The Power of Play

A guest post from our board secretary, Jeni Brazeal. Our fundraising campaign is still going on – visit to contribute.

As I entered college, a starry-eyed and hopeful psychology major, I knew I wanted to help other people. But my first psychology class did not live up to my expectations. I couldn’t make myself pay attention to the professor lecturing to a room of 500 or study the gargantuan textbook without falling asleep. I earned a ‘D’ in that class, my first ever, and it devastated me. I felt as though I wasn’t good enough to be a psychologist or counselor. After all, I would hurt people at the rate I was going, not help them. This led me to change my major to theatre. Theatre was my home—a place where people go to feel included, to feel worth something. My first semester as a theatre major, I was assigned several psychology books as required reading, because, as one professor put it, “you can’t be an actor if you don’t know who the *%@! you are.” I was nervous about this, but the classes immediately put me at ease. Because we spent all day PLAYING. I learned theatre, psychology, and most importantly, who I was through play. I felt again as though I had a purpose in life.

The truth is play has so many benefits for us, and yet so often it’s discouraged. WHY???

Research attests to the necessity of play. Consider that in August of 1966, Charles Whitman—in an act known as the UT Tower Shooting— climbed to the top of the University of Texas tower and began shooting people below. He killed fifteen and injured thirty-one others before being shot down himself. Then Texas Governor John Connally, who had himself been shot during the Kennedy assassination only a few years before, immediately put into place an investigation to discover why people turn to murdering others to see if there was any way to predict these types of incidents. Dr. Stuart Brown of Baylor College of Medicine was selected to lead the psychiatric component of the investigation. After a great amount of research and studying a range of people, he discovered something very surprising. He found that Nobel Laureates, innovative entrepreneurs, well-adjusted children, happy couples, and families and the most successfully adapted mammals all have one very important thing in common— “they play enthusiastically throughout their lives.” In contrast, he also thoroughly studied people serving time for murder in Texas prisons and found that “the absence of play in their childhood was as important as any other single factor in predicting their crimes.”

Dr. Brown has since spent his career researching play and writing books and articles on the benefits play has in our lives. For example, most children learn positive socialization through play—learning boundaries and social guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not. Play connects us to other people and reminds us that we aren’t alone in this world. Play helps heal emotional wounds. It fosters creativity, flexibility, and learning. Dr. Brown even found evidence to show that play may be an antidote to violence. What this all says to me is that PLAY IS POWERFUL.

That’s the beauty of Conspire Theatre, and why I choose to be a vocal advocate for this organization. Conspire brings the power of play to incarcerated women and their allies. I have had the privilege of seeing Conspire in action, and have seen the hope and empowerment that their workshops bring to the women they serve. All through the simple act of play. After experiencing the power of play in my own life, I can only imagine the enormous benefits it brings to women in the prison environment.

It’s easy, sometimes, to forget about the people serving time in our prison system. Or to just believe that they deserve to be there. But life tends to be more complex than that. It’s important to remember that in our prisons are people. Conspire treats the women they serve as just that— women. Women who need support and allies to get back on their feet.

Your contribution to Conspire will support this program in bringing the power of play to these women who are often marginalized in our society. Is there anything in this world that can foster more positive change? I, for one, think not.

-Jeni Brazeal

Source: Brown, MD, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: The Penguin Group



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