In this series each post focuses on a specific aspect of camp. It is our attempt to share some of the knowledge we have accumulated in more than a decade of LARPing.
In all of the Where Are They Now interviews the interviewees (members of our community who have been away from the physical space of camp for some time now) have brought up an important facet of the Wayfinder community. The idea that you can leave camp for any amount of time, and you will always be welcomed back in. The way I have always pictured it is to see camp and our community within that physical space (even though we’re not always at the same location the physical space when the community comes together for an event) as a circle. No matter how long you step away from that circle, we will always have a spot for you to return to. There is no guarantee that you will come back to see the same faces as when you left, and more than likely there will be more new ones than familiar ones. I can promise though that you will be welcomed with the same warmth, the same love that you had when you left.
It helps this idea (both the circle I picture in my head, and the reality of returning to camp) that we put a lot of practice into doing this. At the start of every camp, and then again each morning, we open with a circle. During this time everyone is invited to share how they are feeling, what new experiences they have had since the last circle they were a part of, whether it has been hours or years since they held that space. An exercise I’ve always loved in our circles is when we take a silent moment, look around the circle person by person, and smile at every face that we see. It doesn’t matter who they are or how well you know them, every face you come across is returning that feeling to you.
Due to the setup of our community around a summer camp, there is always going to be some change in the people who are attending. People’s lives move forward. They go to college. They get jobs. They move on to whatever the world holds next for them. Spending summers at camp you get used to the rotating nature of the people around you. Every time someone new comes to camp it’s a chance to bring someone new into the fold. It’s always exciting to see what they bring into the space with them. New games. New ideas. There’s also, almost guaranteed, to be a friend who has been long absent. Someone who wasn’t able to be at camp for whatever reasons, or you two just haven’t been at the same weeks. Every camp is a chance to reenter these friendships. The function of being a summer camp means that the majority of the people at camp will not see each other maybe nine months out of the year. The friendships we have suspend in time, they tie to the space we hold at camp. It’s why it’s so easy for us to come and go in each other’s lives, to maintain relevance, as Marika put it so well a few weeks ago. We have grown use to coming home to each other.
It can be hard to understand making your home in other people. The idea of home we are always sold probably attaches to a specific structure or town. My home is Wayfinder. It has been since I was 13 years old and came to my first camp. Since then I’ve spent time with Wayfinder at upwards of twenty different lands and locations. No matter where we go, no matter what difficulties that land possesses (everything from giant mosquitos to non-potable water) I know I will be home. Home is the place where you can be yourself, whatever the most honest version of that looks like. Camp is a place where not only are we encouraged to be our real selves, we take time to work on that piece. I talked a couple weeks ago about how characters help us build ourselves so I don’t need to go deeply into it again here, but feeling at home in that space is a big portion of being able to do that work.
I’ve lived in six states and three time zones. I’ve told myself more springs than I’d like to admit that the coming summer would be my last one at camp, that it was time for me to grow up and move on to a new home. In 2014 I didn’t go to camp for the first time since I started in 2003. The year that followed was one of the hardest, most isolated of my life. There were a lot of external strains that led to this throughout the year as well, but I would be lying if I didn’t notice the weight of not getting to come home to camp and be me. Not having the time to put my stress aside and sit in a circle and fall asleep in the grass when I’m probably not supposed to (OK I’m definitely not supposed to and am probably supposed to be running the circle). Camp is my home. Who knows how long we get to call any one particular place home? If you get the chance to, come back. We miss you.
Written by Judson Easton Packard.
Camp’s Magic Circle
Recently I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about play and what it is. I’ve been taking a class on play theory (one of many reasons my writing of this blog has lagged so heavily) in which we have been looking at different definitions of play that people have had throughout the years and the implications of each one. Wayfinder is the reason I signed up for the course. Seeing as we talk about and engage in play so much within our community, I wanted to get an idea of what the broader view on the topic was. As we’ve progressed I’ve also been looking at my own beliefs as to what play is, what role it holds in this community, and what play has done for me. I’ll probably write more of the personal responses to play as time passes but for right now I want to look at some of the ways play applies to camp at large.
One thing that play requires, as defined by the theorists, is a set of parameters which play exists within. Of the different terms used to describe this, I think the best I’ve encountered is the “Magic Circle.” The Magic Circle is essentially a space that we agree to enter that, once inside, everything can be understood to be play. This is a broader concept than the most active and named construction of space that we have at camp, we call it the “Play Space.” While a “Play Space” generally comes with a set of physical boundaries and a time limit (they usually exist for the duration of specific workshops), camp is a collection of different Magic Circles, the most obvious being everything that happens within the Adventure Game, which literally starts with a circle. From the very minute you show up to camp though, you are stepping into a much larger magic circle. Play is a way we all get to interact, to learn about each other and ourselves, to remind ourselves that we have stepped out of the world at large and into some place we can let down some of our boundaries, a place we can really trust each other in. That space only exists because of the play we have done to create it.
The very first thing that you do when you show up to camp is play. Literally the first workshop on any camp schedule (and every morning at day camp) is called opening play. So from the very second we all arrive into that space we step into that kind of circle, a place where we know that we are safe to play. Important to this is that there is an ability to opt out of the games that we play (very important to the idea of play is that it’s voluntary). Even with the Adventure Game we have an “out of game space” where you can go should things be too intense and you need to step away. Even within the games themselves there are chances for people to have different levels of intensity. We have systems that allow for people to say when something has become too much for them, when it has become unsafe, and we talk a lot about playing to our partner’s level, making sure that we are calling people into a kind of play they are comfortable engaging in. None of this should be viewed as taking away from anyone’s experience. Our magic circle, the one we build that holds camp inside of it, has space inside of it for you to play (or not) at your own level of comfort. Having that kind of space, which allows for a variety of needs, is integral to building the community that we have.
Through the space for people to play or not play in specific games as they need, we show our community at large that this space is a safe one for them to engage with when they’re ready. While, by the nature and needs of supervision, you aren’t given free reign over the physical spaces you may always occupy, you are allowed to set your level of engagement. The same can be said of the community. Our community provides a lot of opportunities for personal engagement. There are regular trust workshops, morning circles, and story circles which allow for different kinds of semi-guided sharing. When these come up, the kind of play that we’ve been doing (and specifically the idea of playing to your partner’s level) allows for community members to decide on any level of participation they may feel comfortable with. When you see everything we do at camp as included in this magic circle, the same rules that dictate play dictate every interaction. Relationships built at camp are built around play. Conversations between us then, by nature, have some of these play elements woven into them. There is no place at camp where you can look without seeing that play is alive and well.
There’s a lot more that I could (and hope to) say about play at camp, in the world, and in my life. For now let me close by saying that as I’ve been learning more about how the scientific community views play, (they’re pretty shaky on why it exists but they’ve distilled some things it’s capable of and some good guidelines as to when something should be defined as play) one thing has been very clear to me. Play is alive and well at camp. We play everyday, we play hard, and we have a strong idea as to the importance of play within our community. Thanks for playing with me.
Written by Judson Easton Packard