Liza Paul: Futures of Play

Headshot of Liza Paul. She is smiling joyfully and wearing a white t-shirt against a white backdrop.

Black joy is Black liberation, and I think you can take the Black out of it and joy still is liberation for anyone, you know, like to feel good feelings, that’s freedom. And I think that’s something that everyone should embrace whenever they can, but you have to learn it.” 

Liza Paul

Part 1  

We end this season of Desire Paths on a playful note with comedian and storyteller Liza Paul as she shows us what it means to play in the city. Liza begins where it all started for her – at her parents’ house, where a sense of play and imagination was instilled from a young age. She then takes us to her creative home at the Theatre Centre, a place where a philosophy that prioritizes access not only gave Liza a stage to first shape her work, but a programming role that allows her to continue giving artists, especially comedians of the future, the opportunity to take the stage. And in a surprising final location – an unusual spot in the middle of the city – Liza reveals the secret sauce to a good time, showing us that you just need the right attitude, and people, to fully unleash your inner joy.

Liza Paul is a storyteller, comedian, curator, and producer who loves laughter, life, music, family, stories, all things bashment, impromptu dancehall-flavoured a cappella street jams, and pum-related non sequiturs. She has trained at the Second City (Improv Conservatory + 2017 Bob Curry Fellowship Program) and is the co-creator of pomme is french for apple (Best of Fringe 2012, Toronto), which has also played in Winnipeg, Edinburgh, and New York. Liza and her pomme partner in crime, Bahia Watson, are developing a variety show called MASHUP PON DI ROAD (coming summer 2022). She has worked with Soulpepper Theatre Company, anitafrika! dub theatre, bCurrent theatre, and the Watah Theatre, and is a content creator for programsound.fm, launching late July 2021. Liza is currently the Associate Artistic Director at the Theatre Centre, where she curated the inaugural Comedy is Art festival in 2019 and is working to continue to program as many comedy shows by women of colour as she possibly can.

Part 2

For the second part of the episode, Liza is joined by Adil Dhalla, Director of Community for Reset, a social enterprise he co-founded that inspires people to play through pop-up experiences around the city. Together, they discuss what it means to have permission to play, how play can be seen as a revolutionary act, and envision ways to better foster the city as a playground so that we can work towards collective joy through the lens of justice and social recovery as we begin to reemerge from the pandemic.

Adil Dhalla is a community organizer, social entrepreneur, and artist. He is the Director of Community for Reset, an organization that he co-founded in 2015 that inspires people to just play through their pop-up playground experiences. He is the Board Chair for the StopGap Foundation, a national charity that makes communities more accessible through physical ramps and awareness. Prior to Reset, Adil was the Managing Director at Artscape Daniel’s Launchpad and the Executive Director at the Centre for Social Innovation. Adil has been recognized as a DiverseCity Fellow and a Common Futures Fellow. He resides in Tkaronto and lives in a cohousing community – The Clarens Commons – along with his partner Shilbee Kim and 5 other individuals. @adildhalla @helloreset

Luminato 2021

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Transcript

Hima: [00:00:00] Welcome to Desire Paths presented by Luminato with Toronto based foresight studio From Later. I’m Hima Batavia, one of the curators of this audio experience. What are desire paths? They’re unpaved passages slowly carved into the terrain of a city form by the citizens own walking tracks and guided by their belief in a better way.

[00:00:42] In this six episode series, we are exploring possible futures of Toronto through the imaginations of local artists and urbanists. Each artist takes us on a field trip, one that weaves histories and futures into a vision of what this city could be. Today, comedian and theatre artist, Liza Paul explores the futures of play. From their childhood home, to the Theatre Centre where she is the Associate Artistic Director, and streets of Toronto, Liza reflects on what it means to have a good time. To give yourself permission to find play in every moment, and why public play is not safe for everyone. At the heart of her practice is the belief that Black joy is Black liberation.

In the second half of the episode, Liza interviews Adil Dhalla. A social change community organizer, and the co-founder of Reset, an organization that is creating pop-up playgrounds and inviting adults to just play as we move into a phase of social recovery. Consider putting on your shoes and going outside. Use the episode as a mediation to plant your own desire paths for the city in all its beauty, complexity, and contradictions.

[00:01:58] Liza: [00:01:58] I am Liza Paul. I am a lover of all things bashment, of all things, joy, and of all things Positive vibration. I am the daughter of a Jamaican man and a Canadian woman. I am an arts worker. I am an artist. I am the person who will laugh at a funeral, laugh at somebody’s death bed, make jokes at a death bed, but not to upset anyone only because when things are so dark, the only thing I crave is light.

[00:02:35] Right now I am in the backyard of my parents’ house, which is where I grew up. In the yard I can see brightly colored shed that my dad built. My dad is the one who was responsible for everything I see actually in this yard because he came from Jamaica as a musician, as a teenager, made his way here. Then had some children and realized music might not be the thing that would feed his family.

[00:03:03] So moved into contracting and his artistic practice found its way into his work. So everything he touches has something special to it. So what I’m looking at is this shed that he built in his backyard, which most people are like, does someone live in there because it’s so pretty. And it’s painted bright yellow, green, blue, red with a little porch to remind him of Jamaica.

[00:03:28] There’s a water feature here that he designed. Everything has memories back here. This table at which I’m sitting is a place where we’ve had probably more drinks than we should have. But. Lots of laughs and there’s never any such thing as too many of those. And that’s where I am. Time is pleasant here.

