Surrealist Games to Spark Your Creativity

February 4, 2020 | By Steven Kenny

Hilarious, Mysterious & Provocative
— Surrealist Games to Spark Your Creativity

cut-out word bookmarks

Last week I dreamed that I walked into a brightly lit, crowded room echoing with excited chatter and bursts of laughter. Some people were standing while most were seated at large round tables busily focused on odd tasks.

The air was filled with the rat-a-tat-tat of antique typewriters as I walked from table to table. I passed one group rolling out oversize white dice covered with words instead of the usual black dots. Another group was making drawings with their eyes tightly closed. One table was scattered with words cut from magazines and being glued onto oblong pieces of card stock.

rewritten famous poems

Occasionally, someone would walk to a clothesline that stretched across one side of the room and proudly hang their creation for all to see.

Well, this wasn’t a dream! It actually happened at the Dalí Museum and it was a blast!

This event was the first iteration of Surrealist Game Night and was the result of the Dalí Museum’s Cyndi Vickers (Public Program Associate) reaching out to Keep St. Pete Lit. In case you don’t know, Keep St. Pete Lit (KSPLit) is a local non-profit organization whose mission is to “celebrate and promote greater St. Petersburg’s literary community — past, present and future — through arts, education and events with a literary twist. We are readers, writers and lovers of words who strive to bring an approachable, engaging literary component to St. Petersburg’s vibrant arts community.”

Maureen McDole, KSPLit’s founder and Executive Director, cheerfully acted as the evening’s master of ceremonies, assisted by fellow KSPLit board member Kathleen McDole and the Dalí’s Vickers. Together, they herded the gathering of amateur and seasoned surrealists in a collective effort to unleash everyone’s unconscious minds.

antique typewriter poems

The goal? To leave the predictable at the door and create in new ways that surprise and delight.

Many may associate surrealism with the visual arts, thanks in great part to the monumental presence of the painter Salvador Dalí.

However, the roots of surrealism are equally steeped in literature and theater. Greatly influenced by the groundbreaking psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud and the upheavals of WWI, writers and artists sought ways to detach themselves from what they saw as the failures of conscious thought and action. They now looked for inspiration in dreams and the irrational.

The Surrealist Game Night engaged participants in many of the techniques used by the early surrealists.

This writer arrived about 15 minutes late, worried that I’d missed an instructional introduction setting out a list of rules to be followed. To my surprise, there was no introduction. No assigned seating. Instead, participants were free to explore the games offered at each table and move about freely.

haiku cubes

Guided only by a brief written explanation of how to get started, one was free to make it up as you went along.

The activities included:

  • rewriting famous poems in your own words without forethought
  • using an antique typewriter, create a spontaneous poem or leave a partial one for the next person to finish
  • roll out word dice to compose a haiku poem
  • randomly choose cut-out words to glue onto a bookmark
  • make an automatic drawing without a preconceived image in mind

The clothesline quickly filled with dangling poems and drawings proudly displayed by the participants, resembling signal flags dangling above a lunatic cruise ship. The high noise level was a clear indication of just how much fun everyone was having and there was no sign of fatigue, frustration or boredom.

impromptu poems

The delightful pandemonium would have continued unabated if Maureen McDole hadn’t managed to get everyone’s attention for one final exercise.

She produced a fish bowl filled with scraps of paper — on each was a single word. The object was to pick three words from the fishbowl without looking and create a poem or story on the spot.

Under normal circumstances, you might expect to hear the sound of crickets from a lack of volunteers but, in this situation, there was no shortage of willing impromptu poets and storytellers in the room.

Everyone’s creative juices were flowing by this point (aided with some beer and wine) and the results were hilarious. Two hours had flown by and the raucous crowd was reluctant to disperse.

impromptu poems

There were a couple things I noticed during the evening. It’s been my experience that interactive gatherings expose the introverted tendencies in us. However, this event seemed to make it easy for everyone to share their work and feel unashamed to reveal what spilled from their heads onto the paper. Very little self-consciousness was on display.

Also, there was a fair amount of men in attendance willing to play along. It was refreshing to get the sense that the playing field was level.

Everyone’s unconscious minds knew instinctively how to play together and converse in a common language.

Here’s to more unconscious creativity and surreal interaction! Let’s hope Keep St Pete Lit and the Dalí Museum — and other groups and venues — keep this ship afloat and embark on more surreal cruises in the future.

Photos by Steven Kenny

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