Playing With Needs

Nov 13 2023

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Hatty Ashton: Clown Congress' poet in residence Beccy Golding in Frida Karlo dress, covered in post it notes

This Blog outlines what happened during the second of three Creative Clarity workshops that I presented as part of The Clown Congress in Bristol in October 2023. If you’d like a little more context about the Clown Congress, start back with this blog. Otherwise read on to find out what happens when people bring their needs into their play…

Playing With Disabilities

On the second day of the Clown Congress, a large assortment of clowns from around the UK and beyond explored the theme of access in clowning with two amazing contributors, Amelia Lander-Cavallo and Aerial Mel Stevens.

Amelia (in their own words) is a blind, non-binary drag king and one half of Quiplash, a creative, performance and consulting CIC that looks to take space for deaf disabled and neurodiverse people across the LGBTQQIA+ spectrum. They presented ‘Unsightly Clowning: an exploration into clowning, access and audio description.” Quiplash were beaming into the congress via Zoom.

Aerial is a Black, non-binary, disabled AuADHD and recently deaf aerial circus artist, film producer, educator and activist. Aerial led us in an embodied exploration of the theme of comfort and discomfort in clowning, using their own experiences as inspiration for play and reflection.

Both sessions helped us understand the emotional labour of disabled artists not only having to bring their access needs to the table at the beginning of every creative endeavour, but to have to continuously ask for what they need throughout each project. 

Aerial led us into a game where we got to experience how it might be for a disabled / neuro-divergent artist in the workplace. We stood in little circles of 5 people and one person (A) put themselves in the middle. One of their group (B) engaged them in a simple conversation about their lives. While they were doing this, another group member (C) started to touch (A) on various body parts (ie left shoulder, right knee, left hand) and (A) had to try and name those body parts whilst continuing a conversation with (B). 

Sounds complicated? You betcha! That exercise represents the conditions disabled and neuro-divergent artists often face, whilst trying to bring their needs into the rehearsal room. Amelia spoke about disability time as being different to non-disability time, they said creative projects with disabled people may take longer. They spoke about how when they work, they put breaks into every contract so that they can pause and review whether their access needs are getting met - at which point they can re-negotiate the terms of their working relationship or stop. 

Bringing Our Needs Into Our Play

When it came to my Creative Clarity Session at the end of the day, I was still musing on the theme of needs. I wanted to throw it open to the group - to find out what the needs in the room were - and design a session to give people a chance to have their needs met. I put this to the group.

There followed a fascinating discussion with different people suggesting different things that we could do. There was a 50/50 split between us all staying together as one large group or going off into little groups, so I facilitated a consensus building exercise, where I asked individuals to not only pitch their ideas, but to give us some context - eg  If we do that, what might that give you? If we do that, how might you feel? These questions aimed to bring people into their bodies and hearts in order to bring more humanity to their suggestions, thereby softening defensiveness and increasing compassion and empathy in the listeners.

It was a tough 15 minutes, as the perceived conflict seemed to be causing discomfort for many members of the group and automatic behaviours and roles came to the fore. From time to time I slowed everything down and invited everyone to connect with how they were feeling in their bodies and their hearts. Once we’d heard the full range of ideas, I gave a few clear options of what people could do with lots of permission to adapt the exercises in any way they saw fit and eventually we worked out a range of things to do.

The participants split into small groups and devised different ways of explicitly bringing their needs into their play. Some took it in turns to present an idea for a game or exercise to their group to play together, others chose to create a player and audience dynamic and have solo stage time whilst being witnessed, another group wanted to figure out how they could all bring their needs into one big game that they devised together.

Afterwards they reflected on the experience, writing sentences on post-it notes, which they read out to each other. Clown Congress’ poet in residence, Beccy Golding took those sentences and created the following poem.

What happens when I bring my needs into the play?

-a poem by Beccy Golding

When I ask for my needs to be met in play
it’s selfish and terrifying
serious and shameful
difficult, uncomfortable
I feel like I will cry.
What if my needs do not get met
what if I get hurt
or lose my head?

In the asking is vulnerability
playful neediness, needy playfulness
like a jellyfish playing an accordion
it touches many things
frustration, validation, relaxation
expression, expulsion, explosion
freedom, love, connection
comfort and refreshment
trust, joy and reflection

If my needs are met in play
we touch bellies, which is fun
we look in the mirror
make ugly faces, stick out our tongues
I become a two-headed snake –
Enabled “to play or not to play”
I play and they receive
I get the chance to meet their needs
I get a glimpse into the others’ worlds
I feel included, I feel held


(poem from a player)
I didn’t know what I needed
then I looked and it was there
in the soup of group dynamics
or underneath my chair
how quiet and shy she is
but she is there


When my needs are met in play
with honesty and value
I feel healthily congruent
feeling everything more
witnessed and witnessing
empowered and empowering
growing like life itself
when my needs are met in play I find peace

and what I didn’t know I needed
- it’s wonderful
- great things
When I bring my needs into the play
I really get to play
I am satisfied and
my needs are met.

If you like the poem, you can find more of Bee's work on instagram here.

If you'd like to read about what happened in the Creative Clarity Session on day one of the Clown Congress go here.

If you'd like to find out more about Quiplash go here.

If you'd like to find out more about Aerial's work, go here.

If you like the sound of exploring pertinent themes through embodiment, play and reflection, check out my Creative Resourcing WorkshopCreative Clarity Workshop and Online One-to-ones.

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