The Power and Purpose of Play

Actor and Director Ben Hodge has been the acting teacher at Central York High School for the past 10 years where he has developed an innovative and fresh curriculum for young actors aged 13-24. This curriculum and workshop format is now available to the greater York area with hopes of training and leading new actors to the realisation that acting is a more than just a hobby or pastime: it is an honourable profession and a way of life. His connections with New York City, LA and local talent agencies are now being offered to anyone who joins the Studio classes and have opened the doors for many already joined. He currently runs classes and offers private acting coaching via Skype. Connect with Ben on Twitter or via email
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I am shocked at how much my children can teach me. My 8 and 6.5 year old can go down stairs in our basement with out any real set plan and play for a good amount of time with the cars, trampoline and music. They move, they laugh, create, explore, destroy and dance around the space with a freedom that is palatable.
Then there is me.
Sitting, no laying, on the couch tired from a long day at work. My kids ask me to join them, and I must admit that I say no more than I say yes. The excuses start pouring in: I’m tired. I’ve had a long day. I don’t feel up to it. I’ll just watch you guys.
Sound familiar?
And while those statements might actually be true, I’m not sure if they are really beneficial in the long run. What would happen if I took my own advice and said yes instead of no? What would happen if we all said yes to a little more playtime in our lives? Our work? Have you played recently…really, truly played? Have you put down the technology for a bit? Have you sat down with your kids, grandkids, nieces/nephews, siblings, friends, colleagues and played, imagined or created new things with them?
How long has it been since you tapped in to the creative child within?

Playing is powerful.

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You’ve heard of the power of prayer? How about the power of play. That’s right. Play. The state of activity for a recreational purpose and enjoyment.
It’s powerful because it can change how we feel. It is fun. It is freeing. It is intuitive and stimulating. Let’s be honest: we need more fun and freedom in our lives. So much of our lives are spent planning, stressing, over-analyzing and worrying about whatever lies in front of us (or what lies behind us).
Playing allows us to dance in the joy of the present.
Playing allows us to experience new things and experiences.
Playing allows us to see things from different perspectives and viewpoints.
To get the full effect of playtime’s power: be sure to play with someone else. Don’t limit yourself to a screen or game system. Be social. Get out there and interact with a friend, companion or buddy.
Taking an acting class? Find how powerful playtime can be by learning have fun with your work. The best days I have as a teacher are when I push the desks and chairs aside only to get right down into the fun activities.
I discover that time flies by, people are connecting and stress seems to melt away.
Furthermore, this play can lead to new discoveries and insight. Perhaps you are stuck in a creative rut. Switch something up. Play with new material. Try something new. Take an improv class. Find an acting teacher that allows you to play with your work.
Playing is powerful because it can lead us to new awarenesses and things that we didn’t know existed. Then we can start applying those new discoveries to our work. Playing is fun. Playing is powerful.

Playing is purpose-filled.

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The best type of play should have a purpose or goal in mind.
I’ve found that when everyone knows the rules or the purpose for the activity I want to do, the play is more meaningful. I think we see the negative side-effects of non-purposeful play in what we refer to as “ice-breakers.”
These are the activities that most people cringe when they are announced at a training day or first day of class: We are going to get to know each other? Oh no way! For many, these activities are “cheesy” or “a waste of time.”
The truth is: they may be cheesy, but they are not a waste of time. We haven’t understood or communicated the true purpose and relevance of the activities.
Ice-breakers work.
The problem is people often aren’t willing to play them correctly. They half-heartedly play along, staying on the surface with their responses and answers, standing back and keeping quiet when they could be speaking out. Then they complain about how dumb/boring the games are. They are dumb and boring because they are making them dumb and boring. They need to discover the purpose of the activities and commit to the play needed to uncover the joy and connection that often come with “meeting new people” or “breaking the ice” with new people.
If people have fun, show up, speak up with truth and honesty, the ice-breakers often are successful.
The purpose for play does not need to be in depth, full scale, step by step goal oriented structures. It can be as simple as: I’m going to really try to get to know someone in here that I don’t know or I’m going to share this moment of fun with my kids or I’m going use this playtime to discover something new about my character in this scene.
What matters is that we actually UNDERSTAND, BELIEVE and ENJOY the purpose of our play. It’s not enough to just identify it. Try it. Play works. When it has a purpose.
So find some time to play. Discover (or rekindle) the power and purpose of play in your life today.
Me? I’m starting with my two awesome kids, some matchbox cars, a basement and maybe a trampoline. And a willing and playful spirit.

About Ben

Ben Hodge has been acting and directing for 20 years in a variety of formats. He has directed several productions in York, PA and had his play REACH performed in NYC at an Off-Broadway venue in 2009. Ben studied English and Acting at Messiah College and received his Masters in Education from Penn State University. After the success of REACH, the hit play about the hidden issues of 21st Century teens, Ben started acting classes in the York, PA area and created Ben Hodge Studios in October 2009. His main goal is to bring a high-level, professional acting workshop to York, PA that is modelled after professional workshops with influences by Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner and David Mamet.
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