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A PLAYful Conversation with Olivia Hamilton, Co-Conjuror of The Silent PLAY Experiment, by James Scarborough

JS: t(〃⊙౪ ∩=)/ -(๑☆‿ ☆#)ᕗ ((☆^⌓ ^☆)╭ ((o⊙Σ ⊙。)m 「(;´Σ `〃)ヘ 「(#Φ益 Φo)∩ 「(=>o≦=)ノ?
OH: Thank you so much for the warm welcoming words, James. I must say, it’s pretty exciting to hear your voice after playing in silence with you for 90 minutes. But, on to your question – did we come up with the silent PLAY experiment while tripping on acid? No. The silent PLAY experiment is the culmination of five years of smaller PLAY experiences that our creative collective has produced in LA and NYC.
The concept of PLAY had a grassroots birth in my old 500 square-foot studio apartment in NYC. I was 25 and had just jumped off the proverbial professional cliff by leaving the business world to return to my childhood passion of acting. Having been a consultant at McKinsey & Co, I was now sharing a studio apartment, and also a bed, with my younger sister Sus – because how else do you make ends meet when you’ve given up your salary to study acting? As someone who had so long identified as a “serious business person”, it was a revelation for me to discover that the work I was doing in acting classes wasn’t just training me to perform, but was also opening me up as a human being. So Sus and I had a thought – maybe we could get a group of friends together for a few hours with no particular “goal” and just see how creative and open we could all get in each other’s company within that time. We created a sequence of acting exercises and imagination games we missed from childhood and invited eight friends to a night of “play”. Those first eight people definitely thought they were coming to an orgy, but what ended up happening that night felt magical. That was the first PLAY.
Fast-forward to five years later and over 30 PLAY experiences produced, and you get to a 3000 square-foot warehouse utopian PLAYground for “the silent PLAY experiment”. The concept has evolved and grown of course, developing based on ideas and feedback from the community, but the fundamental mission remains the same – to give people a fun and stretching experience that gets them out of their heads and dropped into their curious and creative childlike selves.

JS: ~(。☉︵ ಠ@)> ~(๑ñ﹏ ⊙☆)ノ⊂(o•ิ▂ ñ*)づ ╭(๑ ॔ㅂ ਂ ॓)و ̑̑ ٩(╬ŏ3ŏ)و \\\ ٩(๑❛ワ❛๑)و ////?

OH: The hardest part about this whole journey has been explaining PLAY to people and getting them to try it. It’s a new thing and I completely get it – it’s hard to say, “yeah I’ll sign up and pay money to do something I don’t understand.” We’ve made some videos and tried to contextualize it – “it’s like sleep no more, but the audience is the actors” or “it’s a trip without tripping” – but at the end of the day, it’s the kind of thing you just have to experience to understand. Your piece, James, was actually the most helpful thing we’ve found yet in explaining what it is that we do and try to do. I thank the universe for sending as masterful a writer as you to PLAY!

JS: ┗( ●-﹏ `。)づ *\( *ω*)┓ ٩(•̤̀ᵕ•̤́๑)ᵒᵏᵎᵎᵎᵎ ೕ(⁍̴̀◊⁍̴́ฅ) ✧٩(•́⌄•́๑) (ര̀ᴗര́)و ̑̑?

OH: My favorite part of PLAY? I know it’s cheesy but I feel pretty moved when we have a really diverse group of participants and I get to jump into a marching band of 70 year-olds and 16 year-olds and see people of all different backgrounds dosie-doeing together. I also love converting the skeptics. We just had the legendary jazz drummer Clifton “Fou Fou” Eddie in one of Sunday’s sessions. He really didn’t want to take off his shoes (I don’t blame him – they were awesome patent leather loafers), and once inside the space I could feel his inner monologue churning: “This is crazy”. But he stayed in it, and by the end of the experience he was conducting the crowd from the DJ booth and drumming along to Cher on a child’s marching drum.

JS: ╭ (oㅇ‿ o#)ᕗ ╮ (☆-_ ⊙;)ゞ ╰(๑^⌓ ^=)ᕗ ヾ (;・﹏ •̀☆)b ヾ (✿>﹏ ⊙〃)ノ!

OH: Wow! No need to get upset James! We added that prop since you attended PLAY. If you come again, I will make sure you get time with the marching band drum. Can we go back to being friends now?

