“Whoever wants to understand must play much” – Gottfried Benn
“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play” – Abraham Maslow
I went to TEST Nottingham, looking for answers to questions that had been with me for years: what exactly is dramaturgy or dramaturgical thinking? Had I done some without calling it that in the course of my career (answers: ‘ah, that’s why we have two days’ and ‘yes’). This photo, in fact, belongs to one of those times I “accidentally” did some, as adviser on dance, by for and with disabled people for State of Emergency Ltd’s professional level inclusive project, ‘Co-Mission’ in November 2015. It is of the climbing frame which signalled that I was almost at the studios, on my twice weekly trips to ‘Moonshot’, home of Irie Dance in Deptford. Surrounding it, are quotes engraved into the concrete attributed to the pupils of a local primary school, presumably its principal users: “ being an open space,” “dancing”, “cheerful” “energetic” “feel excited and serene”, “carefree”, “feel tranquil”. I wanted to caputure the climbing frame and words on camera as they summed up exactly what I associated with going to work each week on ‘Co-Mission’, one of the happiest, most fulfilling working periods of my life. I use the image here, because, entirely surprisingly to me, the childen’s sentiments are also ones I will now associate with TEST. What TEST ultimately defined for me turned out to be something of the nature and value – for me anyway – of engaging in Continuing Professional Development. Or Continuing Playful Development, as I may now re-name it!
As on a playground, TEST had substance, structures, tasks yet plenty of space to negotiate for yourself. There was a watchful or guiding overseeing eye, but intervention was minimal, strategic and often by invitation. Others were there too, within those structures, to encounter, negotiate with, converse with, emulate; to learn from just as much from as those who led you or the process itself. I had a kind of intellectual fun and left with a feeling of lightness, I haven’t known for years. And realised how important it is to me. Perhaps for all adults. And to remember to keep seeking it out again.
And ultimately it struck me that the climbing frame was also, perhaps, a metaphor for the weekend’s revelations to me about dramaturgy itself.
Dramaturgy, I thought, was going to be this solid structure to work within. Concrete, robust, the solid foundation, the strong jumping off point from which the ideas can then take flight…and, like a climbing frame, it is all those things. But what I had not recognised was what might be alive in the spaces in between that structure: doubt, bias, desire, distaste, humour; the possibility of stumbles, falls, catches, daring, chance….And all we can do is be aware of them, not erase them or pretend they aren’t there. And they make the process no less valuable or worthwhile. Maybe they enhance it. They are there, because we are there. We are human. Unavoidably. Humans being as well as humans doing (within dramaturgy).
One of my fellow travellers dubbed himself an ‘amaturg’, a word I loved and laughed at in recognition. I leave TEST still very much an ‘amaturg,’ I think, but with a new sense of aspiration to be the ‘humanaturg’ next time I find myself called dramturgically: to happily name out loud, in the space (or job ad or evualuation), my dramaturgical thinking, to continue it with the sense of care that came up quite prominently in discussion, yet with acceptance of my lack of objectivity, that very human susceptibility to enchantment that Martin offered us. And with space, repsect and value given for that most vital, funny and serious of all human pursuits – at every age – play.