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Why a bit of clowning about can be good for you

Group meets every Wednesday to play schoolyard games and have a laugh

Elizabeth Davie is literally jumping for joy about her Play in the Park sessions.

Mark Phillips

AS dusk approaches each Wednesday evening, an unusual gathering takes place at Jones Park in Brunswick East.

Strangers will assemble near the swings and sandpit, and after a few introductions, they’ll begin playing children’s games like What’s the Time Mr Wolf or Simon Says.

The ringleader of this get-together is Elizabeth Davie, a Coburg-based performer who believes we can all do with a bit more childlike joy in our lives.

Since February, Ms Davie has been arranging these weekly twilight sessions at Jones Park under the title of Play in the Park, overseeing a gaggle of adults who spend an hour playing games and being silly.

“We just laugh for an hour,” she says.

“Everyone has always told me that they feel amazing afterwards … You just feel super-energised and you don’t even notice that you might have been quite active or, you know, moving or running around a bit.”

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Ms Davie, who has a background in theatre and stand-up comedy and has trained as a professional clown under the tutelage of Giovanni Fusetti, first began playing in Jones Park while living around the corner in Nicholson Street during the COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.

She and a fellow performer, Sarah Nagorcka, used the park for open air rehearsals for a Melbourne International Comedy Festival show Animal in the Office which Ms Davie directed and Ms Nagorcka performed.

To warm up for rehearsals, they would play children’s games, often attracting the attention of other park users who asked to join in.

After the lockdowns finished, Ms Davie encouraged other performer friends to join her for regular playtime sessions and from that came the idea of inviting strangers.

“I felt like I really need an hour of play in my life a week,” she says.

“It’s just so life-giving to have that regular joy and silliness and play and to be doing something that has no specific reason, that’s just literally for fun.

“I just love it. And then I thought, ‘This is so important to me that I want to share it [with others]’.”

When she launched Play in the Park with a few social media posts in January, Ms Davie had no idea whether the concept would take off, but she has been pleasantly surprised at the number of people taking part.

During summer, sessions have been held at 6.30pm every Wednesday, weather permitting. A regular session will have a group of between 10 and 12 people.

Some have high-stress careers including town planning, nursing, teaching and science.

“It’s so exciting when someone [new] turns up … I feel so grateful that someone’s trusted me when they have no idea what they’re getting into.

“It’s amazing when by the end of the class, everyone’s jumping around and making all this noise and stuff. And you’re like, you never would have thought when you first turned up that you would be doing that.”

“It’s just so life-giving to have that regular joy and silliness and play and to be doing something that has no specific reason, that’s just literally for fun,” says Elizabeth Davie.

A typical session will begin with some group circle games like Bippity Bippity Bop before moving onto playground classics like Grandma’s Footsteps, Tag, or What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?

Ms Davie is keen to introduce some simple ball games as well, such as Tunnel Ball.

If it all sounds a little silly, that’s the idea.

“Play is the first thing that we don’t have time for if things get stressful or busy, or it’s the first thing we cut,” Ms Davie says.

“But it’s actually, I think, what gives you the energy to do everything else.

“If you’re an adult, unless you do sport, there isn’t a lot of play built into our lives. If you have kids, then you get to play with them and you sort of get reconnected to that impulse but you’re still being the adult in that dynamic.

“And if you don’t have kids yet, you’re not getting that.

“The benefits of play for children are so important for their development and learning and social interaction, all that stuff. And you don’t stop needing that when you’re an adult.”

Ms Davie, who has a Master’s Degree in Communications along with a Bachelor of Fine Art and is in her mid-30s, believes playing children’s games has both physical and mental benefits.

“You’re active and excited, but you’re also in a relaxed, connected state … You can’t put your finger on exactly why you just feel really good. You feel energetic, playful, happy, laughing.”

The Wednesday evening sessions will continue until the end of March.

With the end of daylight saving drawing near, Ms Davie is considering moving the sessions to once a fortnight on a weekend to make it possible for people to attend outside of normal working hours when it is not dark.

Meanwhile, Ms Davie is also preparing to remount her award-winning stand up show Super Woman Money Program in May this year.