Playthink Festival

4-Day Music, Art Celebration in Berea Offers Circus-Like Family Fun 

By Katie Saltz

PlayThink2PlayThink is unique for its family-friendly policy. All ages are welcome to come and experience workshops and performances ranging from yoga to aerial silks to fire spinning.Paige Hankla invites you to run away to the circus with her. But she knows that might not be feasible, which is why she founded PlayThink, the music, art and movement festival in Berea, which is celebrating its fifth year in June.

Hankla had attended other festivals such as BonnarooMusic and Arts Festival and All Good Music Festival.

She experienced the atmosphere where people dropped their inhibitions, but it usually involved drugs or alcohol.

She wanted a place where people could be sober and still enjoy the festival experience.

“I wanted an environment where people could feel safe and uninhibited, and be like children and have play in their lives,” she said.

Hankla wasn’t a mother at the time, but she saw the need for a family-friendly festival in the Kentucky area.

“I saw the community wasn’t whole because there was no place for children at these festivals,” she said.

In 2012, the owner of Homegrown Hideaways farm in Berea mentioned the idea of hosting a festival, and Hankla saw her chance.

She threw together the first PlayThink Movement and Flow Arts Festival in a few months.

Around 100 people attended – most of them instructors. In 2015, the festival had grown and drew nearly 1,000 people.Playthink5

Hankla has a master’s degree in public administration but left the workplace when her son was born in 2015.

Now PlayThink is a year-round job for her while being a stay-at-home mom.

PlayThink offers classes in hula hooping, drumming, dance, music, martial arts, storytelling, spoken word and more.

Instructors come from across the nation to lead workshops. Beyond the classes, PlayThink has art installations, roaming artists, stilt walkers, fireworks, demonstrations, performances, unique shopping and food vendors.

“There are so many options that it is a different experience for every person,” Hankla said.

The children’s area is set up so parents can drop off the kids for supervised play and enjoy their own classes if they wish.

A creek on the farm makes for fun exploration for the kids, Hankla said, so kids can experience freedom in a safe environment.

Winnie Wolfram, a professional clown, has attended PlayThink since the first year and works the children’s area.

She performs magic, makes balloon animals and leads nature scavenger hunts, crafts and face painting.

Wolfram called PlayThink the best community festival she has ever attended.

“Couples come back with their children year after year because it’s a safe place for kids to run and play,” she said. “It’s a great place for family bonding.”

Wolfram cited a story of an 11-year-old boy who saw fire spinners at the festival. He wanted to learn, so his mother had him spend the next year practicing with plastic batons.

When he returned to PlayThink the following summer, the experts guided him in safety courses, closely supervised while he fulfilled that dream of spinning fire.

Hankla emphasized that the festival is truly for all ages. She has seen a 2-week-old baby with his parents, and a 90-year-old woman enjoy classes.

Alcohol use is highly discouraged and private security is on site to handle any intoxicated attendees swiftly.

The festival runs for four days. Gates open Wednesday, June 15 at 6 p.m., and the festival runs through Sunday, June 19 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available as one-day or four-day passes.

Berea has some lodging accommodations but most people camp with their own gear.

There is no cell phone reception on the farm, something Hankla said most people welcome for the long weekend.

By breaking out of the daily routine she hopes adults can let their children try new things without fear, and engage in some playfulness themselves.

“Every child needs to experience the freedom that PlayThink can offer,” Hankla said.

“I want PlayThink to have an atmosphere of magic, and for people to feel inspired to play themselves, and feel safe to have radical self-expression.”

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Photos by Erica Chambers