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Play in the City 2013

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Anne Dalke's picture


Welcome to the on-line conversation for Play in the City, an Emily Balch Seminar offered in Fall 2013 @ Bryn Mawr College,  in which we are addressing the question of how we construct, experience, and learn in the act of play. How is play both structured by the environment in which it occurs, and how might it re-structure that space, unsettling and re-drawing the frame in which it is performed?

This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that it's not a site for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking. The idea here is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

Who are you writing for? Primarily for yourself, and for others in our course. But also for the world. This is a "public" forum, so people anywhere on the web might look in. You're writing for yourself, for others in the class, AND for others you might or might not know. So, your thoughts in progress can contribute to the thoughts in progress of LOTS of people. The web is giving increasing reality to the idea that there can actually evolve a world community, and you're part of helping to bring that about. We're glad to have you along, and hope you come to both enjoy and value our shared explorations.  Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE

Anne Dalke's picture

Urban Gathering of us all, @ Anne's apartment, 903 Clinton St, 2R, 19107

Sun, 12/08/2013 - 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Samantha Plate's picture

The Postman

Samantha Plate

Play In The City

Mark Lord


The Postman

            I have never really had an emotional connection to a painting before. I found the notion of crying simply because of a painting ridiculous. How could a simple canvas inspire do much emotion? At the Barnes Foundation I learned exactly this.

            As soon as I saw one of the famous Postman paintings, off in a corner, neglected by the crowded room, I was drawn to him. Having gone round in the wrong order, this was the last room that I had left to visit, and I still hadn’t decided what work of art I wanted to view for half an hour. As I made my way over his eyes drew me in. The brilliant light blue contrasted with the rich royal blue of his uniform and hat. They seemed to have a gleam in them, like he was on the verge of tears. As I stared into those eyes I found my own eyes watering too. This surprised me. What was making me so emotional? It could have been influenced by the emotional day I was having outside of the Barnes, the Postman did not look like my granddad, but I found my mind wandering to him and the funeral that was taking place on the other side of the world. Even so it was very strange to me that I had to suppress the urge to cry in the middle of Room 2 of the Barnes Foundation.

Anne Dalke's picture

Man Vs. Corpse: Deep Play!

  One of the students in Mark's class had the idea that the talk Zadie Smith   delivered @ Bryn Mawr was an example of "deep play in writing" that we all experienced/received. I loved this example, and wanted to share with you a copy of the talk, just published in The New Yorker:

Mindy Lu's picture

Deep Play and 17 Boarder Crossing

After watching the show of 17 Boarder Crossing, I am curious about whether the experiences are real? I think so, because the stories the actor acted were detailed and vivid.

Thinking of the denifinition of Deep Play, I feel like that such experiences themselves are common play, but when they were acted as a show, they could be considered as a  kind of deep play, because they were expressed with clear topics and became to have art value.

Everglade's picture

17 Boarder Crossings

17 Boarder Crossings meets the ideal of "the live creatures" in that it's drawn from everyday life, and is in interaction with the nature. The artist finds aesthetic pleasure in the "vulgar", enjoys the problems and creates an order in the seemingly chaotic 17 crossings. Some say it has political meaning and despises the boarders that men set. But using "communist" as a way to curse and mocking small languages seem offensive rather than harmonious and unifying.

Student 24's picture

Barnes: The Art in Painting...with Music

"The piano transcription of a symphony loses the qualities of orchestral color and other relations which give the symphony its unique form, that is, make it what it is. A part of the form goes when the matter is changed. ... In really good music, even the shift from one key to another makes a difference."

nightowl's picture

Borders, Deep and Critical Play

I think 17 Border Crossings had the greatest potential for deep play at the end when Pablo was crossing. That moment was not meant to make us laugh, but to have us be internally emotional. Everything else in the play felt more like examples that were humorous critical play. I think a lot of the time critical play leads to deep play and the live creature. The live creature almost seems like the emotional side of critical play, in that the live creature has more to do with being aware about the facts in your surroundings. Then deep play seems like you are more aware through emotions than facts.

clarsen's picture

17 Border Crossings

I really enjoyed 17 Border Crossings and was impressed with how well Thaddeus utilized his space and objects on stage.  It left me wondering how he was able to master so any languages and the purpose of the majority of the trips.  A few of the stories slightly reminded of my not so horrific airport experiences such as a minor delay when arriving back to the U.S..  I thought Thaddeus really captured the humor and spirit behind the characters through his use of accents and mannerisms.  Overall I was really amazed at how one man could transport us all over the world using only lights, a table, chair, and passport.  

