About the Episode
- The importance of a playful mindset and its benefits in the workplace, including fostering connection, innovation, and psychological safety
- Trudi's squiggly career journey and why she has had 48 jobs, from performing on London’s West End, to working in a bikey bar, and how her diverse experiences have shaped her approach to creativity and communication
- Trudi's experience using play in high-stakes situations, such as working with incarcerated women and seriously ill children, and how play can be a tool for healing and transformation
- How it can be difficult and confusing to explain what you do when you don't fit into a predefined box, and why Trudi finds that identifying as a grokkist helps her make sense of herself.
Recorded 13 June 2023
I avoided using the word play for years, because nobody takes play seriously. You say creativity and people revere it and you say play and people dismiss it.
People said, 'what do you do?' And I'd say, 'oh, I'm a, um, well, uh, I've got the arts... and I'm experiential... and it's communication...' I got to a point where I was exhausted. I just didn't have the energy to bullshit. And I said to someone, 'I teach people how to play'.
And they went, 'oh yeah, I like it.' And I thought, all these years I've been trying to wrap this up as something else, but actually this is what I do.
My guest today is Trudi Boatwright, an experiential designer, facilitator, and creative who specialises in play. Trudi supports organisations in innovation, communication and teambuilding through her rare combination of Experiential Learning, Applied Improvisation, Design thinking and Play theory, with workshops, programs and journeys that are unique, effective and an awful lot of fun.
Trudi’s journey has been particularly squiggly, even by the standards of this podcast, with a total of 48 different jobs, ranging from working in a bikey bar to selling insurance. On the other hand, Trudi is also one of my very rare podcast guests who not only had a clear Plan A, but also achieved it. It just isn’t what she’s doing now.
She began her journey in acting, driven by a deep curiosity about people and how we behave. She describes being an arts practitioner in Australia’s chronically underfunded arts sector as a life choice where you always need to have another form of income because it’s simply too hard to sustain yourself on your arts practice. This is what people call their B roll, which explains many of those 48 jobs. But Trudi’s Plan A was… well, trust me, it sounds better when she tells it…
I was that little girl who said, 'when I grow up, I want to be an actor and I want to perform on the West End.' And, language warning... then I fucking did it! We created this incredible theatre company and we were moving and shaking in the London theatre scene, and it was glorious.
And then just after that happened I have what I like to call my etch-a-sketch moment, where life went, actually, you know what? You will start again. Let's just say, I couldn't stay in the UK anymore. I lost all my money. I lost my marriage, everything. Life just went, actually, you know what? Start again. So I did.
Back in Australia, Trudi was trying to make a go of things, and started an immersive theatre company in Melbourne. A turning point came with a role at the Starlight Children’s Hospital as a Captain Starlight, where she used play and storytelling to bring joy and laughter to seriously ill children and offer positive disruption from the stresses of medical treatment. This experience made clear to Trudi the power of purposeful play, and she went on to study play therapy, learning how to use play to help individuals process emotions and experiences. One of Trudi's most memorable experiences was working in a women's prison, where she used play to help incarcerated women prepare for job interviews.
Realising there was much that the business world could learn from the arts, Trudi began to consciously integrate her arts and business practice, gradually transitioning into the corporate world, using her knowledge of play to help organisations innovate and communicate more effectively and create more connected and empathetic workplaces.
It will be no surprise for those that were following along. It is really interweaving all of my skills and all of the things that I have been doing and that I love for over 20 years.
I never thought they would all come together, but miraculously they have and I think everybody around me has been waiting and is nodding and saying, 'oh, finally she's made it all make sense. Thank goodness. We've been waiting such a long time.'
Despite the twists and turns, Trudi’s curiosity about people and her passion for play have formed a red thread that runs throughout. She lights up most when helping people connect with their play personalities, knowing that the richness of human experience means no two people play the same.
My most favourite part of the work that I do is unlocking this feeling of – oooh – being in a new space that feels slightly out of your comfort zone and fun and exciting and possible. I love seeing people just let go and just be them. That's when all the beautiful stuff comes out, when you just stop censoring yourself.
This was a delightful and playful conversation, child-like while discussing topics that are far from childish. I’m so excited to share it with you, not least because to me personally it encapsulates why I do this show and what being a grokkist is all about.
For those of us who don't fit into a box, it's a very confusing journey because you're always sort of wafting around, not really sure how you express what it is that you do. I was so excited to sit down and talk with you today because it made me feel like I made sense.
There's something really wonderful about knowing that there is a tribe of people who all feel the same way and that it's starting to be appreciated. So, on behalf of all the grokkists, thank you very much.
Links and resources
- Trudi's website
- Trudi's LinkedIn
- Institute for Experiential Learning
- Trudi's 'playful panel' at Design Outlook 23
- Viola Spolin
- Stewart Brown - play personalities
- Scott Aberle - six elements of play