Art for Multicultural Communities
A record of our OPEN SUNDAY Workshop/Performances of Playback Theatre
AUGUST 2010 – JULY 2012
15 July 2012…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica
Our theme to launch us today was Internationalism, Multiculturalism and the Olympics!
We had several friends joining us from South America; some through our connection to the international Playback Theatre network and some from UMWEP (the Unite Migrant Workers Educational Project). We also had some new friends from the professional theatre world, and also some Psychodrama psychotherapists! And also some friends from Hungary through the connection to our AMC Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Partnerships funding.
Veronica conducted with Julian, Shu-yun, Mei Mac, Parie as actors, Quang as musician, and Linda taking notes again.
We were in the student lounge today, a little different from the big hall that we usually inhabit on these Sundays. Its exam time, so the big – normally empty – space is set up with desks and chairs. Easier for us to move the furniture in the student lounge next door with a bonus of soft sofas for our audience today!
“Inspiring and engaging atmosphere. Its very good to create an interactive relaxing feeling for any guest” Amanda
Once we opened our performance, G spoke of a sweet re-encounter with an old friend. R said she had a sense of connectedness, interdependence, presence in being here. Ichi-go-ichi, the Japanese expression for here and now/one time one meeting. Another G told of just returning from holidays in France. Her son is married to an Iranian. When they all arrived back at Gatwick airport, she was distressed to see how her daughter-in-law was treated differently. G sees her as family, one of themselves. It was painful to see her treated as the ‘other’. Her daughter-in-law disregards it like water off a duck’s back, but for G it was hard to witness.
Then R spoke cultural/class differences in the workplace, of how as a therapist he was working in groups with people from all nationalities and religions talking about depression, anxiety and fear. And he felt connected and the same as them in this context, but he was so aware how different he felt outside of this therapeutic space, when his middleclass values separates him from his clients. He values education, and self-development, which his clients profess to share. He expects commitment to attendance and good time-keeping but his working-class clients wont follow through, and he sometimes despairs of making the difference in their lives that might be possible, if they would only turn up regularly and make full use of the time that he gives to them.
J then told a story of when there was a moment of exquisite connection across what seemed like an impossible chasm with one of her clients – a British-born Muslim. J works with women who have suffered from domestic abuse. She runs empowerment workshops. Her client was depressed, feeling trapped within her family culture. During a one-to-one session J used action methods to concretise these feelings. On the one side of the room, her client built a wall to represent the cultural expectations that imprison her. What’s the opposite side of the room then? J asks. Her client took time to think about this, and then named this other space the divine side, the sense of the spiritual inside, her Muslim-birthright to happiness. It was remembrance that had been lost to her, and was like a revelation. Even though J is a pagan with a deep connection to the earth, it was a statement that resonated deeply between them. This acknowledgement of the sacred allowed an intimacy across a chasm of differences. A precious moment of meeting. J feels her client can now move forward now with a sliver of hope and sense of possibility.
Our last story from B, took us first to Frankfurt, and the most recent International Playback Theatre conference (Nov 2011 when 400+ people gathered for a 4-day event). Jonathan Fox’s closing speech exhorted us as playback practitioners to find ways of bringing both sides of a story, in a conflict situation, onto the stage without diminishing the Teller’s point of view. Then B spoke of the work he has been doing over the past three years of annual visits to teach Playback Theatre in Sri Lanka. The civil war there of 25 years is ended but memories are still bitter.
Since 2006, there has been an initiative to teach Playback theatre to several communities north and south, so that they can meet on the common ground and values of Playback Theatre in an exchange of stories and experiences. B went there recently to continue coaching his team of plantation pickers in the central part of the country. He asked for stories about what they enjoyed and what they struggled with. On the first day they came out with many stories of being in control, and many stories had solutions. The next day, a huge stream of stories emerged about being out of control, when things did not go well. It was such a relief that these could be told and re-enacted with vigour. The stories and the exchange went much deeper than ever before. B spoke of a breakthrough in their acting, in their complicity. The emotional release for all was deeply rewarding.
