Play - An introduction to unplanning.

I am Billy Taylor – for both Now & Then Theatre as well as my own project, The Motion Pack, I play around with movement . And that is something I want to explore and discuss with you today – play.

What a word, eh? What does it mean? That’s what I love; the word has many meanings because there are many ways to play: you could make a play, play basketball, play on a Playstation, play with toys. But I feel this is missing something. What about the Oxford Dictionary? They know their stuff!

“Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”
— The Oxford English Dictionary

This is an okay definition in my view. However, play can be taken into a serious situation, it is just that lack of purpose, lack of an end goal and the simplicity (not easiness) of the idea. I would say play is:

“The spontaneous exploration of something with no known end goal.”
— Billy Taylor

This is a central part to how we (Martin Boileau, NATT’s Artistic Director and I) plan a nice, unplanned rehearsal: we will find a volume of games that may help explore a scene, develop an idea or spark a new neuron for the players. The important thing is half the time it doesn’t go to plan. And that is okay – in fact it is AWESOME!

Here is an example game that we recently used in order to explore the idea of a courtly love:


Sheet (adapted from Frantic Assembly Ignition 2016)

Two players hold as sheet. Begin with either end but do not let this be a restriction. Now they play. They communicate and try new things. How can you use your sheet to manipulate the other person? How can you say ‘hello’ with a sheet? ‘How are you’ with a sheet?  ‘I love you’ with a sheet’? What does pulling do? What does pushing do?

Notice these are predominately questions. Play asks so many. And we do get a lot of answer in return, however, some provide importance and some are just there to help our exploration. ‘pushing was quite rejective. What would pulling do?’

‘That move felt like it could be powerful. What if I were to stand closer? That works. What if I were to look there? That doesn’t. What if?’

What I love about this is the fact that you say ‘what if’ without any fear of discovering the answer if you just play.

I am reminded of a recent workshop by Lanre Malolou with Frantic Assembly in which we were in a circle – we all faced in. He played some music and asked us to shout out words that we thought of in association to the sound. The music was Telefon Tel Aviv’s ‘Sound in a Dark Room’ and words such as electric, charged, mechanical, hard started arising from the circle. He then said we can use the circle to ‘play’ as he played the music. At first the mesmerising dancer, Perry Johnson, entered the circle, inspiring us with his movement and connection to the music. However, on the periphery, I was bricking it – ‘What if? What if?’. I had the intent to explore but fear held me back from play. As more entered moving mechanically and playfully, one of my good friends, Ali Kerr, entered fluid, languid, moving to the rhythm of the female voice. He asked, ‘What if I used her voice?’ and then played. Some time into the exploration I plucked up the courage to enter the circle of play. To begin, I explored animalistics (as per), in my mind questioning ‘what if we work with the opposition of technology, nature?’. After those first three planned primal movements, I was lost in the play, with no known end goal. At one moment I explored the ape, the next a lizard. Then I was curious, then I was powerful. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder and had a conversation with no voice. Then a whole group of us seemed to liquefy into one big blob of movement. The feeling afterwards was ecstatic.

And so, I implore you to do something without a known end goal. Knowing that you want to explore a love scene is great. But when the questions are asked in the moment, in silence and not laid out in a strict count map, I feel the connection for the player and the game is extremely inducing of our interest. 

Billy Taylor and Jack Porteous during 'Tull 100' rehearsals [Louis Stoner]

Billy Taylor and Jack Porteous during 'Tull 100' rehearsals [Louis Stoner]

I plan to leave these blog posts with an image. To begin with, I invite you to this game I played with Jack Porteous during rehearsals for ‘Tull 100’. I held one end, he held the other. I said ‘play’. Who would have thought this could have unconsciously inspired the later game of Sheet? Feel free to contact us on info@nowandthentheatre or comment down below. 

Move, Explore, Play,