We edited and added to the stories and woosh, it was published! Though it was a limited run, we received great feedback and decided this summer to continue on that path and to write new stories for another edition of Grace Space: Lessons in Grace for Children. Coming back after a bit of a break made it feel like I’d never be able to connect to that grace we always had when the three of us would brainstorm ideas, but in a recent session over the phone we were able to generate nine solid story ideas and were sent off to write three stories each.

I’m inspired by and thankful for Amy and Nick and for the reminders of grace in my own life. Story Haven came to me in a moment when I needed it most and I am so thankful for everyone I met on the way who helped me rekindle my own creativity and joy in play!