B said he had been waiting for this for three years. Trying to understand what had happened, B said it might have something to do with their fear of getting it (the technique of Playback Theatre) wrong, and their great respect for the teacher Mr B created an inhibition too. But somehow all this was shifted. And the enactments had authenticity and artistry that somehow emerged without any instruction from B. It was a meeting that broke through trans-cultural boundaries. And this is why B was reminded of Jonathan’s words at the conference. Now B’s group in the mountains have the capacity as a team to bring on stage with artistry their fuller potential as actors listening for ALL sides of a story. Something necessary for the deeper fulfillment of their work as playbackers in that country and context in the future. B looks forward to returning to them next January for his annual visit.
“My story was honoured and touched my heart in its simple accuracy. I felt my sadness about the situation was relieved” Jeannie
We ended with an opportunity for our audience members who had not yet spoken, to name the title of a story they might have told.
And then found a gentle way to say goodbye.
So we had some big stories of breakthroughs, meetings and release after acknowledging the differences in society that create separation between us.
This is the ending of a two-year process sponsored by the European Commission under the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning programme. Its been a very rich experience for us, the members of True Heart Theatre, and for all of our audiences and friends, here in the UK and across the waters on the European mainland.
17 June 2012…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica
We had visitors from Denmark joining us today along with a motley lot of multicultural Londoners and friends from Singapore, Taiwan and China. Larry anchored our greetings and warm up; and then conducted the performance today. We had Quang, Julian, Cindy, Julie, Hsiang-ju & Veronica in the line up of actors; and Mei Mac and Parie on music. Linda was our faithful notetaker.
The themes of our self-introductions included stories of about fathers: communication across distances, and a recent bereavement made less painful with encouragement from friends; and a story about taking the risk of leaving a 9-5 job to look for a fresh start and more soul-satisfying work.
Jo “Its very rare to meet others from different cultures and hear their personal stories and realize how we all struggle with similar issues.”
When the audience was asked what was life like for them at the moment, someone spoke of ‘stability’, and another on how we take too much for granted the value of friendship. Then N spoke of her work with people who have lost their stories. As a psychologist she works to give people back their stories and this was how she became interested in Playback Theatre in 1996. But working with clients and inviting tellers in a public performance to tell are different contexts which require different skills and sensitivities. She is determined to continue her journey with Playback, helping people find their strength of self again.
Then D spoke of how he was feeling different today. Recently he had been in a support group talking about depression, anxieties and fear. The people there are from all nationalities and religions, but everyone is all the same in these human feelings.
“By sharing my story, I realized that another person in the group is experiencing the same emotion. It encourages me to be generous with my feelings; and by giving, I receive at the same time” Morrison
After a few minutes exchange of stories between everyone in the audience in pairs, Larry invited H to the teller’s chair. She spoke of the joy of finding a friendship here with another student from the US. It was like having a sister close by but now H is sad to see her friend return to the States and on the other side of the country to her home. She will miss her kindness. It’s a hard letting go and saying goodbye.
D told of his bookstore in Hong Kong. Only five years since it was opened, it has become a hub for the community to drop by and chat, or stay for talks on social justice issues. In the past he saw himself as lazy and not interested in what happens in society and people’s lives, and subscribed to a narrow vision of making money as his raison d’etre. Now he finds himself much more enriched in other ways. Knowledge is not just in the books but in active engagement and sharing for a better life. He sees a growing consciousness among the people in HK for social issues that surround them. And it is a satisfaction that his small intimate bookstore plays a part in this.
“I was amazed by the listening ability of the playbackers and the way they brought their individuality into the reflection of that understanding through theatre” Geoffrey
Another D spoke of how his worklife was caught in the economic downturn. Contracted for less hours now, frustrated with late payment and changes of job title, he has avoided addressing his resentment directly. This has led him to self-destructive behavior, and manipulating the situation by involving others. But he has recognized this and has started to deal with these issues, taking more responsibility for his own behavior and feelings. Even so it’s a constant challenge.