[00:03:50] I know a lot of people who have not had the privilege of associating good times with their family homes. And I am always grateful for the fact that my existence does really marry. Nice vibes with home. Time here moves quickly. Move slowly, moves easily, and it’s not marked by conflict. It’s definitely punctuated with laughter and delight.

[00:04:22] So time works in a very blessed way in this yard. This place means home. So this is a place where everyone can come and feel delighted. I believe at least that’s what I’ve observed. If someone wants to tell me otherwise, I’m ready for it. Even in terms of this, the design of the house of the yard, there’s always a sense of play.

[00:04:47] There’s always a sense of nothing being impossible and that whatever is in your imagination can come true. My father is a very playful person though. He doesn’t necessarily look like he’s playful because he has a very unwavering stare. And so if you are meeting him for the first time, you might not realize that there is pure mischief behind those eyes, but we were fortunate enough to grow up in a house where at every opportunity there was some kind of.

[00:05:22] Play injected into whatever was happening. So when I was a kid, we used to have dinner together. Dinner was a moment where we don’t answer the phone. You can’t read, there’s nothing happening except sitting at the table together and being present with one another. And at the end of every meal, we would do the word jumble, read our horoscope, say there’s one page in the newspaper that we would at.

[00:05:46] And my father would always also read the poem. There was always a poem on that page and I have a very distinct memory of one day. It was time to read the poem. My dad read it spring break every day when I jumped on the bed, the spring break and we, he died laughing. This was the most hilarious thing we’d ever heard and we laughed and we laughed.

[00:06:15] And then my mom. Requested that he read it again and he indulged. And when he read it the second time, it was something more like the blossoms on the trees and something that was not at all what he had read the first. And she was like, wait, that’s not what you said the first time. And my sister and I were like, mom, he made that up.

[00:06:37] That’s not really what was in the newspaper. Like that’s what I mean, play was any opportunity to take. It would happen. I have observed that. You can take that permission to have fun at any time for yourself. Like you actually don’t need to wait for someone to tell you. It’s okay to find the humor in it.

[00:06:59] Instance, and I have definitely observed that people feel as though they need permission to behave in certain ways at certain times. And that’s part of the social contract. Like we can all just do whatever we like at any moment. That’s not how things could function, but having fun, as long as it’s not at anyone’s expense, doesn’t hurt anyone.

[00:07:21] And in fact, a lot of times it can give people a feeling of lightness, of freedom of letting go of joy. And I suppose that’s, what’s unique about my experience and my relationship to joy in play, because I’m not waiting for anyone to tell me that it’s okay. I just believe that it is. And so that’s why behave.

[00:07:45] The opposite of play to me, feels to me like misery, because that means you’re suppressing or repressing any impulse. You might have to just find the good time in any moment. And that, to me, sounds like a miserable existence. You’re already doing the work to enjoy your life. The reward that you can collect for yourself is making sure that you have a nice time while you do love.

[00:08:11] I don’t know that it’s so much finding a balance or that it’s just inherently expected. No one’s ancestors suffered worked. Did any of these things so that their descendants would have to suffer. Everyone went through a whole bunch of mess to get to where we are at this exact moment in time. I like to imagine that given my ancestry in particular that my ancestors would probably be very happy to know.

[00:08:40] I had the luxury of finding joy in so many moments of my day. I think the kind of play that lives here is the kind that is born of familiarity. The root of that word is family. So it’s a place where I feel connected to the people. I feel like we have a shared understanding of what it means to just exist and embedded in that existence.

[00:09:08] Is the notion of play that at any moment, someone might crack a joke. Someone might play a trick, make a riddle, sing a song, do a dance, any of those things that used to come really naturally. As children are things that we never released. I think the way that our family created that sense of safety for us to be able to express ourselves that way has a lot to do with respect and a mutual understanding of what is okay.

[00:09:37] And what is not. As long as we remember to treat each other the way we would like to be treated ourselves. There’s a lot of kindness embedded in this household. There’s an active practice of kindness and it’s a much easier thing to convince your family to be around if they like you back. Then if they don’t, I think these are good words to live by.

[00:09:59] Like, what is the way to move through the world that will get you, you invited back and I’m not seeing that as like, now you need to be like perform kindness or perform good manners, but it’s the vibe that makes it nicer for everyone all the time.

[00:10:33] There’s a really strong call and response culture in Jamaica, that it’s very much understood that if someone says something to you as a member of the. Audience as a person in the party, there is an understanding that we are in dialogue with one another. Whereas I believe the ballet, like that’s a very silent experience.

[00:10:57] I think that’s one of the main differences is that it’s just this sense that when there’s storytelling. There will be response. And in the storytelling, there are moments that are designed. They’re built around making time to ask an audience wog one and having a moment for the audience to respond. So I think if you grow up in that world, it comes naturally.

[00:11:25] To be in the mix of the moment without feeling like you need to suppress any reaction, Toronto so Jamaican and not just Jamaican. I mean, I’m obviously biased because that’s my way in to this west Indian piece of my universe, but it’s Jamaican, it’s, BeiGene, it’s Guyanese and all these things. Culture has come together and they find pockets of places to relate to one another.

[00:11:56] There are just so many people in our friend groups that have exposed us to so many different ways of being in the world that, that has moved through a city by osmosis. And also we have a very sophisticated set of audiences. People really understand that when they go out to something and an artist is telling them something, there’s a, okay, we get it.

[00:12:21] Like this is the contract and this is what we’re going to do. And I think there’s a lot to do with like how much dance hall culture is in Toronto, how much Jamaican music is in Toronto. People get it, people are ready to catch that vibe. And when I think about the future of fun there’s seating, There are places to be comfortable and feel welcome the sound of water.

