#2 Playback reaches across divides

True Story Theater is often invited to perform or teach with the aim of building bridges between participants across differences such as  age, race, class, organizational position, or sexual orientation.  These have been some of our most satisfying experiences.

We are always hungry to hear whether and how our work makes a difference.  Recently, we were thrilled by this testimonial:

“As a Palestinian in the US, I often feel alone and afraid of prejudice at social events.  So I keep my identity hidden.  After True Story Theater played back my experience at a conference, I felt so encouraged that I reached out to an Israeli conference participant and we made a genuine, positive connection. It was a breakthrough for me!  Without that Playback experience, I would have avoided him and certainly wouldn’t have revealed my ethnicity.”
– R. Khouri

Like many people, we are heartsick about the violence between Israel and Palestine.  Every tiny drop of positive connection between people in the Middle East feels valuable. We believe Playback has huge potential as a potent vehicle for helping people hear each other and heal.

Three years ago, my husband (and True Story founder) Christopher and I offered a Playback training that led to one of the first Arab Playback companies in Israel. This summer, our beloved friend Uri Alon (who lives in Israel but was part of True Story for two years) conducted several shows for Jewish people who had to leave their kibbutz because of the bombings.  For several years, Ben Rivers and The Freedom Bus project has worked with Palestinian communities, spreading Playback and other theater and organizing methods.  We hope it keeps spreading.  There is so much to be done, both here and abroad.

#3 – Creating intimacy outdoors

It’s ridiculously difficult in the great outdoors to create the focus and intimacy people need to share important and often vulnerable stories from their lives. Yet in warmer weather, so many great performance opportunities are outdoors!  We recently practiced three ways to bring Playback into the wide open spaces:

Be inventive: At the Figment Festival of participatory arts in Boston, we successfully tried one of our favorite out-of-the-box experiments, “Roving Playback.”   We roamed the fair in small groups of 3-4 actors (many of them new Playback students), and politely approached attendees who were hanging out on benches, asking if they’d like to share something from their day at the fair.  After offering a quick “fluid sculpture” of their story, most would beam in delight. And on we’d go to find the next teller…

Be bold: True Story was hired to be the first artists to launch a new Arts in the Park series in Everett.  The show started with an audience of only five elderly women in lawn chairs!  So as people innocently strolled through the park, never guessing they would be part of our show, our conductor Christopher just brazenly went up and asked them to share something from their lives.  He skillfully drew out stories from teens and elderly, from long-time residents and new immigrants… and we managed to pull off a surprisingly satisfying show.

Be nonverbal: At the Cambridge River Festival, it was reasonably quiet in our Storytelling Tent… until a rock band started playing in the next block!  We actors could barely hear each other. Our show about stories from long-time Cambridgeport residents got even livelier, as we communicated mostly in body language (and shouts when essential).  Fortunately, we heard from audience members that they heard us well enough and loved it.

#4 – Hellos and goodbyes

One of the most beautiful parts of being in a Playback company is how deeply we get to know and trust each other.  Yet one of the saddest parts of being in a Playback company is saying goodbye to beloved members as they move on to other pursuits.  Because True Story is such a large company (16-20 members, while most Playback companies have 6-12), we experience hellos and goodbyes more often than most.

In September, long-time member Johnny Lapham said farewell to True Story so he could focus on other interests, including artistic pursuits of woodworking and painting at his Open Hand studio in Cambridge. We miss him already!  Three other treasured members are taking multi-month leaves of absence to handle the pressures of their non-performing lives:  Ani Nguyen, Nicole Brucato, and Kamau Hashim.

At the same time, we are happily welcoming three new, enthusiastic members:  Alysa Escobar, Emily Woods, and Paul Merrill.  View here the lovely faces of all troupe members, new and old.

We’re next holding auditions possibly in November, so if you or someone you know might be a good fit for True Story, please ask them to be in touch as soon as possible.  Being a part of this playful, creative family and getting to serve the community through Playback is supremely rewarding.