Amy Ma's picture


The 17 Boarders was a very interesting show. It is very impressive that the man just used several simple things a desk, a chair, a suitcase, a cup, a piece of chalk and lights to present these different countries, even to let audience to see his show in different view( when he lied on the floor pretending to be sitting). There were several scenes that reminded me of my own experiences, and I started thinking about my feelings when I was doing the same thing as he was doing, and therefore missed a few things in that show. Also, it raised a question: if by crossing boarders there are actually no difference, then what is the meaning of boarder? Meanwhile if there is a difference between two places, should there be a boarder?

lksmith's picture

17 Border Crossings

            On my journey to see 17 Border Crossings, I had the opportunity to experience my own sort of border crossing. Unfortunately, this also meant that I was unable to make it to the theater in time to actually see the show. However, after some brief research about the show and about Thaddeus Phillips, I realized that my experience on Sunday afternoon, although less exciting, fit into a similar category as those told in the performance. Everything that was beyond control pretty much went wrong at one point of another. I was faced with the challenge of crossing the physical border from Bryn Mawr to Philadelphia on the SEPTA. This experience made me realize that sometimes things don’t work out as you intend and you have to be ready to embrace the challenges as they come and move forward. Although I was unable to attend 17 Border Crossings, my experiences this weekend were a good representation of the performance and its character. 

tflurry's picture

Dewey and Roses

Dewey argues that one needs to understand something, one must understand how it relates to the world around it, how it works. I find this an interesting idea; it is, I admit, how I like to think about the world. Nonetheless, I am not sure that it is always the best approach to a topic. I did not understand all the foreign languages Thaddeus Phillips spoke, I did not understand all the international interactions that played into his show, and I have not been out of the country since I was very young, yet I understood his work and enjoyed it immensely. Someone once posed an idea: “You can take a rose, dissect it, discover how it grows, why it flowers, what makes it so red and so sweet smelling. And when you are done, surrounded by shredded petals and stems, ask yourself this: is this still a rose?” While there is a certain amount of depth and interest to be discovered in the connections behind a work, at what point is it better for a viewer to let the connections go?

Muni's picture


In "The Live Creature," Dewey says that we cannot understand something without first understanding how it connects to and interacts with the world around it. Despite this, we are still able to enjoy it in one way or another. He uses the example of a flower--we can appreciate its beauty but we cannot understand it until we know how it interacts with the sun, water, and soil. Will understanding deep play allow us to appreciate it on a deeper level? Does knowing one is deeply playing give a more thorough sense of satisfaction or enjoyment, or does the opposite apply? I think that there is something magical in the mystery of deep play as it occurs.

Taylor Milne's picture

Play and 17 Border Crossings

 In reading 17 Border Crossings I can see all of the ways in which it is creative and playful, and very impressively entertaining, which I was not expecting considering there was only one actor and I had never seen a one man show before. I felt that the variety of the stories, and the intricate piece of lighting kept the show interesting and fast paced, enacting a great state of play. Watching the performance for me was not deep play, but I feel that for Thaddeus Phillips, certain moments certainly could be perceived as deep play. I think this could develop out of the great pride and work that has gone into this piece. The performance itself was playful, and stayed light and comedic the entire time, offering me a break from reality, without leaving any heavy emotions on my shoulder. 17 Border Crossings was certainly a playful outlet of creativity for Thaddeus, and a joy to watch for the audience.

Yancy's picture

17 border crossings

The 17 border crossings impressed me by its light and voice. When the man ‘stand’ in the train, the light on the ground is so realistic that I even could feel the time pass and the train is running. His languages, the Spanish, French and English show the borders between people. For me, this show is more like a critical play than a deep play. The critical players want to express their ideas about the society to others. But deep play, I think is more personal. I am not the player on the stage so I am not sure if he is in the deep play feeling when he plays. Although the play seems hard for me but maybe it is not very hard for him. There is a border between us, of course, I could not feel his feeling at that moment.

