A Summer of Play, Part Four

As we conclude our podcast series on the beauty and necessity of play, Dan Allender is joined by a good friend, Russ Teubner, to talk about the playful work of curating beauty in surprising, creative ways. Russ is a software developer and business owner, and he also launched a unique event venue called Backstage in Stillwater, OK—a beautiful gathering space accented by unique art and grounded in the history of its location.

Russ: “A number of things were happening in the community, and I think things were happening inside of me as well, that I was becoming more attuned to my own desire to be creative.”

Dan: “You’ve created a playground for adults to enter into their senses—the combination of art, food, music, stories, and conversations. I’ll just say, you’re a genius at play, even if you don’t think of yourself as that playful.”

As Russ shares the story behind launching Backstage, Dan recommends that you check out the venue’s website to get a sense of some of the beauty that Russ has curated for his local community. Russ reflects on how this project invited him into a different type of creative work. While he sees software development as creative in its own way, that is typically solitary work. In launching Backstage, Russ was embarking on a creative endeavor that is embodied more publicly and communally. It was, to go back to one of the categories from the first episode in this series, a significant and vulnerable risk.

I was becoming more attuned to my own desire to be creative.

Dan: “Play taps into a very different part of our being, frankly a very different part of our brain. […] Much of play requires sensuality, our body, our creativity in a way which, frankly, is terrifying.”

Russ: “I have never felt that exposed as a creative person. […] Never had it been so personal. Because in this space I really wanted to show something of a creative side of me, a bit of my heart, a bit of my passion.”

Backstage exists in what was a cold, industrial location, so part of the task of creating this venue was wrestling with how to bring life and humanity into the space. Russ says that aligns with the work he’s pursued in his decade-long journey with Dan and The Allender Center: learning to cultivate beauty, joy, and sensuality in places that seem cold and lifeless.

Russ: “I don’t think the person I was 15 years ago could have produced that design, that project. I just couldn’t have. You began helping me peel back all of those layers from way long ago, to help see how that young boy—who was very playful and carefree and creative—over a sequence of time and a given context, became very locked up. Only by reentering my story with others helping put my finger on the trauma, the damage, the areas that I needed to look at—only then could I see my own story, that it is bigger than what it was 15 years ago.”

Dan: “You have learned something that has applicability to anybody who wants to play in the kingdom of God and draw people in space to a narrative, to a story, a plot that involves God—the creator who’s opened the story.”

In sharing Russ’s story, our hope is that you—and all of us—would continue wondering what it looks like for you to cultivate new depths of play in your life, and to invite others to play with you, that reveals something of the goodness and kindness of God. Where are you called to play?

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again;’ and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

–G.K. Chesterton