[00:12:43] I think movement’s nice and a space greeneries, nice in a space color is nice in a space. An ability to hear music is nice in a space. Things get awkward when it’s silent much more quickly than when there’s music in the background. It does something to people that gives you permission to. Loosen up a little, it soothes you.

[00:13:06] It takes away the pressure of needing to see something. It also, if it’s at an appropriate volume, makes people have to talk just a little bit louder. So then there become a little bit more engaged. People feel comfortable when they feel like they are in somewhere where someone has considered their experience. Round edges, like where I’m sitting right now is a round table.

[00:13:30] I love round tables. I liked them so much. I don’t want. Pointy round is so nice. So I think round green, musical and watery.

[00:14:09] We’ll need to cultivate internally to create more opportunities for play is a sense of freedom and entitlement, but in the sense that you have a right to feel good, you have a right to a nice time. And I think that beyond that, you’ve also always to yourself. To try to locate those moments of play and to look at the world in a way that honors the fact that we are find ourselves in a moment where like leisure time is an actual thing.

[00:14:43] Like we’re not engaged in labour all the time. Like we’re an age that allows us to pursue pleasure. And again, like when I think about my own ancestors, I believe that what they would have wanted for themselves is to be able to rest, to be able to find joy, to be able to find themselves in a state of mind that allowed them to access joy, because they weren’t in a fight or flight state.

[00:15:14] They weren’t in survival mode. Existing in the world, having kids, watching their grandkids, hoping to have a terrible time, like this is not what’s happening. Let’s just honor that let’s honor our positions. And again, I’m mindful that not everyone has this position, but if you know someone who is struggling try and make something lighter for them, let’s all try to just make it that little bit better for everyone because nobody loses when it’s better for everyone.

[00:15:47] In the fight for justice, there’s so much attention paid to the nuts and bolts of it that we forget the human part of it. It can’t make sweeping statements about what’s best for everyone. But I think that there’s part of it that has to do with just not understanding that there is value in joy in such a way that it is.

[00:16:10] Live in tandem with these other kind of more concrete needs, wherever possible. It shouldn’t be an afterthought. Just the way that for most of us, if we embody a practice of gratitude for the things we do have, the day feels better, even when it sucks, even when things are tough and you’re not sure where the next check is coming from.

[00:16:30] And you’re not sure if the person that you love is going to make it through the night. Like these things can be balanced with just a little bit of attention to joy. So while you have this time, try to do something that will make you smile. I’m not saying that these things can just be taken care of if you just laugh.

[00:16:51] But I do believe that your spirit will be better protected if you find a way to laugh.

[00:17:26] I am at the Theatre Centre. Queen west near Dovercourt. This place means a lot to me in 2014, the then artistic director, Franco Boni offered us the space and by us, I mean, Bahia Watson and myself to do a fundraiser to get us to the Edinburgh festival fringe. And there was not yet a liquor license in the building, and this was critical for us because at all of our performances, we always love to serve a rum punch, but we couldn’t.

[00:18:04] And it was fine because Franco very generously agreed to donate the space for free so that we could collect all the revenue we sold from ticket sales and use it to get to the festival. And I remember feeling so excited about having access to this space. There were so many people who had been on the journey with us the whole time from the moment we had conceived of pome is french for apple, and we brought it here and the people were running the bar at the time, made these very fancy mocktails with.

[00:18:36] Clouds on them. So even though nobody was actually drinking alcoholic behaved as though they were, and the performance happened in the Boni theater. And for the first time we incorporated a live band into the performance. My dad played my sister saying, but he, his sister saying, and later in 2017, I became the interim café and bar manager at the theater center.

[00:19:01] And since then, I have been working here as it’s been so wonderful. One of the philosophies in this building is that we just want to give as much as we can away. So we’re always trying to give space to artists. We’re always trying to make sure that there is a place for people to be able to do the work that they need to do, but I don’t want it to cost anybody anything.

[00:19:24] And when you think. What it means for people to be able to practice their work. There’s a real divide between who gets to make art. And I think one of the great things about this place is that we try to share time in this space so that we can give artists power to be able to. Do their work. And that feels really meaningful because they don’t think it’s necessarily a thing that everyone does or is able to do.

[00:19:56] And I think that it’s a pretty special offering to be able to do something, to sort of equalize people’s access and ability to do their work. It’s been just woven into the fabric of this place that plays part of it because comedy is that like comedy. Play. It’s a lot of work to make a joke work. It looks like all fun and games, but lot to put yourself out there, workshop the joke.

[00:20:24] If you’re a musician, you can practice alone, play the music in your apartment until you get the notes, right. Until you get the song. Right. But as a comedian, you don’t know if the joke works until you stand up on stage and put it in front of people. And if they laugh great. And if they don’t. Sorry for you.

[00:20:40] You have to try again. And I rate the bravery that it takes to really be about that craft. I think we do our best to make sure that anyone who wants to gets to play here now, I’m not naive to the reality that. Anyone who wants to, who feels comfortable approaching this institution to make a request for space who even if they feel comfortable making the request for space is going to be able to access the space because it might already be booked.

[00:21:13] And I think part of the comedy program we’ve been doing is really also. Doing its best to make sure that everyone is welcome here because a lot of the venues in the city that hosts comedy events are actually not physically accessible. They have stairs and no elevator, no ramp. And this building is thankfully fully accessible, not only to audiences, but to performers as well.

[00:21:40] It’s my opinion that I just want to put the artists on the stage and an audience. See for themselves, what these people’s backgrounds are, because I think there’s also important work to be done in not naming that these artists are not white. Because as long as we continue to do that, we’re reinforcing the expectation that this standard is whiteness.