Our Fruit Salad ending included these words from the audience:
Honoured & privileged (to hear these stories)
18 March 2012…at Camden Chinese Community Centre
Blog by Parie Leung
On this chilly Mother’s Day afternoon, we gathered in the recently refurbished space at Camden Chinese Community Centre, warming ourselves up with tea, great company, and connection. I very recently joined the company for playback rehearsals and learnt that it has been a while since True Heart Theatre last trod on the carpets of the upstairs hall. The new wooden floors definitely imparted a different texture to this previous playground. Having just switched over from the usual venue at Faraday House, we were so pleased that our many friends—old and new—made it to join us, some, having actually stopped by the former venue, before making their way here in the cold.
Larry conducted, Quang accompanied with music and singing, while Julian, Veronica, Susana and I performed. Incidentally, Susana and I were also publicly performing for the first time! The warmth and generosity of everyone in the room were palpable and provided us with a deeply appreciated open atmosphere to play in. Larry began the session with a series of warm-ups that brought to the fore our various linguistic and cultural differences, but also our shared connections as communicative beings. Beginning with a fun game of “telephone” (also commonly, though sometimes questionably known as “Chinese whispers”) in which he passed on the message of “Foon Ying Lei” (“Welcome” in Cantonese) that ended predictably humorously, as “Some Drinker”, we moved on to introducing ourselves and saying “Hello” in our “mother tongues”.
”Playback… helps to change my assumptions about how people are” Susan
We also played some games that pushed us to communicate non-verbally. In one, we identified our names with animals, and passed the imitations around so that we quickly learned everybody’s names. Thus we had a circle containing cats, dogs, various birds, a tiger, a snake, an eel, a rabbit, a monkey, a chicken, some jumping and galloping beasts, and perhaps even a sloth or an Orangutan! It was lovely to discover in a later social-mapping exercise that we had friends attending from Spain, Hong Kong, Northern and Southern China, Denmark, Germany, Essex, Ireland, Cambridge, London, as well as the East Coast of the United States.
After teatime, the actors took their positions on stage, while Larry opened the performance segment by asking everybody a riddle: What accumulates more and more in the world and continues to spread? The variety of answers was illuminating: population, sexually transmitted diseases, love, hate, knowledge, and even Facebook friends! (Some quiet guesses on the performers’ side included disease and gossip). As it turns out, Larry did not have the answer; someone gave him this riddle and then left him in the lurch. Still, for him, it was about stories: the stories that we share in everyday telling, and in Playback Theatre.
The performers introduced themselves by recounting what has occurred in their lives or occupied their thoughts recently, and then the space was opened up to friends for the sharing of stories.
T shared first. Inspired by Veronica’s own story about her tumultuous relationship with her mother, T tells us that she was never really close to her mother until she had her own child and became a mother herself. Although they did everyday activities together, T and her mother never really got to the stage of talking meaningfully with each other. There is a sadness that remains.
A shared her experience of recently losing her friend, whom she had known since they were both fourteen years old. This friend was a musician and an artist. Even though A feels sad about the separation, there is also a sense of peaceful happiness, found in the many wonderful memories accumulated throughout the friendship.
“inspiring, touching, professional” Amanda
N told us about how he feels somewhat torn between the life he has had living in London for the past two years, and the “what if” sensation he gets when returning to Denmark for his friends’ weddings. While he is enjoying his life at the moment, there is a sense of rootlessness and uncertainty about the future.
H shared a story of being touched by a scene she saw on the tube: a man was begging for money and everybody was ignoring him. There was a smartly suited man talking on his mobile phone, seemingly absorbed in his own world. However, at some point, he reached into his pocket and took out a £5 note for the man as if it was the most natural thing to do. H felt that this act of kindness was similar to my story about taking action to tell a woman who had not noticed that she was standing on the wrong train platform: no trains were passing through that platform this particular Sunday.
We then heard two longer stories.
A shared a story of a broken friendship, which had some parallels to Susana’s recent experience. Coming to the UK to pursue a Master’s degree a year ago, A struck up a close friendship with a girl who was a bit reserved, idealistic, critical, one who strove for the best, but was also rather fickle in terms of decision-making. Having planned to go on a trip to Paris together, and to Avignon, she was blindsided when her friend suddenly changed her mind and instead, used the money to go to another country with another mutual male friend. Compounded with the upset of having to go to France on her own, A was afterwards isolated by the new closeness between her friend and the boy. While she is upset, A also knows it is her friend’s right to go wherever she wishes for a holiday. Given that this friend was an important source of support for her during her first year in a new country, this separation is even more awful. The question she reflects on is whether she should let it go.
