An Approach to Playmaking

By Philip Santos Schaffer


I believe that everyone is lonely, at least some of the time. I believe that being human is an innately lonely experience. We feel this deep desire to be intimately known, and wonder if it is truly possible. We are all in our own little cars driving down an endless highway. And if we’re lucky, we can drive alongside someone else, even roll down our windows and say hello. But you can never invite them into your car and share the unique way you place your hands on the wheel, or how you got your headrest to the exact right height. 

At least, that’s how I feel. I’m always trying to express something about myself, and I am always afraid that I am getting it wrong somehow. 

And so I make participatory theatre, in which people are invited to act as their real selves in make believe situations. I never want the audience to feel required to act as someone else, and I certainly don’t want you to feel like you have to act like an audience. It is my job to make sure you are comfortable, that you feel at ease, and that you feel welcome. It is also my job to make sure that everyone feels empowered to advocate for the experience they want to have, together. And, it is my job to make sure that it is fun. I am tired of going to the theatre and not having fun. I’m going to die one day!

I believe that if we are all comfortable, if we all feel welcome to act as our own selves, if we are all having fun, then we are ready to enter the work of co-creating a world together. And in that make believe world we enter, we can learn about ourselves. How would I react if these were my circumstances? Who would I be if I were myself, somewhere else? If it were me, and I was an 18 month old baby trapped in a well for 58 hours, how would things change? 

I believe that when we are in this imagined space together, discovering new versions of ourselves, we should have the opportunity to share, and therefore, to learn about each other. And when we share what we are discovering? I believe that every individual should receive an abundance of affirmation, in the way they most desire. 

Because, and I mean this with all my heart, I believe that everyone is so special. And I believe that deep down inside, you believe everyone is special too. Including yourself. And so, I create spaces where people get to say, out loud: I AM SPECIAL! SO ARE YOU! 

Those are the spaces I want to be in. Those are the feelings I want to have. You are the people I want to share those feelings with. And I cannot wait to find out what you want. How you want to feel. Even if it is the complete and exact opposite of everything I’ve written here. I believe that the script is only a likely sequence of events

We decide what happens next, together.