[00:22:07] And I think that the very existence of my role, the fact that I have really been encouraged to continue to program work by so many artists of color. So many black women, so many people who are not white, I learned. That the very act of taking up space on a stage is revolutionary. And it’s particularly revolutionary.

[00:22:34] If you come from any single one of those groups that has been historically excluded. So I am a woman. I am black, like already notched down notch down. Nobody wanted to hear from me historically, or you’re just a woman. All you’re just black. Like these things would have disenfranchised me, but I am so fortunate to have been born in the time in which I was born.

[00:23:00] Where by no means, am I suggesting that black people are not still discriminated against, but. I grew up in a middle-class family. I I can read and write which many women globally cannot. So I think that it’s the very act of telling stories is political.

And I think that the ability to tell stories. Make light of things that are like really unfair about the way that patriarchy reveals itself make light of our own ways of working in the world. Like all of it, like just observing things and making light of it.

[00:23:46] And like, I want people to have fun in the theater. I think that theater kind of has a bad rap in a lot of ways. Cause people are like, oh, the theater, like it’s going to be boring. If anything, it’s so exciting. A human person is up here. There’s no. Cut. There’s no retake. If anything happens, it’s going to happen right here in front of your eyes.

[00:24:05] And the people who are not in this room are never going to know what it was like to be in this room. It’s not possible. A lot of times, especially in comedy, people have a fear that like, I don’t want to sit in the front row. Somebody’s going to make fun of me. This is not going to be good. And I, I really am not here for that.

[00:24:23] I am interested in being on stage to make people have a good time. That’s what I would like to offer. And I think. That maybe more people can give themselves that gift of just like asking themselves, what did I come here for? Whether as an audience member or as an artist, like what, what brought you here?

[00:24:43] If it’s to have a good time, let’s go. That’s what we can do together. I find that in a lot of. The stories that have been told about blackness, about Caribbean newness. It’s not always black or Caribbean people who have the agency in what stories are getting told, which things are being produced. Anyone who’s looking for a movie with black people in it can see, oh, this one is about slavery.

[00:25:12] This one is not quite slavery, but servitude, this one is not servitude, but it’s like socioeconomically disadvantage, gang life, white savior story. And I think that the thing I would love people to know is that black people have joy a life beyond just the trauma based narratives that we are so often exposed to.

[00:25:36] And I feel like part of what I. Seek to add to the ecology of this package of stories is a space for light is a space for in-depth looks at things explorations of like serious subject matter, but it doesn’t have to be heavy. There’s room for lightness and joy and play. And there’s nothing improper about it.

[00:26:01] There’s nothing not civilized about laughing. Laughing is something, everyone does all of us like it’s something everyone does. And no one ever was like, oh, I wish I didn’t laugh so hard. That’s not that doesn’t happen. And I think that’s really what I want to marry is this idea that if I think black story I want.

[00:26:23] Fun things to start popping into people’s heads and not just, oh yeah. 12 years of slave, like true story. Definitely worth being aware of, but not the only story.

[00:26:46] we are at a bus shelter. Why is the bus shelter time? Because there was a night in my life when a number of us having just exited some had not had enough bashed mints in our lives evidently and decided that the party had to go on at the bus shelter. And we all just started to bang out one redone. I don’t know.

[00:27:12] Translate on this, but it was really like, uh, and then we just started to Brock all about the bus shelter remix. I can’t remember what it was. I do remember that the next day, the hand that I use had a ring on it and my ring was flat. It was flat from how many times I had banged on this shelter. I think it’s so important to just make use of whatever is around you and try and have a nice time with it.

[00:27:47] The secret sauce of a good time. It’s people who all know each other well, love each other love music. I think it’s also. That feeling of it’s okay to express yourself. And it’s okay to have as much fun as you can in any moment. And if something strikes you certainly at our dinner table and my family sells any single thing you say can become a song like that is true.

[00:28:12] And any single person will augment whatever’s coming out of that one person’s mouth with percussion on the table, harmony from the mouth of a percussive vocal addition. There can be any noise anywhere, anytime. And this it’s understood that this, that every moment is knit with possibility and we’re all here for that.

[00:28:36] So I guess it’s maybe a little bit of that. Toronto is a place where you need money. If you want to go inside places, I feel like Toronto is expensive and doesn’t have a lot of places to chill. I think that’s a big part of it. And I think too, like there’s not anything to make me smile on this sidewalk.

[00:28:56] It’s not impossible to have public art that makes a person smile, but we don’t tend to choose that. We don’t tend to choose things that are amusing or interactive, or, and to remember that a lot of this stuff that delighted us as children is still delightful to us in some shape or form as adults. And.

[00:29:18] Those things don’t need to be left behind. We’re the grownups. Now we can take them with us. Like it’s actually up to us. We don’t need to deprive ourselves of joy is unnecessary. And I, myself, I’m very well aware that it’s very different for me as a woman to make this gallivanting on the bus shelter at night than it is.

[00:29:40] If I were a man, the black man’s body is targeted in such a way that. A reasonable degree of fear associated with just existing. And I can’t imagine how that would impact my own ability to access joy. If that was the body I was walking around in, I think that to make, play more accessible to black communities, we should be asking black communities what they would like.

[00:30:08] What would you need to feel safe here? What would you like to enjoy here? What would be good for you? And then facilitate the happening of that thing. I’m sure the answer to a lot of those questions would be like, leave us alone or don’t interfere in our business. Don’t continue to interrogate me based on the color of my skin.