T also followed up with another story of separation. A few years ago, she had a male lodger living in her house. They shared meals and he brought a wonderful feeling of warmth to her place. Eventually, she felt an emergent love for him. However, there were other elements: he had a girlfriend, T met his mother. At some point, the lodger decided to leave. His departure was like a sharp cut, leaving no contact address. T was very confused and disturbed by this behavior. Over time though, she was able to distance herself from the sadness and misunderstanding that her affection might have created in this situation. And has reconciled with some of her feelings from that time.
“I was a bit nervous, but I saw myself from a whole new angle” Niels
On this theme of relationships – wonder and joy, yet also raw vulnerability and despair – Larry then asked for other examples of conflictual feelings. A came up with love/ warmth on the one hand, but on the other the loss of freedom when in a relationship. T offered a scenario around being too demanding as friend, but also sometimes not being in contact for lengths of time. S told us about her brother who had moved to Canada and who now hardly contacts her, even though he appears to be in touch with other members of the family. One part of her thinks “why can’t he just call me” while the other thinks perhaps she should just initiate contact.
Finally, C provided the closing story of the day, which was inspired by a talk she attended recently. The key learning for her is that one should find the connection/the relationship that already exists in oneself. The still place within. The relationship with self. By locating this point, one can stand still and see the world from a calm and detached perspective instead of being caught up in a panicked and struggling state. This will also allow a healthier connection between oneself and other people. Being a very emotional person where her feelings are sometimes hard to contain, she has found this information really significant and a new practice for her.
To end the session, the performers made a fruit salad out of the following key words from the audience: connection, struggle, transition, hope, disappointment, loss, and self-control.
While the stories shared seem rather diverse at first glance, the theme of connection, especially the desire for it, features centrally. Whether it is romantic love, familial love, friendships, or just the links we form in daily interactions, we need them to feel that life’s “all right”. Although there are always going to be complexities when relating to others, knowing who we are, and finding an inner-directed calmness is a valuable key for this.
19 February 2012…at Faraday House
Amongst many new friends today, our old friend Gustavo from Uruguay Playback Theatre came with his wife Anna. Gustavo has been travelling to and from Uruguay and England over the last few years, as Anna works as a research scientist in Cambridge. And its always a pleasure to have him join us when he can. We may have him more permanently here soon, which will be a great boon for the Spanish-speaking Playback community here in London. Julian, Hsiang-ju, and Larry performed today, with Quang on music and Veronica conducting.
It was a tight performance team, with great ensemble work.
Moments shared by the audience…
The sadness of having to choose one of manifold possibilities in one’s life path. The child within wants to explore everything.
Having been a bit of a traveller over the past two years, its nice to make a more permanent home now in England. He cooked a recipe from an old friend for a new friend; honouring the ending of a connection while beginning a new one.
“…the translation into essence of stories in powerful ways” Parie
Our first story was from B, who is distressed by how her family have not been able to accept her choice of boyfriend. She is here from Singapore just for a year of studies. There, although a thriving multicultural state which has 4 official languages with English as one, even within her Malay community there is discrimination and prejudice.. She is Malay, her boyfriend is Malay but not from the right sect. Its very painful that her sister hasn’t been communicating with her, but she is adamant that her family has got to wake up from this old way of thinking.
R talked about losing his job soon in June. So he is looking at his options. He may re-train but in what? A perceptive new friend sees how music is so important to him. In fact he used to be a professional musician. He loves the double bass and plays well. But has hesitated to think about bringing music back into his life. Its not because of lack of potential work there, but because of bad memories and associations with the world of music. A dark past which includes a difficult relationship with his father. Yet he acknowledges that music fulfils him. It is joy, excitement, and connection with deep spirituality for him. How can he find a way with it, and do it on his own terms?