Clairity's picture

17 Border Crossings

"Reading" 17 Border Crossings was an interesting experience that surprised me with its creativity and expressiveness. I feel that I was experiencing deep play during the performance, and the performer Thaddeus Phillips, in the other hand, was playing critically.

I felt engaged  in the play and imagined myself being as a part of it as if I was the person that was going through all those things. Thaddeus used "you" as the narrator, which seemed like an invitation to us to actually participate in the play. To me, it was "an alternate reality". I was focused and had high consciousness and realization, which was a part of my definition of "deep play."

As for the performer's part, I could imagine that he was playing critically, in the preparation of the performance and during the performance, since he was thinking about how to tell his story in a condensed version by using simple stage settings, but to also express his point behind the story.

AnotherAbby's picture

Notes on Notes on a Cockfight

After reading Clifford Geertz’s Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight, I feel that Ackerman and Geertz have presented me with two separate views on what deep play is or could be. Geertz, an anthropologist, sees deep play within the people of Bali in their cockfighting culture. For a good amount of the piece, Geertz builds up just how strongly these men identify with and care for their cocks (a double entendre that, yes, does occur in both languages). After reading Ackerman’s definitions on deep play and her interpretation of deep play experiences, I was ready for Geertz’s writing to culminate with the relationship between the Balinese men and the fighting cocks as his example of deep play. However, the narrative went elsewhere, instead focusing on the betting processes for the cockfights. Geertz talks about how when the stakes on a bet are ridiculous, when any rational man would and should turn his head and save his money, Balinese men continue to bet, putting their faith, pride, and place in the social hierarchy before their logical reason. The deep play that Geertz describes happens more or less according to the rules of a system—in fact, it is the system that facilitates the deep play—whereas Ackerman’s deep play occurs outside any system. Ackerman also has intense moments when she feels deep play occurring, and seeks out those experiences, while the situation Geertz describes depicts the men as more or less oblivious to the fact that they are participating in deep play.

pbernal's picture

Food for Thought

I'm sitting in the audience, freezing from only wearing shorts and a wind breaker. I didn't have time to change after practice and I was completely exhausted and freezing. I came into the play with minimal interest. Once, I walked in and saw just a table and a man oblivious to the crowd of people walking in front of him, I honestly questioned the quality of whatever it was that I was about to watch. 

But that man, table, and lights, as simple as they were, made me forget I was freezing to death and kept me intrigued rather than dozing off. Yes, I loved like everyone else, his impressive talented accents and the way the personal stories captured the hearts of the audience, but none of this would have been possible without that hardwood table and lights that brought to life each border. He's a brilliant man, like Barnes, he took the ordinary and made it so much more beautiful. 

playcity23's picture

My take on 17 Border Crossings

I wish I had remembered to email Thaddeus Phillips about deep play. I will do it before the next class and keep my fingers crossed that he responds. 

The show still stands in my mind as a wonderful testament to serendipity, story-telling, and hope. Hope, because of Pablo and the unidentified Angolan man in the wheel-well. They were so desperate to cross these lines that they risked imprisonment and death for the hope of a better life. The stories that involved the Balkans, however, were so riveting that it discouraged me from going to Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. (I don't think this was the point). His skill with the languages was awe-inspiring. I wish I had gotten a picture with him. 

As for deep play, I know I was experiencing it because I was totally absorbed in the stories. I didn't check the time/my phone once. I felt tired and frustrated as he was on the train to Serbia when nobody would let him sleep. I felt goosebumps when he started his drug-prompted journey into space. Even thinking about it now, I fall halfway into deep play. 

tomahawk's picture

Experiment with Culture

I've been thinking more about 17 Border Crossings and its relation to the imagination. It's not merely that we construct things like borders, but that we construct our perceptions of cultures. Of course, he experienced different cultures, but often, his interactions with the border crossing guards would be very similar. In fact, I I would be interested to see all of the dialogues translated into English so I could compare them. When he goes to the moon, it's all in his imagination. He seems to think that by travelling he'll find this grand difference between different places. It isn't just that the landscape is similar at a border, it's also that people aren't inherently different. When you impose something like various cultures into relationships, it's easy to distance yourself from someone and create "the other." But, this "other" is imagined.

It's an interesting experiment to think back on the play and separate each person from their prescribed culture. It shows us how 17 Border Crossings makes us test our social constructions and our imagination.