[00:30:31] Just leave me to be free. And I feel like that would be a really great start. And then if, and when as a city that is able to be achieved, Then maybe people would feel freer to enjoy all the things that the city has to offer. I think there are a few stories we should tell ourselves about ourselves as a city to make it more like a playground.

[00:30:56] I feel like we should understand that we are the kind of people who are hiding all winter and ready to Brook out the moment that it’s not snowing. That’s a very specific kind of person. We are the kind of people who are so desperate to sit outside that we’re like, it’s cool to suck fumes all day. As long as I can have a beer in the sun with my friend, we are the kind of people who put on a million festivals, every chance we get, because we like to have a nice time.

[00:31:28] And I think that if we absorb that about ourselves and didn’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s not like, I think Toronto is the driest city in the world. I don’t, I think there are a lot of fun things happening, but just because I think there are a lot of fun things happening. Doesn’t mean there can be more.

[00:31:45] Fun things happening.

[00:32:15] Adil: [00:32:15] My name is Adil Dhalla. Most people end up calling me Dil, which you may as well Adil in Arabic means justice in Dell and Hindi means heart. And those are pillars in my life. So I am the child of immigrants. I was born here. My parents are from Tanzania. My ancestors are from India. I’m a community organizer.

[00:32:38] Most frequently for communities focused on social change. And currently I’m the Director of Community for Reset an organization that I co-founded about five years ago. And our mission is to inspire people to just play. And my artistry is expressed through experiences that I co-create. I am obsessed with Toronto and I’m infinitely optimistic about the collective potential that we have, but I’m also restless that our city is not for everyone.

[00:33:11] And I want to help affect that. That’s me.

[00:33:14] Liza: [00:33:14] I want to know more about your work.

[00:33:18] Adil: [00:33:18] So Reset is a social enterprise that myself and seven other folks created in 2015. And the premise of it was to create an out of town playground experience where people would show up they’d give in their technology. They weren’t allowed to talk about work.

[00:33:38] They weren’t allowed to use their real names. And for four days, And I think most people were very attracted to it from the perspective of having a break from their tech. And this is where I’m definitely included. I don’t think I expected how radical and revolutionary playing would be for me. It healed me.

[00:33:59] It connected me. It showed me new sides of me. It taught me as a consequence. It grew and it became more a part of our lives. And for the last. Or so years we’ve been organizing different playgrounds, mostly out of town, but increasingly only in town last year, we couldn’t organize our normal out of town play ground because the pandemic, but in that space, we began to think about how can re.

[00:34:27] Contribute to the social recovery required because of the pandemic. And because of all the other things that is making our social connection challenging. And so we began to reimagine, reset as an organization. That wasn’t one that you went out of town to play, but that we bought play into the city. So what we’re doing this summer is we’re bringing.

[00:34:51] A playground experience into the city and we’ve organized 40 pop-up playgrounds that we’re going to do in different parks and park Getz and parking lots and invite anybody who wants to play with that. Okay,

[00:35:02] Liza: [00:35:02] this is sick. Tell me about what happens in these things. What do they look like? Who comes? What do they do?

[00:35:08] I want to know about all these. It’s an audio

[00:35:10] Adil: [00:35:10] experience, very similar to like a guided meditation, but unlike a meditation, which guides you inward. This voice will guide you outwards, and it will guide you in a, so might have a choreographed play experience with nine other people who are doing the playground with you simultaneously, the hopes for doing this is that you get a feeling of a reset that you may actually feel a sense of connection.

[00:35:36] Not just with people, you know, with people you don’t know. And so we’d like to invite people to just play with us through this experience. And we’d like to invite them to be part of the social recovery through this audio experience. And I’m certain we’ll be doing it pretty soon together.

[00:35:54] Liza: [00:35:54] Fun. Okay. This is so fun.

[00:35:56] Okay. Play. What does play mean to you?

[00:35:59] Adil: [00:35:59] Play is things that I do that bring me pleasure. And as a child, I intuitively knew this, but as I got older, I increasingly forgot it. At least I thought I forgot it for the most part. But now with the advantage of retrospect, I realized that a lot of the way that the systems that governance are designed for us to not play, to suppress the play out of us.

[00:36:28] So now I see play. As things that I do for pleasure, but also as a tool for my liberation and a long life, I honestly think the more I play the longer and happier I’m going to be. So it means a lot.

[00:36:45] Liza: [00:36:45] Yeah, tools for liberation is real talk like black joy is black liberation, and I think you can take the black out of it

[00:36:53] They enjoy still is liberation for anyone, you know, like to feel good feelings, that’s freedom. And I think that’s something that everyone should embrace whenever they can, but you have to learn it. You know, like in my house, when I was growing up my culture and my heritage really informed. The way I understood the world the way I felt free to play.

[00:37:18] And I wonder about that for you. What was it like growing up in your house?

[00:37:22] Adil: [00:37:22] So in my house, where are our tens Nene and Indian roots for most prominent, we played a lot through dance. And my mom often was the person who organized the dance shows the variety shows and our cultural community. And so she was always teaching us how to move.

[00:37:39] And a lot of the inspiration I remember we took was from watching Bollywood films, but the tension was that outside the house, particularly in schools where the more Western culture was overwhelmingly Supreme, the culture of play and dance did not exist in the same way. For me, in many ways, it actually.

[00:37:58] Was primarily about sports as a young man. The way that I believed I had to play was centered often around sports and or something that had some sort of violent, competitive or hierarchical undertones. So the challenge for me growing up was there was a way that I was taught to play in the home. And then there was a way that people played beyond that.