“Different stories show us different views and experiences that we can all recognise; and empathise with the feelings despite differences in our culture/countries that we come from” Santhiya
H told about how drama is so clearly her new life path, which she has come to in later adulthood. She is doing a course which she finds very rewarding. She enjoys the level of intimacy between colleagues that this work demands. But one member of the group is a decided outsider. H sees that this person is not happy in herself, and behaves like an ice queen. Although H has made such an effort to create a good working relationship with her, this has recently broken down. What to do? This is the question she is left with.
After we performed this story, we asked the audience for their point of view. What should H do? People responded by acknowledging how compassionate and sensitive H is for this difficult person, but that she should not disempower herself by changing her own sense of self and behaviour in order to accommodate this difficult person. Last words from H included how she likes to be friends with everybody, but that she should be herself, let herself shine, like sunshine.
Words for our final fruit basket:
– An unplayed double bass
– Oranges are not the only fruit
15 January 2012…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica
We had a clutch of friends from Luna Playback Theatre, the Spanish speaking group that is developing here in London. Teresita, a highly experienced and talented Playbacker from Cuba has been in London for a few months supporting their practice. It was a special treat to have Teresita come to our Open Sunday. She is due to return to Cuba soon, so it was a sweet and sad time of beginning to say goodbye to London and her friends here. And our old True Heart member, Elaine, was also on a visit here from Singapore so a special pleasure to have her join us again temporarily. We opened the performance on the theme of our hopes for the New Year.
Many spoke about how we felt about the transition from the old to the new year period. That edge of time for several was especially raw because of death and loss. Others spoke too of friendships. Gratitude for new and deep friendships made, and sadness for friends challenged with cancer.
“Great to meet people from so many different countries and learn about their journeys – personal journeys in life. Very touching.” Conchi
K told the first of two stories: of her partner – a fisherman who was lost in a terrible storm in 1988, off the coast of South Australia. It was a shock that catalysed a complete change in her attitude toward life. She eventually returned to studies and a training path that has led to long journeys and her current life across the seas. She has a deep appreciation for every moment in her life. K told us of the rule she sets herself in any situation of uncertain choice of action. She imagines that if she were to die in seven days, would she be happy with the choice that she had made seven days earlier? Out of tragic loss, her acute sensitivity to the fragility of life makes her treasure every single moment we have, and to have joy of it.
“I feel more open to try new things & to express myself” Natalia
Our second story from F was about his two adored dogs – how they met, and their eventual coming together to produce 12 puppies. After their birth, and on a first outing to get some fresh air, papa dog disappeared for some 30 minutes. When he reappeared he came directly to his puppies and disgorged an entire loaf of bread. F insisted that the loaf was intact! The puppies could not of course eat this, but this act of love and caretaking was extraordinary, even if a little inappropriate! This hilarious story gave us such a wonderful example of faithful love between two very different dogs, and their mongrel litter. Our animal friends can teach us so much about what really matters.
So our first Open Sunday in 2012 began full of poignancy about the edge of life and death; and ended with full-hearted laughter, celebrating gifts of love.
11 December 2011…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica
We welcomed Playback friends from Guangzhou to this end of year performance. Stanley is studying Theatre in Education at Warwick University right now, and came down to London specially to visit us. He brought Yen, his wife, and their 11 month old baby Hung Hung too, who must be our youngest audience member so far!
“I felt very listened to…” Geoffrey
Josephine, our dear Playback colleague from Even Nearer Playback Company in Taipei, is on a short course here in the UK and also came along. And there was an assortment of London-based THT friends originally from Yugoslavia, Columbia, Shanghai & Singapore.
There were only four of us on hand from THT – Quang, Julian, Claudia and Veronica, so we got some of the audience up to perform along with us. And somehow, after a playful, gentle warm-up, we took this opportunity to share very deeply about our lives.
It was a very intimate and tender exchange of stories this afternoon. A sweet way to end our year of Playback Open Sundays.
20 November 2011… at New Diorama Theatre
Blog by Veronica
Our performance today was part of BIG SUNDAY! A Day of Playback Theatre.
