© 2019 Pat McAndrew

  • Pat McAndrew

The Play Thing


“Every good idea and all creative work are the offspring of the imagination, and have their source in what one is pleased to call infantile fantasy. Not the artist alone, but every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy. The dynamic principle of fantasy is ‘play,’ a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.”


How about that? That’s a quote from Carl Jung, who was a reputable Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. And let me tell you, I think he knew a thing or two about life.


Play is the foundation of all creativity and imagination. Without it, we, as a society, wouldn’t have come up with the amazing ideas that exist in today’s world. I think that play is an immensely underestimated skillset. Skillset? Play is a skillset? I believe it is becoming such. Children know the ways of play; to be so caught up in an activity that you completely forget your surroundings. We lose track of time when enjoying ourselves in play. But I find that a necessary recess from the hustle and bustle of everyday life is almost extinct in a world so caught up in the stresses of the work day.


Theatre, in several ways, is an extension of play. Actors are portraying characters onstage who are often unlike themselves. They may have to say things or do things that would be out of the performer’s character. But the essence of play is there. The listening, the awareness of one’s surroundings. My fellow actors can attest that you are screwed if you or your scene partner is not paying attention to the scene. If you aren’t paying attention, then the audience isn’t paying attention.


Why do we not pay attention in our real lives? Why aren’t we more attuned to our surroundings like the actor in a fantasy world? Perhaps it’s a lack of play. A doctor by the name of Stuart Brown wrote this incredible book called PLAY: How It Shapes the Brian, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. In it, he talks about how essential play is to our daily lives. He quotes, “Play is the vital essence of life! It is what makes life lively!”


It is no surprise then that so many of us in the world believe we don’t have lively lives. The hum-drum of everyday weighs on our shoulders, trekking to our 9 to 5 in a miserable state, especially on Mondays. Is this because the work establishments do not ingrain enough play and creativity within the workdays?

Many would argue that play and work are opposites, though Dr. Brown would disagree. He says, “The opposite of play is depression.” Work and play cannot thrive without each other. Creativity is the source of all-growth. Dr. Brown goes on to say that many adults struggle to understand the importance of play due to the lack of it in our own lives. We therefore reject the potential benefits of play. We turn to our electronic devices instead in a world that seemingly offers us everything.


And this is why play is so essential in the 21st century. With more and more people being attached to their smartphones and the like, less and less people are actively participating in play. Whether it be performing in a play or playing a sport or even playing with toys, the positive effect this has on our brains can be lifechanging. We need to remember to step away from our screens from time to time and just exist in another world that we create ourselves; not some virtual reality that is created for us.

Schiller had a very pertinent quote to this topic. He stated, “People are completely human only when they are at play.” This makes me wonder what we are when we aren’t playing.


What are your thoughts? Does play hold an important role in your day-to-day life? How can we remove ourselves from the drain of technology use and open ourselves to play? Comment below!


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