[00:38:20] And. In time, just adopted the way outside my home more because I was the way that people were doing it. And that’s how I played.

[00:38:28] Liza: [00:38:28] Yeah. I have very clear memories of like family gatherings, where my cousin would choreograph a dance and it would invariably be to a wildly inappropriate song based on how old we were.

[00:38:42] But still we were like, yes, this is how we do it. Like, this is our dance. And then I remember being at school where. My school was so white and that definitely was not what was happening. Like the girls, there were not listening to the same music. They definitely weren’t learning the same dances. And there was always a, I can relate to that feeling of the tension between what’s going on with your family and what’s happening in the outside world and how it’s different.

[00:39:17] Have permission to play. And do you feel like you need permission or you don’t need permission? And do you have a memory of the first person who gave you?

[00:39:30] Adil: [00:39:30] Oh, a hundred percent. My parents or the ones who gave me. Initial permission. And I think so much of our society actually orientates around the idea of adults sacrificing and working to ensure children can play.

[00:39:44] I’m really grateful, especially because in retrospect it feels like their effort for me to play came at the expense of them being able to do the same. And I think a little bit speaking to them, but speaking more so to my experiences. Now I lost my sense of permission to play. There’s a period in my life when I was younger, when that was all that I knew.

[00:40:01] And then there were years where I increasingly lost it to the point that I was in my early thirties. And I literally, other than the one exception, which was playing basketball. But beyond that, I just did not know how to play. And the sense of permission did not exist. And it was only through some radical interventions that was able to affect that.

[00:40:20] And I’m still affecting that. One of the reasons why I’ve I’ve centered my whole life around play right now is because I know that is the way that I personally will get closer to a full on permission to play. But every day I feel like the systems around me are checking that or further suppressing that.

[00:40:38] And so it has been a battle.

[00:40:40] Liza: [00:40:40] Do you have an example of such a thing that you could share?

[00:40:45] Adil: [00:40:45] Can be often a deeply vulnerable experience, one which is embodied one of which there are feelings. There is laughter and I think growing up in a society to which the patriarchical system is and has played as dominant a role that it has.

[00:41:05] I think it has created the conditions for me to not want to feel vulnerable and to not be silly to, to default, to play. Often which is more hierarchical, competitive, and in some cases, just an exercise and physical strength, and we have to relearn what it means to be more collaborative through play with one another.

[00:41:26] So I think that to me is like the most obvious example that comes up when I think about the systems that governance.

[00:41:32] Liza: [00:41:32] Yeah, that feels really real. And I feel too, like as a person who really indulges in her silliness, like I love foolishness. It makes me laugh. I like that. There’s actually a level of intelligence required to be silly that I think people take for granted.

[00:41:50] We must never confuse silliness with stupidity because they’re actually not the same thing. Not by any means.

[00:41:59] Adil: [00:41:59] Listing to your field trip. You talked a lot about your dad and how at first, just by looks, people may not assume he is a funny person. I feel like my dad’s the same way. Sometimes there’s a perceived stoicism or seriousness, and then the silliness comes out and it’s almost like a ripple in the matrix.

[00:42:18] Like people don’t know what to do with it. And I love that. I really like I’m so encouraged. When I hear about men being silly, because I do think it is an act of vulnerability and it’s intended to bring light into spaces and that’s versions of masculinity that really admire and ascribed to be more of

[00:42:37] Liza: [00:42:37] Bless up.

[00:42:37] It’s real things. This ability to just be playful. And also, I think you’re right. I think it makes you live long. I

[00:42:43] Adil: [00:42:43] think. Historically struggled with expressing and emoting being in my feelings, being in my body. And I feel like I have trained myself to not laugh in the same way. I’ve trained myself not to cry with reset the organization.

[00:42:59] Like we really want to open up a physical space dedicated to play. And one of the things I really would love to do there is like a weekly workshop. Around laughter like teaching people how to

[00:43:10] Liza: [00:43:10] laugh. I love this. I love it so much. I think I have definitely observed that there are people in the world who don’t feel as though they have permission to laugh.

[00:43:22] And I have a very clear memory of going to the movies. A friend of mine, like years ago when we were still teenagers and being in the movie and laughing, and he was like, wow, you really laugh loud. And I was like, yeah, because it’s funny. And we’re in the movie theater and I’m laughing and I that’s it like, there’s not really anything else to discuss.

[00:43:43] I remember he was embarrassed that I was laughing. I had like a split second of like, is it not okay to laugh? And then very quickly dismissing this notion as preposterous. I don’t care. Like it doesn’t, I’m not in a library. This is not a place where things need to be silent. And it’s funny, like, but didn’t make any sense to me.

[00:44:05] I was like, maybe you should be laughing louder, but it was a very quick reversal for me. But I do think there are different ways that your upbringing kind of trains you to understand what’s okay. What’s not okay in the world. And I think that people have very different relationships to laughter as either an appropriate or an inappropriate.

[00:44:23] Thing to do at all, but yeah, I get embarrassed for sure. I get embarrassed, but not for laughing. I would like to also ask you how you would define the culture of play in Toronto at this moment. Is there anything you’d compare it to, is there anything that you’d use to describe it specifically?

[00:44:41] Adil: [00:44:41] I feel like Toronto is so big and so diverse.

[00:44:44] I don’t even really feel like I know it enough to make a here’s what I think about Toronto. But one thing I can offer is that. I think plays medicinal on an individual level. And I also think it is medicinal on a collective level. And I think Toronto, from a cultural perspective, I think. We get along more than we give ourselves credit for.

