Blog: Sian MacGregor on Creative Professionals Inspired by Play

11 September 2023

Photograph of a street sign which reads 'Beware Children Playing'
Photograph of a street sign which reads 'Beware Children Playing'

I have watched and worked in rehearsals for twenty years, and now I (formally) research them. Professional creators and performers were traditionally known as players, which immediately hints at a synergy with the wide world of play. Indeed, play is interwoven in all aspects of the theatre and dance works I witness and enjoy. In fact, when focusing on young audiences, play is prioritised and important, much more so than in work for adults.

Dancers in particular often use play as a starting point, a neutral and safe space to create and communicate. It is non-judgemental, throwaway, disposable. Eventually, however, these creative people are obliged to make performances, which seem beyond the reach of play. After all, performers and their support networks operate within specific, serious frameworks, involving schedules and finances: marginalising play. This is no surprise, as play is often disregarded or dismissed by the adult world – by comparison, it is no longer viewed as a legitimate or productive way of being.

So, how to retain and use play to inform and create in these circumstances? How can we bring together an artistic offering, whilst remaining significant to the youngsters who still converse fluently, often unabashed, and unapologetic, in play? To this complication can be added adult logistics, logic, technical requirements, and safety concerns.  The notion of bringing play to a stage is more complicated than simply overcoming your adulthood or trying to peel back layers to your own childhood play experiences.

I work with professional adults who aim to play meaningfully for and with children, for those children’s interest and joy. However, initially, these adults often find play more arduous than they had expected. Hence, these makers invite young experts in for advice and collaboration: asking for and incorporating children’s ideas and influences. Concurrently, they gain confidence to let go of their own carefully constructed, somewhat serious world, and instead allow children’s play to inspire them. And in turn, they all inspire me: second-hand play experiences – perhaps twice-removed, but never forgotten.


Sian attended the 22nd IPA Triennial World Conference in Glasgow during June 2023 - this blog is taken from her contribution to it.

The Scotland branch organised it: