Yesterday we opened the site – and the season – at Governor’s Island.
For those non-Americans out there, this is a long holiday weekend and the social start of the summer. It felt like the meteorological start too, with that baking, bleaching heat that makes New York City summers so distinctive, and so sweaty.
It was a quiet day compared to those to come, and it felt good to be able to set up the site as we wanted, to spend real time with the children and adults who came out. There was one family group, a boy, a girl and their mother. He was still in their mother’s arms, peering over her shoulder with an air of deep suspicion.
“He’s just woken up from a nap,” she said, as he responded to my wave by solemnly shaking his pudgy fist.
“La la,” the little girl said, as she threw a large orange beach ball up and then jumped into the air afer it.
She’d understood the idea of the Pop-Up Adventure Playground immediately, clarifying only “everything in these boxes?” I nodded. She went to one and pulled out a length of rope, red with yellow threads. It was as heavy as a mountain climber’s coil and clearly brand new. She looked to me for the nod and then opened it. As it began to uncurl she dropped it onto the ground and took out another, this one blue and white.
“I don’t think she has a plan what to make,” her mother said, sounding apologetic.
“It’s okay,” I told her, as the girl set off for something else to unravel or turn over. “Even if she just wants to make a mess, that’s okay. How often does anyone get to hear that, right?” I grinned at her, and she smiled back.
Later, the mother began tying fabric around cardboard tubes, fixing it with bungee cords.
“I’m trying to make a person,” she said, looking at the construction. “But the head isn’t good. Too… lumpy.”
I went over, trying to see whether it was encouragement she needed or just time, when she picked up the headless cardboard person and turned it over onto her lap. She’d been talking more to herself than me, so I moved along.
Her daughter meanwhile had been skipping around the site, touching the silk pieces flapping in the wind, taking a be-ribboned stick off my hands and reaching around a tree to wave it at herself. Now she was sitting by a pile of little objects, and Sharon and the girl’s brother were there too. I wandered over to see what was going on.
The girl picked up a bamboo cup that was filled with plastic poker chips, large beads and glass marbles. She shook it, then sat it down and moved onto something else.
The cup felt good in my hand. Nicely weighted, smooth but full of clatter. On impulse, I turned it upside down and struck it on a piece of wood, as if it were a dice cup and I was gambling. The girl looked up, startled and excited. She picked up the beads, the poker chips and put them back inside. Her brother found a plastic tub with a screw-top lid and he shook it, then handed it to me to open. It was full of marbles. The girl squealed, and began picking through them for the largest, the prettiest.
She began speaking to them in a made-up language, chattering:
“Meedle broop doop dee, zip doop.”
I tried to reply.
“Fnarf, fna.” She shook her head, and gently scolded.
“Feedley blap pleep dop.”
I tried again.
“Needley dop deep koop?” She nodded, and began counting out marbles into my cupped palms.
“Deet doop, penneley treep.”
We continued talking, giving one another questions and answers. I shook my hands like an earthquake so all the glass marbles clicked and rolled together. She swayed on her heels. One marble jumped out, landing on the grass, and she plucked it out with thumb and forefinger, then dropped it back into the rattling pile.
This is a rare and remarkable opportunity for many of the 2 million children growing up in New York City to enjoy child-led and open-ended play provision. It’s stocked with lots of great scrap materials, staffed by gifted playworkers and is completely free for everyone to attend. We’re partnering with theFIGMENT NYC art festival and have been told to expect hundreds of thousands of visitors over the next 4 month period.
Your pennies, pounds and zloty can help – go to our IndieGoGo page now: http://www.indiegogo.com/Pop-Up-Adventure-Play
There are free gifts for donators!