JS: ⌒°(❛ᴗ❛)°⌒ ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ (✌゚∀゚)☞ (★ ̄∀ ̄★.

OH: Pfew! Okay, next question please!

JS:ヽ(♡≧m´。)っ m(★⊙¬ ㅇ ●)ლ O(*@д o#)づ o͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡╮(^ ਊ ^)╭o͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡͡?

OH: How did I link up with my collaborators? Honestly, I ask myself every day how I got lucky enough to meet and work with them.

Kyle Kaminsky, like me, had straddled the art and business world for years and loved that PLAY was an experience for everyone that didn’t put people in artist/non-artist boxes. He believes, as I do, that anyone can be creative. After coming to a few PLAY experiences himself, he basically told me “I’m all about about this, I want to help”, and that was that! Today we work side by side as performers, creative collaborators, co-marketers – everything. He is incredibly passionate dedicated – and playful – so it’s simply fun to work with him. We also counterpoint each other well: my ideas can be risky and ‘out there’ (sometimes a good thing, sometimes not) and he has a more sensitive and responsible side that can pull me off the proverbial bridge.

As for our other collaborator – the mischievous, dynamic wild-child Ross Wyngaarden – he and Kyle had been friends for some time and had acted together in theater. Ross had once constructed a 30-foot space ship set for a friend’s birthday party – as one does – so when Kyle and I decided we wanted a bigger build-out for “silent PLAY”, Kyle thought to get Ross involved. At that time I didn’t yet know what a masterful builder Ross is, but I did know he was as playful as anyone, having seen him in the dance circle at two previous PLAY experiences. Although Ross came on-board only a few months ago, I now can’t imagine the organization without him. He’s an incredible artist and performer, and what I love most about him is that he truly is the character he plays in “silent PLAY” – the “Puck” or “mischievous Hermes” of the group. Every time I enter the PLAY space, I find him scampering along the rafters, hiding in the corner in a swamp monster closet, or creating new treasures and surprises for the guests. He is a wonder.

And then of course there’s Lorelei Nelson, who has been our photographer since the beginning and whom, believe it or not, I found on Craigslist. Something about her use of colors and ability to capture motion really stood out to me right away. She’s been with us ever since “wanderPLAY” (a PLAY experience devoted to nature) in Topanga two summers ago, and man does she feel indispensable. Not only is she an amazing photographer, but she really lives the mission: for each night during a sustained “week of PLAY” (an experience we put on last August in a pop-up space on Abbot Kinney) we organized a few months ago we would hold spontaneous dance sessions, and she stayed late every one of those nights to dance and move with all of us.

JS:O(o^O `;)人 Σ(@°xº♡)/ Σ(♡@﹏ @☆)ノ”Σ(๑+⌓ o。)シ *✲゚*。✧٩(・ิᴗ・ิ๑)۶*✲゚*。✧?

OH: Yes, there have been many other key contributors to PLAY. My sister Sus was my collaborator for the first experiences in NYC, and when I returned there for a bigger session two years ago. The first person I worked with in LA is Julian Walker, a yoga instructor who co-facilitated PLAY with me at Santa Monica Yoga. Ilene Feldman, Deborah Howell and Justine Karp have hosted PLAY at their homes in Studio City, Topanga and Soho NYC. Zenas Hutcheson joined the team for several sessions last year and helped us produce “week of PLAY”, and Melanie Mullen collaborated with us to design and facilitate the original “silent PLAY experiment” that we put on at Modo Yoga in Venice this past January. Matt Sweeney and Sebastian Lazaro Peters of Four Larks have been instrumental in supporting the current production and John Cuhna, Isabella FitzGerald Harewood, Lovell Holder, Jenna Jimenez, Ryan Ozminkowski, and Becca Rogers have all stepped in to help build the PLAY spaces. Many people have made PLAY what it has become today and I’m profoundly grateful for all of their contributions.

JS: 《《o(≧◇≦)o (۶ꈨຶꎁꈨຶ )۶ʸᵉᵃʰᵎ .゚☆(ノё∀ё)ノ☆゚ 癶(癶✺౪✺ )癶 โ๏∀๏ใ о(ж>▽<)y ☆?

OH: So what’s next…? Well wouldn’t you like to know? Actually, wouldn’t we like to know! I’m not someone who can sit down and create a master plan and follow it. When deciding what to do next, Kyle and I often just pull up our big list of ideas and play-dreams and have an honest conversation about what excites us most at that time. We’ve found that doing what excites us is what’s translated into the best experiences for people, so I imagine we’ll keep doing it that way. At a high level, our goals for this year though are (1) to share PLAY with more people; and (2) to lose less money doing so (maybe even break even ;))!

