I have been really interested in the medium of ‘playscapes’ of late. Creating a setting, that participants can play within, in their own way. The ‘activity’ is self guided or at least very free and loose. There is an invitation into the setting and activity that frames the context and gives people the permission to get involved and play.
Bocadalupa have been creating playscapes for the Harbour Festival for several years now and I invited them to share their ‘Bee garden’ with an adoptive families group I work with. The Bee Garden consisted of some loose ‘fencing’ to guide people into the space; a teepee containing loose parts objects- painted pebbles; bee costumes; ‘fairy doors’ containing bee facts and a space for making miniature gardens and seedbombs. A wheelbarrow contained soil with trowels and small bee friendly plants were provided along with other natural materials and Clay was also provided.
From the outset the space created was welcoming, calm and warm. It was a quiet setting by it’s very nature and throughout the afternoon children and adults came and created miniature gardens, read about bees and biodiversity, pottered within the teepee and enjoyed a relaxing, creative time. The gardens were a superb focus, each ‘gardener’ given a small cardboard box- a 3D picture frame to fill with their own unique little worlds. The bee costumes were quickly filled with small boys who spent the afternoon buzzing around on bikes to great delight, expanding the world of the bee garden to fill the whole outdoor space. Amy Rose, from Bocadalupa told me that even at Harbourside Festival, with thousands of people around, the Bee Garden was a calm, quiet space. A wide variety of play experiences took place in our afternoon and that is the joy of playscapes- a few suggestions are made and the players will create their own content.
I was recently invited to run a workshop for a local youth charity. I was given free range with what the session might be so I decided to use it as an opportunity to develop playscapes with adults as a creative team-building exercise. I want to make my playscapes more overtly themed, or situated in a specific world, so I chose to work with a storybook maritime landscape. I arrived with a car load of junk from Scrapstore, split the group into small teams and handed out titles that fit the theme: Pirate Ship, Desert Island, Sea Monster, Galleon, Harbour, Whirlpool. Each team then set about creating their thing. Once everything was built the invitation was given. “What happens now?” I had hoped that a wonderful story would immediately unfold but the invitation did need a little more steering. “We have a pirate ship and a galleon. Who…” “The pirates attack the galleon!!” came the interjection, and we were off. A game unfolded between the different areas. Sailors were left on desert islands, treasure was robbed and sea monsters were fed with pirates. A final few made it to the harbour alive and started a new life, free from the terror of the high seas. It was a fun morning and the level of making from the players was brilliant. They were a very open, creative group and they really committed to the play so I’ll be interested to develop the ideas with less naturally outgoing participants. The play was less free flowing than I had imagined however and I’d like to run the same exercise with children and see if it is adult inhibition that creates obstacles or if other invitations are needed. Creating the space that we played in felt like a good thing, but I want to give much m
ore time to the playing within to allow for free, open play experiences to happen. I’m also considering supplying a loose maritime set and inviting people to play there for an afternoon.
ROMANS! features a Mini Colosseum playscape and I’m looking forward to seeing how people play within that world and physical invitations can be developed over time.