[00:45:08] And I think we have a lot more that we need to do in order to ensure that our city is equitable and is for everyone. And what I’m excited about is the intersection of play in protest. I’m excited to see play as a tool that will heal us and bring us together and be a form of protest where appropriate in order to bring people more together.

[00:45:31] And positive that plays a big part of our future.

[00:45:35] Liza: [00:45:35] I love this. I want to hear more about play and protests. Like, is it your belief that play is a form of protest in and of itself in the same way that joy is liberation? I

[00:45:50] Adil: [00:45:50] think it’s very similar. One of the biggest things that I learned over the last five or so years of organizing.

[00:45:59] Playgrounds is that it is very hard to have collective joy without justice. So I think the more that we create a culture where we are creating spaces for play, the more it will. Force our hand to confront the work that we need to do around justice. And so what I think about play as protest in some ways I think about that as adults, you know, we’re often not perceived that we should be playing.

[00:46:28] So I think we’re just protesting about being adults about the seriousness of our existence. And sometimes I think the way that also will come out is a manifestation of our desire for justice of our learnings, for equity and potentially for some, or our pursuit of collective Liberty. That

[00:46:45] Liza: [00:46:45] is very deep. I should have known.

[00:46:47] It would be very deep. It was a deep question. I could not really have had a shallow answer. I appreciate the thoughtfulness that you just extended.

[00:47:08] What do you think are some of the misconceptions of play that might lead it to be an under.

[00:47:15] Adil: Okay. I honestly think that the powers that be have designed the systems and there has been a number of ideas that have been planted into people’s minds. One of the biggest ones is that play is something that children primarily do.

[00:47:32] And I could not, at this point further distance. I, I feel that the older we get, the more we need to play it is played. That keeps us young. So I really think to play now is, can be seen as a revolutionary act. One of the things I really appreciated about your, about your field trip is you talked a lot about calling response.

[00:47:54] I love calling response one because it is a collaborative form of play and two. Uh, because it suggests that there isn’t as much a hierarchy between who’s onstage and who isn’t and that we can all play together. And I think that’s brilliant. I think the more that we create forms of play, where we remove the barriers between, you know, who’s good and who’s not.

[00:48:15] And just say we are all capable of calling and responding. I think the more people will.

[00:48:21] Liza: [00:48:21] Yeah. And I think to your point, the show can’t happen without an audience. Just the same way. It can’t happen without the performer. That’s actually the thing there without an audience, it’s just a rehearsal without a performer.

[00:48:39] It’s just a bunch of people in a room. And it’s the relationship between those two things that creates that dynamic that creates the energy of this is a story I am telling, and I need you to be able to hear it. We should talk about this notion of how we play. How do you.

[00:48:57] Adil: [00:48:57] My dream is literally like every day to learn a new way to.

[00:49:01] Because I just, I think this is the coolest thing about play. It is abundant. There’s just so many different ways to do it. Like my default way of playing is I love creating experiences, especially interactive intervention, any kind of experiences you many years ago, I started this group with a bunch of other people called project Euclid.

[00:49:22] Gangsterism. And we went around to public spaces, subways, city hall, you name it, but 50 of us at a time playing ukulele in unison. And I just like, I love, I love creating experiences that, you know, are these kind of, again, like these little ripples in the matrix, because I, I fundamentally believe that ripple has turned into waves and waves turned into the ocean.

[00:49:46] And I think I’m a ripple

[00:49:47] Liza: [00:49:47] creator. Ukulele gangsterism is really, those are not two words I ever would have imagined. Side-by-side so I really appreciate that. And I think you’re right. I think there’s something to the notion of just disrupting and typically disruption is associated with the negative, but me personally, I actually love disruption.

[00:50:09] Like I like when something is unexpected, I like when something comes in to break up the monotony of whatever else is going on. And I also like it when the intention behind the disruption. Is joyful and is caring and is born of a desire to put a smile on somebody’s face that impulse, the impulse to just yes, and every situation to its maximum absurdity.

[00:50:34] Is very satisfying to me in my own ways of wanting to play. I

[00:50:38] Adil: [00:50:38] am obsessed with the principle of yes, Yesod. I think it is so brilliant, so much so that I also want to offer you if you don’t already use this and if you’re interested, The word he, and yes. And yes, and it, and I just think that like a culture of Yan is the culture required in order for us to say yes, life is serious and struggle and yes, life can be.

[00:51:06] Silly and playful. Yes. As adults, we need to have an element of seriousness and there’s responsibility and things to do. And yes, we can. I

[00:51:16] Liza: [00:51:16] feel a line of Merck coming on, Yandy everywhere, put it on a t-shirt

[00:51:21] Adil: [00:51:21] bought the domain. Wow.

[00:51:38] Liza: [00:51:38] you know, you don’t have to get old and lose your sense of joy. And in fact, the older you get, the more shit you’re likely to have been through. And the more likely you are to need to play.

[00:51:51] Adil: [00:51:51] I agree. I really think as it relates to getting older, what happens is that we lose that sense of playfulness. But what if we did and what happens if we grew it?

[00:52:01] And what happens if that is actually literally the medicine that our ancestors and that our parents and that whomever around us is like, just play, just play. We

[00:52:10] Liza: [00:52:10] owe it to ourselves. Like someone said this to me the other day that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can absolutely control how you react to it.

[00:52:19] And this is. So valuable. And I think what I’ve realized about myself recently is that my first reaction is always going to be, to find the absurdity in a terrible thing, because I don’t have to think about it as terrible and make it more terrible.

[00:52:36] Adil: [00:52:36] I think so I do think that’s a skill. I do think that’s just part of it is about just how you feel, but if you self identify someone.

