The Power of Play: Escape From the Tyranny of Technique

Today we’re featuring a guest post from the multi-talented InterPlay leader Kate Arms-Roberts, who will share insights on creativity and on what the heck InterPlay is.

Picasso spoke of taking a lifetime to learn to paint like a child. There is a developmental pattern common to many creatives. Early in creative development, interest and inspiration combine playfully and exuberant early works are created, without regard to technique. At some point, the budding artist becomes conscious of a desire to improve and some form of technical training begins. Studying the technical elements of craft can transform creation from play into work. Creation becomes serious business.

All my life, creative imaginings have exploded from me – as stories, poems, dances and plays. Somewhere along the line, I learned that art-making can be taught, that there are techniques dancers, writers and actors should master. And, I applied myself to learning the techniques or dropped the art form. There was no middle ground. The joy disappeared. And, the product was less interesting to the audience. I needed to put play back into my creative life.

In my quest, I found InterPlay, a boon to recovering serious creatives everywhere.

InterPlay is a fun way of integrating all the parts of your life, a sanctuary for those who seek to be spontaneous, affectionate, open to truth, playful and real. The foundations of InterPlay are simple improvisational practices using song, story, silence, dance and community and a set of principles that can be applied to any moment in life.

My first exposure to InterPlay was a class called Dance and Social Action. Class started with a brief physical warm-up that involved nothing more challenging than bending from the waist. We were invited to “walk around the room,” then to break up the walking with some stopping. After some walking and stopping, we were invited to run if we liked. Then, the instructor said, “I’m going to put on some music. I invite you to play with walking, stopping, running and each other.” Little did I realize that my life was about to change.

I learned early how to be a good student, how to follow directions. So, I dutifully walked, stopped, and ran. And I observed.

What I saw freaked me out.

There were people in the room spinning, linking arms and twirling, leaping, sitting on the floor, and more. What were they doing? Hadn’t they heard the instructions?

When the music was over, we were invited to “notice what that was like.” What I noticed was my mind screaming, “We were only supposed to walk, stop, and run. What about all those people who weren’t following the directions?” Another student voiced my thoughts and the teacher responded, “How did that make you feel?” I felt jealous and angry and confused. And, subtly, in the presence of this teacher who did not condemn those wild movers, something in me started to melt.

It turned out that the people who were playing wildly were the experienced InterPlayers; it was okay to play with breaking the rules; part of the point of the class was that having fun and playing in our bodies is a powerful form of social action.

And so began my journey with this fabulous tool for engaging with play for play’s sake.

InterPlay forms bring out people’s creativity playfully. Any technique you have can be put to use in the InterPlay forms, but technique is unnecessary. I have witnessed people who never thought they could move discovering a dancer inside themselves, professional dancers celebrating the sheer ability to move their bodies without the confines of choreography, people who struggle to find words improvising achingly moving poetry, and poets who agonize over every syllable of their published words revelling in the freedom of creating a poem that dissolves into memory with the speaking of it. And I have found my own voice.

I am a storyteller. I use written words and performances to create art. The storytelling forms of InterPlay loosen me up. When I struggle to make the words tell my story, Babbling in a Made-up Language releases me from the pressure of precision. When I am running over with ideas, I Could Talk About is a form that gets the ideas out without requiring me to do anything with them; I just have to list them. If my body is stiff or my words are stilted, I can shake things up by telling Big Body Stories that involve movement or dance as well as words.

Improvisational play deepens my connection with the source of my creativity and loosens the stranglehold my internal editor can have over my work. It is fun and my work benefits. I can’t lose as long as I keep playing.

Kate Arms-Roberts is a writer, actor, director, and InterPlay leader. She writes about writing, play, and life at and tweets about play as @MorePlayful. Her latest venture is, a web-based resource encouraging play in all forms.

16 thoughts on “The Power of Play: Escape From the Tyranny of Technique

  1. Kate,

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post. I loved reading it. My only problem was I wanted to get up and move while reading it! Hard to operate the mouse that way…

    It’s great having you here on The Artist’s Road!


  2. What an inspiring post! “And I have found my own voice.” That’s it–when I can let go and allow myself to play, I am who I am. I see the same thing in my college students (engineers) when I find ways for them to do in-class work with LEGOs. It’s a joy to see.

    Thank you, Kate and Patrick, for a playful start to my day.


    1. Oh my goodness, how I love LEGOs. Was just lusting after some of the new series at a LEGO store the other day (they have Egyptian pyramid sets now!). On my last birthday, I told my wife and kids I wanted to celebrate by having all four of us build whatever crazy thing came to mind with LEGOs; I still have all of mine from childhood and I’ve bought tons for my son (well, I tell him they’re for him).

      Glad you found the post inspiring. Kate can have that effect!


  3. What a great post! Very inspiring–and a great reminder to me that technique can often get in the way of flow. I’m a stickler for doing my morning pages (which I started while working through The Artist’s Way), but not nearly as diligent about my artist PLAY dates. Thanks for sharing your story, and thank you Patrick for sharing your space with Kate.


    1. Kate Arms-Roberts


      I know a lot of writers who do morning pages or the equivalent, and far fewer who do the play dates. You are certainly not alone in that. I have always been self-conscious about artist dates as Julia Cameron describes them.
      One of the things I have learned is that taking a deep breath and letting it out on a sigh can help me take in whatever is around me in that moment in a way that fills my creative well like an artist date.


      1. Thanks for this idea, Kate! Sometimes my artist’s dates feel like more work, and less like play. I recognize your experience about whether I am following the rules correctly…. I will undoubtedly read your piece multiple times. Lots to play with here.


  4. Laura

    I laughed out loud when you described your first experience with Interplay–I am still new enough to it to be self-conscious and wonder what my friends would think if they looked in the room at any given moment. Thanks! 🙂


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