From 11am to 1pm, members of London Playback Theatre –www.londonplayback.co.uk – hosted a workshop to introduce people to Playback Theatre. True Heart Theatre performed at 2.30pm, Playback South –www.playbacksouth.org – another London-based company – performed at 5pm, and our special guests and friends from upstate New York – Hudson River Playback Theatre – www.hudsonriverplayback.org – performed at 7.30pm.
“It connected me to my late dad. Thanks.” Sarah
There were so many stories during this Big Sunday. It was a great opportunity for us as playbackers to see and enjoy each other’s work, and a chance for people to see different styles and ways of presenting Playback Theatre. Some people bought all-day tickets and saw everything. Others just came for one or two shows. It created such a rich opportunity for Londoners and visitors to meet and exchange the real stories of our lives, the ups and downs, the choices we are faced with, the caretaking of elderly parents, the education of children, what next in our lives?
Many of us went off to Frankfurt the next week to participate in the 10th International Playback Theatre Conference hosted there. www.iptn2011.org & there was another event – Festival of Playback Theatre – hosted in Assisi, Italy that some of us were going to be attending early December.
“I have learnt the value of empathy, the value of conductor and relations to audience, the value of metaphors to have essence of stories, the value of healing and closure” Joe
16 October 2011…at Camden Chinese Community Centre
Blog by Veronica
A full room of Londoners with origins from Africa, North/Central/South America, Australasia, Eastern and Western Europe, as well as homegrown British Londoners. We had old and young in the upstairs hall of the CCCC. Our performance this afternoon had some newcomers in the line-up – Sim Sim, Susannah and Larry, as well as old friends Hsiang-Ju and Julian. Quang brought his clarinet!
Many stories were shared in pairs and small groups… the two stories we performed were about relationships.
The first began with the death of a grandmother in our Teller’s arms, and his desire to make a good relationship with his father, even though there are so many complex feelings about the early separation and absence of his father in our Teller’s life so far. It was his grandmother’s dearest wish that her son and grandson should have a warm connection. This is a continuing challenge.
“I learnt that sometimes by sharing your experiences or your feelings with people that you just met, can make a change in your way of thinking or living” Antonis
Our second story was about the search for a partner and domestic bliss. The ex-boyfriend she met 8 years ago, and had lived with for a time, is now getting married to someone else. Even though it was she who initiated the break up because of domestic boredom, did she make a mistake? He had asked her to marry him, but she thought it was a joke. Now that moment returns to haunt her.
We all have a desire to make deep and meaningful connections in our lives. It is natural and human. And when there are obstacles, sometimes within our own nature, and because of circumstances, we carry the pain of this with a heavy heart. At least acknowledged and shared, something can shift…
18 September 2011…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica
Since July 2010 we have been part of a Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Programme, as one of five European partners exploring Art for Multicultural Communities
“There are a lot of different cultures in London, but most of them seem closed in itself. This was a great opportunity to meet with other cultures” Zeynap
Through this European Commission funding we have been able to send some of our members to Budapest (Hungary), Tallinn (Estonia), Nicosia (Cyprus), Vienna (Austria). Our European colleagues in turn came to visit us in London during 16-19 September. Our theme for this event was ‘Meeting Strangers, Making Friends’. We created a full programme of activities for them which included a visit to a Chinese Community Centre to have lunch with the elderlies followed by a Playback performance by True Heart Theatre for all those gathered there.
We had stories about how challenging it is to include reclusive people into neighbourhood meetings – an invitation for a stranger to come within a friendly community
An immersion by our Hungarian friend into the Roma community – a rare opportunity – engaging with very different habits of everyday personal and social behavior, and eventually coming away with deep and mutual friendships.
“We’ve learnt to integrate & participate with many different languages, helping us understand each other on a common ground” Li
Then followed a tour of the Museum of London’s Galleries of Modern London showing the vital contribution of migrants to London’s growth and identity over the last 300 years. The tour ended with an appreciation of Hale Man’s metal sculpture there – of a phoenix rising from the fire over a wishing well – made by members of the Chinese community.
Our European friends then worked with us over the next day and a half to prepare for the Open Sunday performance! We had over 70 people from multicultural London come to join us.