[00:52:44] We’ll make jokes when someone is in the hospital. So that is a skill, my friend. And it is a valuable skill, particularly because not only is it incredible that you can find the humor, but create humor, but also do so in a way that it’s not threatening and it feels safe. And it feels like you’re also honoring the moment.

[00:53:00] Liza: [00:53:00] There is really a very specific style of like quotation marks. That isn’t playing at all this weird conflation of competition and like daring people to do things that are not safe or joyful and disguising those things as.

[00:53:19] Adil: [00:53:19] I think there are ways that we miss identify play. And I think the more that we unlearn that and then find the ways that play can be more collaborative and participatory and kind, I think more people are going

[00:53:32] Liza: [00:53:32] to play.

[00:53:32] So what do you think is the connection between play and hours? Conceptions of safety of belonging and of freedom. And I think maybe since now, I know that you love love of love in a public space.

[00:53:48] Adil: [00:53:48] When I was younger, when the school yard, that is where I learnt what it meant to be included and excluded the most.

[00:53:56] And that is where I learnt about how to use, how not to use for. I just want to learn where to share. And so I think it’s in the playground where I learned began to learn a lot of lesson two, which today I would identify as lessons related to justice. And, and then the more that I played the wrong kind of play, the less I was practicing the ideas and pillars of justice.

[00:54:18] And so I really think that play is an incredible, not just teacher, but a creator of spaces. Where we can learn how to better get along. We need to teach justice in a way that it is not threatening in a way that it is not replicating the same mistakes of those who are oppressive. I think if we, and the ways that we’re teaching justice, I think we’ll create a culture where there is more space for more people to play.

[00:54:51] I think fun has been hoarded. I think the more we democratize play, the more we enable our collective liberation. And in order for that to happen, we have to break out of the, the rules that govern us. So one of the things I thought a lot about is there are just so many signs in the city that tell us what we can’t do.

[00:55:14] That’s fine. I understand that. There’s a purpose to that. But it’d be great to have just as many signs encouraging us to do other things, to remind us and instruct us to break out of the rules where appropriate

[00:55:28] Liza: [00:55:28] there’s, uh, a movement of people who put up signs for passer-by on the sidewalk that you have now officially entered the ministry of silly walks.

[00:55:37] And you’re here by instructed to walk in a silly way from this point until that point. That kind of stuff is so much fun and costs next to nothing to implement. What do you think about us as a city needs to change in order to be able to foster that sense of play and have a perception of the city as

[00:55:58] Adil: [00:55:58] a playground?

[00:55:59] I think often I have identified plays having to happen in playgrounds and on stages and certain play-based spaces. But increasingly I really think the city is like just one big playground. There’s people to whom play is not as accessible. And I think for those who are in a position to enable, looks like, I think that has to happen.

[00:56:22] I don’t know the statistics, but anecdotally from my experience, not a lot of them are centered on BIPOC communities. All of them are led by BIPOC leaders in communities. So I think there needs to be an investment in there. Yeah.

[00:56:34] Liza: [00:56:34] I’m not sure at what point in human history, we decided that hoarding was good times, but it definitely happened.

[00:56:41] And I think that life is a much nicer experience when you share. And for those people who have the financial resources that you could share X amount of dollars, and, you know, you wouldn’t feel the loss of that donation, but someone would definitely feel the receipt of the donation. Yeah. Like hoardings not cool.

[00:57:04] Adil: [00:57:04] Yeah. I’ve been just thinking a lot about cool. I don’t want to do, I don’t want to do cool thing.

[00:57:09] Liza: [00:57:09] Yes. Let’s make more things warm and yes, let’s also redefine cool because sharing is cool and caring is cool. Like those things are actually cool to me on

[00:57:19] Adil: [00:57:19] the same team here. I think so much of city building and city defining is like a product of the stories that we share.

[00:57:28] And so I think the more we tell a story of our city is a story of play. I think the more likely we are to be that story,

[00:57:35] Liza: [00:57:35] it’s really true. That’s why you have to be careful about the stories you tell yourself, because if they’re not good ones, ultimately you’ll start to believe it. In one of my field trips, I was talking about like, what if they were just public jukeboxes in places?

[00:57:46] And it’s like, I would really like to just see. Jokes written about the place, the same way. We’re getting a proliferation of beautiful murals in the city. Like I’d love comedians of the city to just have the opportunity to work with. Maybe like any kind of graffiti artists and get their jokes, like just written all around so that you could just literally be standing in line at the bank and look out the window and catch a joke.

[00:58:10] Adil: [00:58:10] I think to your point, that is, I think if we combine imagination with a number of everyday objects, I actually don’t think we need that much for play. I think that’s part of what makes play so beautiful is that it doesn’t take much in order to facilitate that opportunity

[00:58:26] Liza: [00:58:26] for people. Exactly. It’s the whole thing of you buy the child, the fancy toy, and all they care about is the box that came in because the box provides so much opportunity for imagination.

[00:58:37] There’s no reason why human beings who have invented so many amazing things. Like our imaginations don’t die, we just suppress them. So what are the things we can do to bring them back?

[00:58:52] Hima: [00:58:52] Thank you for listening. If this episode sparks something in, you consider sharing it with a fellow citizen. Don’t forget. We are all imagining possible futures for Toronto and to being, find a sub Instagram at Luminato festival.

[00:59:11] This episode of Desire Paths is produced by Alex Rand and co curated by Alex Rand and myself Hima Batavia with creative producers, Macy Siu. Jeremy Glenn and Robert Bolton of Toronto based foresight studio From Later.