InterPlay: Unlocking the wisdom of our bodies – in community


Creativity and play, relaxation and reflection, are the hallmark of InterPlay, a 15-year-old system of creating in the moment that allows participants to regain integration and connectedness, with their own bodies and with each other, in community. Founded in Northern California by Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter, who have been collaborating as artists, performers, teachers, writers and philosophers for nearly 28 years, InterPlay presents "untensives" (the opposite of intensives) nationwide and in Australia, and it continues to change lives in the process.

InterPlay’s founders will present a five-day untensive "The Unbelievable Beauty of Being Human" June 13-17 at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights, Minn. Veteran InterPlay members and new workshop participants will present a 7:30 performance on Saturday, June 16, in the college theatre.

Through movement, improvisation, breathing, voice, song, storytelling and play, InterPlay helps participants develop the ability to express themselves, collaborate with others, expand their personal awareness, find their creative power and recognize their leadership potential.

"One of the things we keep seeing happen over and over again in our communities," Phil Porter said in a recent interview with Edge Life, "is that if you give people some space, and if you provide an open attitude, which we do through a lot of affirmation, then all sorts of things can happen for people and they really discover how much power they do have."

Let’s explore more about what InterPlay is.
Phil Porter:
It’s a system of practices that are based in the creative arts. One of the things that we’re doing is helping people reconnect with the way their bodies work. Bodies really want to move toward integration – body, mind, heart and Spirit. When we talk about bodies, we’re really talking about all of those things.

The kind of playing that we do happens almost automatically – and people experience that integration. In our particular way of creating in the moment, we teach people some simple ways to improvise, through movement, storytelling and singing, and then various combinations of those. When people are able to do that, they’re also able to access a lot of their own information in ways that don’t often happen.

And it will open up different channels within themselves?
Exactly. A lot of our work is about relationships, because we’re creating with someone else. It’s very much about the interaction between people, both the process of noticing what we’ve done, what we’ve created, and what we notice and what other people are doing. I’ve been talking recently about in-betweenness. We’re playing a lot with what happens in-between people. Interplay creates a lot of that, so it’s a strong community building process, as well.

How did InterPlay develop?
The short version of that story is that many years ago, Cynthia Winton-Henry and I were in the Body and Soul Dance Company, which was looking at how theological themes and images might be used in choreography. Essentially, we were dancing in churches, and we had to build some of the bridges to help people see the relationship that we saw between physicality and spirituality.
What we were experiencing ourselves was how closely body and Spirit were integrated, and we needed to find ways to articulate that and also have other people experience it. So we were performing and teaching workshops and started to find some ways to help people of all ages and abilities to get access to their own movement vocabulary and their own stories.

We decided we wanted to focus more directly on how to teach people to improvise and also to continue to explore the ways that body and Spirit were integrated. At that point, we started InterPlay consciously. That was the name that we gave to our technique, and we started teaching classes and had a performance company. Just through experiments with various forms, things have developed and continue to develop. It’s a constantly changing system, because other people are doing it now and they are teaching us things. It just continues to be refined and expanded.

Do you have a company that travels, or do you invite the community to come and be participants in this?
We do have a performing company in the Bay area, called WING IT! Performance Ensemble, and sometimes we travel with that group of people. But what we’re doing in Minnesota is actually a form that we first developed in 1997. We just call it a UBBH, the Unbelievable Beauty of Being Human. We go someplace, we use local performers who have worked together, other people come in from other parts of the country, and we bring some of WING IT! as well. For the Minnesota trip, seven of us are coming from the company, and then there’ll be another 30 or so people involved. It will be a big group of people. We did one in Chicago and had 70 people involved in it.

If I signed up because I wanted to explore it, what would I experience?
We will do a lot of community building activities so that people can get to know each other, and then we will spend a fair amount of time teaching some large-group forms (activities) and playing with them. Some of them are movement forms. Some of them are centered around storytelling. They are simple structures that a whole bunch of people can easily take part in and that you could learn quite quickly.

Some of this will have core spots in the performance itself, and then the other parts of the performance are based on people’s past experience with InterPlay, doing solos and various sorts of duets and contact work and what we call big-body stories. Over the course of the evening, we’ll just do a whole series of those sorts of pieces.

Your web site states that the motto of InterPlay is "What if life didn’t have to be so hard?" That implies that we make it more difficult that it has to be. Why do we do that?
That’s a good question. Quite frankly, I think it’s because a lot of times rather than paying attention to the way that our own bodies work and following that, we easily get moved into – sucked into – the forms and structures that have been created, sometimes not necessarily for our own good. I think there’s the idea that there are certain things that we’re supposed to do to fit in.
We haven’t been taught a lot about how to listen to our own information. What we’ve noticed is that once you start listening to your own body, within any given structure, there are actually many ways that we can change the way that we’re doing things to make it easier on ourselves.

It turns out that things can be a lot more fun than we thought, and that it ends up being good for everyone – and we can still be productive and we can still be effective. We can still do all the things that we need to do to work together as a group. And it actually creates more space for other people. There’s quite a strong ethos, I think in the InterPlay community, around community, and realizing that we can have community without having to sacrifice major parts of ourselves.

Why is the timing right now for Interplay in our society?
We’ve seen over the last 10 or 15 years or so how much more talk there is about integration. More people are talking about the relationship between the mind and body, and body and Spirit. Health people are talking about spirituality. It’s just in the air. When we first started with InterPlay, we had to convince people that there should be a relationship between body, mind, heart, and Spirit, and now we don’t have to do as much convincing.

I think people more people are recognizing, "Oh, I really need to be able to bring all of myself to the various parts of my life, and I don’t want to be leaving parts behind."

How does watching an InterPlay performance for the first time affect people?
I think that there’s a kind of directness and "personalness" to Interplay performance. Cynthia often talks about InterPlay as being a folk art, because it’s for just folks. I think people can recognize a lot of what we create quite directly in their own lives. An InterPlay performance feels quite immediate and quite real.

One of the characteristics of InterPlay is that it can be funny, but it can also be quite profound. Humor is really important to us, but we also let ourselves go to some of those deeper places. There’s an honesty to it, and a transparency that I think people recognize.

How has InterPlay evolved since it was created?
The first major thing we noticed was that we started meeting people we had not taught who knew InterPlay. People were coming to the Bay area or wherever we might be teaching with this experience. People no longer have to come to Cynthia and me to learn InterPlay. There are lots of people they can learn it from.

The other thing about InterPlay is that it has the potential for being applied to various sorts of subjects and communities and disciplines. For example, there are people who are using InterPlay in therapy, spiritual direction or counseling, and there are people who are using InterPlay in health care situations. Other people who are using it in schools as a way of training kids in the arts.

People who are learning InterPlay are taking it into situations, experimenting with it, and seeing what they learn. What we’ve been doing over the last couple of years is to gather some of those people and have them talk together about what they’re learning and spread those ideas out. This summer, for example, we’re gathering a group of people who are interested in applying InterPlay forms to worship. There was one conference like that on the East Coast and we’re doing another one on the West Coast.

As a co-founder you must be pretty excited by what you’re seeing, how it’s developing.
It is exciting, but it’s been a pretty gradual thing. InterPlay tends to be one of these things that only a few people take on very deeply. The process of its spreading has been both surprising and what we would describe as at the speed of the body. It is very exciting to have co-created something that has spread like this. So, we’ll see where it goes.

For more information on InterPlay, visit

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Tim Miejan
Tim Miejan is a writer who served as former editor and publisher of The Edge for twenty-five years. Contact him at [email protected].


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