The Art of Play by Creatively Independent
I have known Jess Pillmore since our college days at Florida State in the illustrious theater program that has churned out quite a few Broadway stars and a shit load of us on TV. Jess was this powerhouse choreographer and director, far too wise for most of the student body and I was lucky to be her side kick during the development of our creative paths.
Let’s just say we bonded really well both on and off the stage.
So when I got a message from her about a year ago to come and join her and her family to camp out for 8 days on their farm in Virginia, I said yes without hesitation. Wait, I know I said it in my Floridian swamp twang, more like an “Oh hell yeah! Woohoo!” Then broke out the Rolling Rock and threw it in the street. I did say I went to FSU, right?
So this past July, I was picked up by one of the retreat participants named Anne to drive 9 hours to our camping destination.
I have to mention, I really had no idea what we were going to do during the retreat. Chris Beaulieu, Jess’ husband, just called it PLAY and since it was named PLAY, I thought we would be just playing. How cool is that? Once I found out we were camping all 8 days, well I survived 8 days in Black Rock City dodging art cars and dust storms all the while using port a potties with glow bracelets as flashlights! I can handle an easy camp set up on a farm.
Anne was this delightful upstate earth momma who knew Chris back in their Shakespeare days. So we spent 9 hours talking about theater, art and life as we mutually bonded over our connections to Jess and Chris. For me, it was a perfect segue into the retreat experience.
What we did
We drove into the open arms of the Creatively Independent family with a marvelous banner marking the drive port and hugs from our new community made of participants ranging from the age of 11 months to 50 years in horse years. Yeah, there were horses on their beautiful, expansive land that melted away any of that city stress just by their presence. I have spent a long time in New York but at my core I am country.
I brought a tent that still had the Playa dust in the corners and a defused glow light stuck to a red boa feather giving it the perfect fit for this mystery boot camp. I was ready for the unexpected and welcomed whatever they were going to throw at us…as long as I got my naps in I was good to go!
Now I am not going to spoiler alert the stuff we did too much since the retreat was a beta test and out of respect for Jess & Chris, I am going to only going to give you enough to make you want to go.
It was truly an immersive experience. Our first day was an explosion of energy, filled with physical exertion to the 10th, no wait 11th degree. We were thrown into a complete mind/body game exercise, beginning with a check in, and then taking us to free write and then a few hours of sweaty creative group challenges that were both fun and hard. Like really hard. So hard I was out of breathe and needed to revert into the fetal position kind of hard.
This intensified throughout the week, so I was really grateful for the hour and a half long lunch break to recharge my body and give my mind a break to process the work we were doing. I never knew how Double Dutch jump rope would piss me off, but once I got it ( a few days later) the payoff was filled with cheers and sweat.
Yes, it was hard work to play the way that we did. Once we dove deeper into psychological exercises and hive mind activities each day, it became very clear that it takes a lot of work to let go and be creative. Using your imagination is active. Your brain needs to play for its cognitive development. But it has to be activated and it takes practice. Science even backs this:
Stuart Brown, a pioneer in the research of play who first stumbled on the link between the lack of play in murders, says:
“I have gathered and analyzed thousands of case studies that I call play histories. I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.”
― Stuart Brown, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
What Chris and Jess have done is bring scientific theory and made it a week long program in their home. A glorious, transformative week of getting back to being a kid. A brilliant addition to this retreat was that they included their beautiful children in all that we did. For me, it was the essential element of the work. Their kids were always attracted to the interesting parts of what was happening and in many ways they were our little guides on where to go next. That allowed me to change gears when I wanted to go inward on something that made me feel uncomfortable and judgmental. Seeing them light up and laugh made it easy to be free and find the fun in it.
What we did in the workshops transferred into the “off” hours of breakfast, lunch and dinner. We cooked together, played games outside of being in their gorgeous workshop space (which we affectionately called it the Toy Box) and laughed and got real during our campfire wind downs. This became a true communal engagement all week. Nicknames were formed and we shared that intimate look as if we had known each other all our lives.
The retreat was not just for the 10 people during our 8 days there but for a bigger purpose in our lives. We are creative soldiers with a mission to infuse the art of play in every second of our waking life. They just gave us the tools to do that. All we have to do is use them.
Examples of our hard work at play
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of hour of play than in a year of conversation” –Plato
Where can you do this
I do know they are now in the planning stages of the next retreat and I highly recommend getting on their mailing list for anything that they do. They are also teaching artists that make house calls all over the country. I promise you won’t regret having them over.