Season 2 EP#67 The Playful Rebellion: Joy as Resistance with Gary Ware

arts entrepreneurship Jul 19, 2022

In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Gary Ware, Founder of Breakthrough Play, a corporate facilitator, keynote speaker, certified coach, and self-proclaimed Creative Catalyst. Gary has over 14 years of experience in the corporate world holding various leadership positions. Being a multifaceted individual, Gary also comes with nearly a decade of experience as a performer in improv theatre. After experiencing burnout in his pursuit for success and happiness, he realized that what was missing was play. Committing to a life of play is what led Gary to discover his passion for facilitating. Gary uses the power of applied improvisation and other playful methods to assist people in unlocking creativity, confidence, and better communication. Gary was recently featured as one of the Top 100 HR influencers of 2021 by the Engagedly HR software platform.

Main Topics Discussed:

  • Overcoming the guilt of diving into play to live a life with joy and abundance
  • The choice between overwhelm vs. ease
  • Moving from a playground of possibilities to a proving ground
  • How improv helps us see the “offers” in the world

What are you celebrating about yourself today?

Gary: Aside from being alive and breathing in fresh air, I’m celebrating the fact that I can assist people using playful methods in spite of the fact that we’re still going through a global pandemic.

How would you describe your medicine?

Gary: Rejuvenation. It's all about unlearning those conditioned states of being so that we can get back to our true, unbounded nature. I help people experience joy, especially when a number of people don't feel like they're worthy of it. I remind people that they are God-given. They are wired for this. I want to help people get back to that homeostasis—that sense of harmony with themselves and within the world.

How has your ancestral lineage led you on your current path?

Gary: My parents grew up in a rough environment and didn’t want their kids to have to face the same situations they did. To them, education was paramount. Growing up, I was never the type to conform. My teachers told my parents that I was a bright kid but always was up to some mischief. My dad would tell me that work was work, and that play would come afterwards once I did whatever I needed to do first, as if play was meant to be an afterthought if there was time. So my sole motivation for doing work growing up was always so that I could play afterwards. This followed me into corporate life where competition was rife and we had to work even harder, constantly, to prove to the company that we were worthy. Work was never done. And I always knew that there was something wrong about the status quo.

How did you discover play as your medicine as opposed to your vice?

Gary: The environment always wins. If the environment is not conducive to these practices, we get sucked into a vicious cycle. I got lucky: In an effort to optimize my success, I took an improv class, which unlocked my playful side even more. It’s ironic, because I didn't even see it as a playful endeavor. I just saw it as a way to get ahead of my coworkers. But in that first improv class, we played these silly games for two hours, connecting with each other. I was completely present for the first time in a long time. I was completely immersed. I was not thinking. That experience gave my body a chance to rejuvenate. It gave me a chance to tap into parts of myself that I hadn't tapped into for years. And then something interesting happened: I went back to work and the work was still the same, but it felt different. I was able to deal with it differently. I was able to respond with compassion with empathy. And again, I didn't know what I knew now, so I wasn't aware of it. I actually became excited for Monday in my corporate life, and I was excited because I get to go play after work. Really, it all happened by accident.

How did your coworkers receive you inviting play into the workspace?

Gary: I was the director of my team, so they were cool with me introducing it. Once you invite people into play, because it’s something everyone is wired for, it can be a very pleasurable experience. Just as play helps children learn more about the world, we as adults can also expand our horizons through play. Play revitalized my passion at the time for my work and I saw a lot of success in business—until I was let go one day almost overnight and lost my house soon afterwards. With my supportive wife and one-year-old son, I moved back into my parents’ house to figure out what to do next. And it turns out that my next move was to bring all I learned about the power of play to the masses. That was five years ago.

How has improv given you clarity on your purpose?

Gary: Improv is a mindset, and one of its most important concepts is the “yes, and…” rule, where you embrace the offer given to you and you build upon it and contribute to it. Now, it’s not always easy to embrace your offer. I definitely didn't like the fact that my business partner decided that we should go our separate ways with no warning whatsoever, nor did I like my landlord’s decision to sell our house. But I had to receive those offers positively, to take that one small step forward. Mistakes are gifts. They are opportunities for growth. Another tenet of improv is “deep listening”: listening to more than the words including tone. This helps with collaboration, which is sorely needed in an uncertain world. It all comes down to reconnecting with your intrinsic desire and choosing to take a step with positivity while making your partner look amazing all the while.

Who is your partner?

Gary: Right now, you. Every interaction is an act of co-creation. Most of us come from a scarcity mindset, so we don’t think about the good of the other person, but what we can get from them. Improv pushes you to find a win-win situation no matter what. A playful mindset is a fun mindset. So, how are you having fun with your partner?

What do you do to stay grounded and what have you learned to release?

Gary: I’ve learned to release judgment. To become a better version of myself, I’m trying to make more space for others. The most rebellious thing you can do is embody “defiant joy”, where you make it clear that nothing anyone or anything can do will destroy you. Brittany Packnett once wrote:

“Joy is a break from a news cycle that will discombobulate me if I let it. Joy is a middle finger to a bigot with a torch who wants to see me cower. Joy is a moral victory against extremism and a political win, fueling us to persist and resist. Joy is resistance to the hate that fills the front page. And yes, sometimes, joy is a bike, a burger, and me choosing myself, as an act of political warfare, so I'm ready to fight another day.”

If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what would they say to you today?

Gary: I love you. You are doing amazing work. Take a deep breath and realize that this moment is just a moment. No matter what you do, it’s going to work out; so, you might as well have fun and do it with flair, because the people who care are going to root for you no matter what.

Conclusion: Recognize the magic within you. Always take care to remind yourself that, as a human being, you make mistakes, but you are not a mistake. A mistake, in fact, is a beautiful opportunity for growth in this playground that we call life.

Action Integration: Join the Playful Rebellion by embodying defiant joy in your day-to-day life starting right now.

Learn more about Breakthrough Play:

Visit their website:

Buy the book Playful Rebellion:

Follow Gary on Instagram:

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