When you play, things change, the world changes, and you change.

The same goes, obviously, for CounterPlay.

Over the course of four festivals, we have changed immensely. We have gotten further than I could ever have hoped for, and I believe we have made important contributions to the play community. From a modest beginning, CounterPlay has evolved into what in my (heavily biased, yes) opinion is one of the most ambitious play festivals of its kind with at least a handful of unique traits:

  1. We insist on play: our main focus is always on play, not the perceived side effects. The side effects can be important, but if we start focusing too much on them, we lose sight of play.
  2. We invite play, conversation & reflection: to understand play, you have to play, but it’s also not enough to just play, you need to talk and think about it. That balance is a delicate one, but essential to keep experimenting with.
  3. We encourage participation: play invites openness and participation, and we maintain that everybody must be able to really participate in shaping the festival at all times.
  4. We see play as being meaningful and important for anyone, everywhere: our approach to play is holistic and emcompasses all of society and all of life (“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”).
  5. We embrace the ambiguity of play: the old adage “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” really holds true with play, as it’s an immensely ambiguous phenomenon, and we need to embrace the fact that none of us truly understands play.

None of these are unique for play events, but I believe that the combination of them are. It seems that this particular approach has been successful in cultivating a very special atmosphere:

We have been surprised time and again by the tremendous courage of our participants, who overcome whatever initial reservations and anxiety they may have had. Remember, this is strangers stepping into an unknown space where many unexpected and maybe even intimidating things might happen. In the best moments, the festival cultivates a very special, playful atmosphere, where everyone come together as a community. These situations feel truly magical, as the usual barriers and masks fall away, people open up to each other and the world, showing a remarkable trust in strangers. They are present in ways you rarely see, committed and sincere. In play, it becomes deeply personal.

I am proud of what we have achieved, and our dedication to continue this work is bigger than ever, but we have realised that to do so, we need to change even more.

Here’s the biggest change:

Effective immediately, we will turn our main event, the CounterPlay festival in Aarhus, Denmark, into a bi-annual event, meaning it will be back in 2019. 

This is by no means a signal that we’re slowing down or lowering our ambitions – on the contrary!

The main reasons for this decision is that we need more time to develop the festival, and this has proven quite challenging when there’s always less than a year to the next event. It is our intention to stay around for a very long time, and for that to happen, we need stronger roots. We also wish to engage in more initiatives that is either borne out of or leads up to the festival, so we can develop new activities and formats together with the play community.

Furthermore, we realise that since part of our community keeps coming back (THANK YOU!), it might be a bit much to go to Aarhus every year, whereas every other year is probably more feasible.

While we keep improving the festival, we also wish to contribute to the play community in other ways, and we are very eager to create more, smaller events between the festivals for greater continuity.

To name a few things we’re working on:

  • We have take the initiative to establish a national Danish “play think tank”, which will surely inform much of our work going forward.
  • CounterPlay is slowly spreading to other cities and countries, beginning with an event in Leeds (together with Playful Anywhere) at the end of October.
  • We are working with Aalborg University and other organizations in Denmark to bring the atmosphere from CounterPlay to new contexts.
  • We have rebooted the #cplaychat, a bi-weekly Twitter based chat about play.
  • We seek to experiment with more materials about play, encouraging play, including more consistent blogging, playful initiatives on social media, books and more.

In short, we’re getting ready to do more to help play thrive.

In addition to this, we are always open to suggestions, ideas, conversations and partnerships. If you share our ambition to fight for play, don’t hesitate to comment or get in touch.

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Mathias Poulsen

I think a playful mindset is essential for us to live better lives together. I organise the CounterPlay Festival to cultivate a #playfulsociety.

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