The Importance of Play and Other Things

I recently took a class with 500 Clown in Chicago and BOY do I recommend that class. We were asked to fill out an evaluation and I really struggled with it until I didn’t. Thus, a blog is reborn.


The trick with talking about clown, or any kind of work that plays with humanness, is how to explain the value of the investment. I am certain of the value in a way that is totally divorced from logic: it’s like trying to explain why you would have children in a world that is perfectly well-populated and very expensive, or why faith and religion are still so important even though we have microscopes that can see things we’ve only barely imagined. I continue to pursue this type of learning with the belief that it is vital and necessary even though I can’t explain why. And I’m smart enough to know that the mystery is part of its power, so I’m not looking for the words, but I do want to help you explain the value to prospective students. Here is my attempt:

At the Grainville red line stop, on clear and early mornings, northbound trains cut across the sunlight that shines in from the low east. The train cars, and the space between them create this moving track on the platform as the trains race by: shadow shadow shadow, light!shadow shadow shadow, light!  On one of those recent clear, early mornings, a little girl stood near me and she began jumping over the patches of light as they zoomed under her feet. And she was so focused and I saw what she was doing and I understood the game and how important it was. And in five seconds, I was aware of the necessity of shadow to reveal sun, and actually seeing the world I am walking in, and the joy and power of relating to all of that world’s possibilities on impulse.

And I’m certain, once again, that until my morning commute starts looking more like a playground and my work feels like it consistently contains, at least the promise of play, that I will not feel satisfied. And it is something that I’ve known for a long time, and also something that is so easy to forget. I would recommend your class because that dissatisfaction is fervently alive after taking your class.

I would recommend the class because I always walked out less afraid than when I came in, knowing that failure and success feel pretty much the same if I’ve thrown myself in: and what a world of possibilities that opens up! I would recommend the class because it’s just so damn beautiful to have a stomach that hurts with pain and failure and death as much as it hurts from laughter. And it’s not easy to tell which is which if you keep making eye contact.

There are other things, mostly questions: what and why do I find myself to be uneasy and what and why do I censor? What is terrible about me and what is loveable and how do I bring all of that to my work and to my partner? What is life and what is work and what is play? When is a lampshade more than a lampshade and when are people more than?

It’s not, probably, the most helpful evaluation but the syllabus was a list of words scrawled across twenty papers: so what did you expect!