“Playback Theatre has a power to capture an audience’s imagination. With this in mind, it is incredibly easy to effectively teach the most delicate of cultural experiences” James
After a great warm up which included songs from different countries represented on the World Map we created in the space, and a game involving all 110 of us, we paused for Tea Time – we are in England of course, and tea time is a deep & valuable cultural ritual!
The show commenced after the break. There were 31 of us as performers! We divided ourselves into 4 multicultural teams to share the stage at different points of the performance.
In the event, only English & Hungarian were necessary, as our Chinese audience members were quite able to understand English. Meeting Strangers, Making Friends was the theme of our event at many levels!
Some of the stories that were brought into the public realm spoke of
Strange encounters on a journey to Russia
A missed opportunity to make a friend of a stranger on London’s tube
“You get to meet people from different cultures & hear their perspectives & experiences. Many different languages & cultures integrate together. Difference is embraced and enjoyed” Becky
Then two stories about journeys across borders – one from Cuba to Austria, another from Peru to Chile
The ‘missed moment’ story was especially poignant. J heard some music on the platform of London’s underground system. It was beautiful singing – quite wonderful – and she searched the platform to see where it came from, whose machine it was emanating from. As the train pulled in, she realized that it was a young man who was quietly singing to himself. She stood behind him, and wanted to tap him on the shoulder, introduce herself, and let him know what a special experience he was making for her, and for everyone. But held back, and missed a chance to meet that stranger, and let him know of his special gift, which to this day she regrets.
“I don’t know why I wanted to tell my story but I’m glad I didn’t miss an opportunity twice!” Jane
A on the other hand told of a time when she had total trust that she would be able to get airtickets for an urgently necessary journey at the last minute, AND get through immigration though her visa was expired. It was an example of the power of positive thinking moving strangers and events to work in her favour.
And another story of border control, when the immigration officers had no idea of where his country was (Cyprus), and couldn’t understand how this unknown country was part of the European Union, a strange encounter which ended happily with appropriate revelation!
So as well as meeting strangers, we had stories of strange meetings! And of missed opportunities of making friends, as well as friendships which were indeed made.
Some words from our Hungarian friend Bea on memorable moments from the 4 days with us:
arriving early morning from Budapest, feeling exhausted, and also impressed by the theatre performance that same day at the ICA
watching David’s story – my own memories and thoughts from that experience with one of the very poor Hungarian gipsy communities
the elderly people’s rhythm at the Chinese Community Centre: vivid & lively – I found them more alive than myself at half their age!
doing playback in the metro full of people; cheering up Londoners with finger juggling; the laughter…
standing together in a circle at the opening of the Open Sunday (it seemed like the whole world was there) – I felt touched, I was moved
seeing everyone dancing the ‘gong xi dance’ in different couples, different style and softness, attentiveness
the 30 of us at Veronica’s home for dinner – conversations on the terrace with Andy and Julian – deep journey in feelings
21 August 2011…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica with thanks to Linda for her notes
Julian conducted today. His questions directed us to the issue of the violence and looting that broke out all over England over the recent weeks. And this afternoon we had a good chance to exchange points of view and learn more from each other on what was happening in the immediate world around us.
Someone who used to work in the jewellery trade a long time ago remembers how he always feared being robbed, killed or looted during that time. He feels tremendous compassion for those who have been affected in these weeks.
Someone said his first response was to remember revolution in Africa with tear gas, he remembers China, real weapons and shooting. And he also knows that poor people want food.
In contrast, someone felt that economic reasons are not good enough to excuse immoral behavior; and this is payback time for liberal thinking. She said “these people are not poor (economically), they’re poor morally…” and it was an event waiting to happen.
Someone quoted a store manager at Waterstones, who refused to close his shop. “the worst thing that’ll happen is they’ll steal our books and they might learn something”!