JS: ψ(๑∩⌓ ∩ ●)y щ (*ㅇ△ Φ☆)ノ ლ (#`ロ^;)> ꒳ᵃ꒳ᵃ꒳ᵃ~(๑°ᗨૢ°๑)♡ӵᵉ੨ᑋ✧ ✧*.◟(ˊᗨˋ)◞.*✧ᗯ੨~ɪ̊♪ْ˖⋆?

OH: Good question. It probably be won’t be until the fall that you hear of us doing another public experience, if I had to guess. We’ll certainly be active this summer and offering PLAY to corporations and private parties, but we’ll need a few months to conceive, design and come up with the next experience.

JS: ୧༼✿ ͡◕ д ◕͡ ༽୨ ˭̡̞(◞⁎˃ᆺ˂)◞*✰ (╯✧∇✧) ヽ(´ω`○)ノ.+゚*。:゚+ б(>ε<)∂ d(๑꒪່౪̮꒪່๑)b?

OH: I’m not sure if there will be speaking. There used to be! But we’ve really loved the silence of this latest production and how it’s helped open people up. So I have a feeling we’ll stick with that for a bit. But who knows. “PLAY in the Dark” has also been floating around my mind a lot lately…

JS: ᕙ (;`⊥ ^★)┐ ᕙ (✿⊙へ ⊙〃) ᕙ (❁^д ^*)っ ᕦ(;*Σ ⌒❁)ᕗ (gΦ皿Φ)g〃∩|*`・ρ・´|∩?

OH: I’m not sure what it would look like. I just like the idea of depriving people of a certain sense and seeing what that does to them. Maybe we’ll experiment with the idea as a team and see. That’s our favorite way to test exercises and ideas. When someone pitches something, we’ll often just say “let’s do it” and see how it feels. Better than coming up with reasons not to. If it makes us too self-aware or doesn’t feel playful, we’ll drop it. A team brainstorming session involves a lot of “Okay then you go slither across the floor in that mermaid blanket”, if you know what I mean.

JS:へ( ●`ㅅ `☆)ლ へ(。•ิ‿ -〃) ┗(•̀へ •́ ╮ ) ٩(•౪•٩)三 ⁽⁽٩(๑˃̶͈̀ ᗨ ˂̶͈́)۶⁾⁾ ₊*ˈ˚·(๑˃̶̡̢̥ ॣಐ ॣ˂̶̡̢̥๑)·˚ˈ*₊?

OH: The coolest thing that’s happened in a PLAY session? Man, you ask good questions! I’ve got lots of candidates but I’ll pick a recent one. We do this “conductor game” where one person is in the middle of the circle leading the group in doing pretty much whatever the hell they want. And last weekend, this girl got in the middle and motioned for everyone to sit down, cross their legs and close their eyes. We then meditated for what felt like 20 minutes! (It was probably more like 5 minutes.) My inner monologue started unfolding: “How long should I let this go on for, we’ve got to get people out by 8:30 PM and we have so much more to do…” But I restrained myself.

JS: o(*≧□≦)o (((\(@v@)/))) ⸂⸂⸜(ೆ௰ೆ๑)⸝⸃⸃ ⸍⚙̥ꇴ⚙̥⸌ ヾ(゚∀゚○)ツ三ヾ(●゚∀゚)ノ?

OH: So we let her sit there in the middle, for a long time. And eventually she got up and started snapping to gently wake people out of their meditative trance. And everyone felt rejuvenated and alert in a totally new way. It was hard to describe – and not at all what I had expected. This girl had made us all pause for a moment to really take the experience in a different direction, and in all its simplicity it felt radical and powerful and brave. And it reminded me of something I keep re-learning: that letting go of control and letting the audience take authorship of the experience is honestly the most thrilling thing about PLAY for me. It’s also what makes no two experiences alike.

JS: o(*≧□≦)o ┗(^∀^)┛ ヽ(*≧ω≦)ノ ヽ(*⌒∇⌒*)ノ ・:*+.\(( °ω° ))/.:+?

OH: Wow. That’s a profound final question. But the answer is simple: ᕙ (✿⊙へ ⊙〃) ᕙ

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