Friday, June 5, 2009


Today I visited InterPlayce. InterPlayce's explicit mission is surprisingly similar to mine, in that through leading participants in "movement and stories, silence and song, ease and amusement" they seek to "unlock the wisdom of our bodies and the wisdom in our communities."

In practical terms, what this means is that they've created a community that elevates theatre games into spiritual discipline. Perhaps "discipline" conveys the wrong tone. The experience is as open to silliness, exuberance, and spontaneity as it is to stillness, contemplation, and serious conversation.
The space is essentially a dance studio in the heart of Oakland. A variety of objects ranging from a Virgin Mary votive candle in a singing bowl to Krishna painted on an ironing-board give it an eclectically sacred ambiance. The "InterPlay" class I attended began with stretching exercises for the body and voice. We were then given free reign for 10 minutes to move about the space in whatever manner our bodies desired. Much to my surprise, people actually took this opportunity to run, jump, roll on the floor, or whatever they felt like, regardless of what the people around them were doing.

This was followed by walking games where we moved about the space randomly. Every so often the facilitator would suggest we try various things like, "change direction," "run," "walk past someone and nearly miss," "if you run into someone, say 'Thank you.'"

We also broke into groups of three and worked on more intimate levels by creating a point of contact with our hands and then moving that point around the room, experimenting how we could change the physical nature of the contact and still remain connected.

Verbal connection also had a place in the class. In our groups of three we told a circle-story (where a story is formed by one person in the circle saying one sentence in the story, and the next persons coming up with the next) based on an object that we given.

The theatre devotees who follow this blog are probably familiar the the power of these types of activities to build bonds of friendship, trust, and repartee within a cast. InterPlay uses these techniques to create the same kinds of bonds between random strangers. And because there is no performance towards which the group is working, there is no rush to move on to something else. Instead, the simple interactions and random self-expressions are lifted up as intrinsically good. And this is what truly makes InterPlay unique. Everything is done with constant affirmation and celebration. There is nothing to criticize, because when play is done for its own sake, there can be no failure.

The combination of physical movement, touch, story, and encouragement is incredibly centering. Protestant spirituality has a distressing tendency to overlook our bodies. Personally, I have a lot of trouble praying or meditating while sitting still. It's in movement, walking, jogging, hiking, that I can disconnect from my thoughts and connect to the divine. InterPlay allowed me to access that same energy, but with a room full of people.

While InterPlayce has no explicit religious connection, I think churches would do well to incorporate their techniques into the the spiritual lives of their congregation. It would incredibly easy for a church to create a small group that did this each week. Who knows, there might even be a place for it within worship. Some churches have "prayer stations," why not a "dance station?"

InterPlay groups can be found all over the country, but it looks like they're mostly in Oakland and Seattle. Here in Oakland, they charge $15 per class, but every first Sunday they offer a free class at 2pm.

On an another note, the trouble with incarnation is that it ends. I passed an ad hoc memorial for a homeless man on the side of the street and was touched.

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