PlayAs you know, I’m a professional wordsmith. I take words and wrangle them into submission.

I’m also an improviser. In coming months, I’m spending five days doing musical improv in Brighton, and four days doing an improv retreat in leamington Spa. I’m also performing a 10-minute improv set in Solihull, and running two ‘improv for beginners’ sessions in Spain.

Those two aspects come together when I consider the word ‘play’.

Susanna Millar’s The Psychology of Play defines play as: “any purposeful mental or physical activity performed either individually or group-wise in leisure time or at work for enjoyment, relaxation, and satisfaction of real-time or long-term needs.”

Note that ‘play’ is appropriate at work as well as during leisure time. Wikipedia says incorporating play at work will: “Result in more productivity, creativity and innovation, higher job satisfaction, greater workplace morale, stronger or new social bonds, improved job performance, a decrease in staff turnover, absenteeism and stress.”

My day job involves wordplay, while improv unleashes my playful side.

Friendly talking horse

I was at The Maydays improv retreat last year, in a workshop about ’high fantasy’ – that is, a world like Lord of the Rings.
There were about seven of us in a line, each choosing which character they wanted to play. I was last in the line.
I think someone chose wizard, someone chose goblin, someone chose serf, someone chose Lord of the Manor… by the time it got to me, all the classic characters had been taken.
My brain wondered what I should be, and came up with “Friendly Talking Horse”.
Oh, how I loved being that friendly talking horse! Tossing my mane and chatting and trotting about!
In the scene, I ended up being the getaway horse for a bank robbery. It was, of course, utterly absurd, but so much fun!
Later in that same workshop, I was in the audience when there was a scene with a murder. I think the serf killed the Lord of the Manor.
When the serf clicked his fingers and called for his getaway horse, it filled me with complete joy as I got off my seat and trotted back on stage.
It delighted me beyond all measure that I could be the friendly talking horse again.
Improv is my happy place.
You can be as silly or serious as the mood takes you, playing along with a load of other people who love it as much as you do.

Child’s play

Birds do it. Mammals do it. And play is an essential part of human development, as it boosts social and emotional growth as well as providing opportunities for learning. At basic level, it stimulates teamwork, sharing, turn-taking and other skills.

Unstructured play stimulates creativity. That links with my day job. Noodling around with ideas often leads to a better result than cracking on in an ‘efficient’ manner. That’s more or less how this article came about.

Play the game

Did you notice it’s a verb and a noun?

The word also appears in ‘play acting’. Actors play roles in a play.

(Oh, I’m getting tangled with words now, but that’s how my copywriting brain occupies itself.)

And it’s in ‘game play’.

Games tend to be structured and often goal-orientated. Literally, in the case of football.

My friend Helen told me about a match she attended – the FA Cup quarter final on 19 March this year where Brighton & Hove Albion beat Grimsby 5:0. Yet it was a ‘sportsmanlike’ game with a friendly atmosphere. She said the supporters were singing to each other, waving inflatable haddocks and seagulls.

Well played! It’s how sport should be, well, played.

On the subject of games, I do love a board game. My brother recently introduced me to Catan. By the time we got to the end, I’d learned all the rules – and I won!

Gamification leaks into my business too, as I’ve published books on audience participation exercises to use offline and online.

Other definitions

If you have an Android phone, you get your apps from Google Play.

A playground is a place children go to play (although my nearly 90-year-old Mum loves a playground too. Try keeping her off the climbing frame!)

What do you do with a musical instrument? You play it.

You can play up (misbehave, or exaggerate the importance of something), play down (make something seem less important), or play around, play along or play by ear. Play with fire or play fair, play a part or indulge in horseplay. Plat at (pretend), play ball (go along with) or play back (a recording).

Those are just a few.

What this means to you

I don’t mean you should always play the giddy goat. But all work and no play makes Jackie a dull woman.

Someone I know died recently, aged just 54. He was a real bon viveur. A person who enjoys the good things in life, especially good food and drink. Literally, a ‘good living’ man.

It reminded me to follow the fun.

So let a little play into your life. We’re not here for long so we might as well enjoy it.

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