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Arts & Humanities Festival 2016: Play


What is the role of play in the realm of the arts and humanities? Is it an expression of freedom? Or is play unthinkable without rules? Play is often presented in opposition to work or seriousness. Do we think that human play must always have a serious purpose or serious effect? Or do we value it for its resistance to these things? Is there always an element of make-believe? Or can we play as ourselves? What is play’s biological – or evolutionary – purpose? How is play marketed to children, and to adults? How is it regulated? And how should it be?

‘Play’ is one of the oldest English words, and has acquired extraordinary richness of idiom and metaphor, covering most aspects of living. We play by the rules, play fair, play our cards right, play it safe, play into someone’s hands, play the field, play on words, play for time, play hard to get, or play dead. It is unusually rich in phrasal verbs too: we play along, play up, play down, play back, play out, play off, play at, play with, and play up to; we play around, and play about.

With this richness in mind, the 2016 Arts & Humanities Festival will consider play not only in terms of theatre (though in the year of Shakespeare 400 we certainly shall be thinking of it in its dramatic sense); but will address all forms of performance – music, poetry, comedy, talk, sport – and many other themes besides: games and gaming, video and cinema, effects of light and water, humour, jokes, tricks, fantasy, amorous or sexual play, recreation, and freedom of movement.

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Throughout the festival Week 1

Monday 10 October

Tuesday 11 October

Wednesday 12 October

Thursday 13 October

Friday 14 October

Saturday 15 October

Week 2

Monday 17 October

Tuesday 18 October

Wednesday 19 October

Thursday 20 October

Friday 21 October




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