“its good to be in a space where there is respect given to listening to each other’s point of view; and providing a forum for conversations with cultures one does not normally participate in” Shan
Our story from B was remembering what a beautiful sunny day it was, and then by the afternoon, there were rumours of looting in Camberwell And the many days since then, she has noticed the labeling of people. And the racial issue. She does volunteering for a mediation service in Lambeth and people had been coming up to her to talk about it. There were some who knew weeks before that trouble was brewing and had attempted to set up ways of enabling discussion. Everyone has a view. She felt that people should discuss it. Different people rioted… its so dangerous to tar everyone with the same brush”
Another teller talked about the upcoming Notting Hill Carnival, and there was discussion about the changes in timing and whether it should be cancelled. And someone who lived in that neighbourhood spoke of her normal routine of enjoying that event. How she liked a particular sound system which played music to her taste, and in the thick of the crowds she would make her way there and stand on the kerb for 45 minutes, taking it all in, and then go home. Would she do it this year?
And another spoke of impending retirement, and whether he should seriously think about going to India or Sri Lanka to live in what he felt was a simpler and kinder place. Not his original home, he has been many times, and so appreciates the people and the life he knows there.
So from talking about our here and now, we begin to think about where we want to be that’s safer and kinder… and give attention to what we can do to make where we are – here and now – safer and kinder.
17 July 2011…at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica
Valentina and Veronica shared conducting in our performance today.
We started with how we viewed the current news of political scandals, and the challenge of looking for work.
One spoke of working in a school, observing some outrageous behavior from the students, seeing how the teacher dealt with this.
“Playback allows us to use emotional experience to break down barriers and learn our differences” Michelle
Then we had a story from a new friend about a recent challenge. She participated in a long-distance fund-raising run around London that was very tough. There were memorable moments in that journey – being one amongst so many enthusiastic participants; a whole new perspective on London as a city; a tall glass building with people watching the race from those windows; the all-important support from her boyfriend. It was a life-changing event for her.
“To listen, and listen, and listen” Cruz
An old friend came to the teller’s chair and spoke of the challenge of his current work with elderly people. How hard it is to stimulate interest and engagement with them. And how some personalities make this even more difficult. And when there is a good day, and there is some joy to be had even with the simplest of activities, then it was worthwhile.
So from stories of being most visible, in the media, in schools, to being invisible in society and almost forgotten in the old people’s home. And that whether young or old, we all have challenges to work with people who demonstrate extremes of behavior that make productive, joyful human exchange almost impossible.
19th June 2011…at Faraday House
with guest blogger, Janice Poon (Cultural critic and playwright from Hong Kong)
“Let’s Watch!” – A Calling for Truthfulness and Authenticity
“Let’s Watch!” is widely used in Playback Theatre performance, to acknowledge the audience’s generous sharing of their unique story, to honor the story by inviting performers to “playback” the story just told on the spot, to embrace everyone in the room as a member of the community, and to echo with the fact that we are part of the larger global community that is ever evolving along with every individual’s history.
I still remember my first encounter with Playback Theatre back in 1998, when I was an editor and counselor at a youth organization in Hong Kong. I co-facilitated a youth project on serving juvenile delinquents, people with mental handicaps, and the elderly through Playback Theatre which Veronica Needa introduced to Hong Kong in 1996. Born and grown up in Hong Kong, an English/Cantonese bilingual, Veronica is widely known for her Eurasian background. But for us who participated in her workshops and performances, she is an artist devoted to enlightening people through community arts and cross-cultural bridging. The youth project, which concluded with an unprecedented Playback Theatre performance for an audience of 500 people, has inspired and nurtured thousands of theatre practitioners, teachers, social workers and audiences from all walks of life. Other Hong Kong people who first learnt Playback Theatre from Veronica have also been reaching out to different sectors of the Hong Kong community, including but not limited to business, the underprivileged and disabled.
On 19th June, I had the pleasure to join a Playback Theatre workshop and performance by True Heart Theatre at their monthly Open Sunday, an art event for multicultural communities. Apart from UK born Londoners, it attracted a diversity of people from countries including Italy, several Latin American countries, Taiwan – I can hear different languages floating in the air. The cultural diversity is also reflected in the food and snacks contributed by the attendees at teatime. After a warm and welcoming introduction, we are led into an unexpected but fruitful journey of self discovery.
“Father” is the theme of the performance this day. When the topic is declared, there is a sudden sinking feeling shared among the audience, as if a load of bags and tons of weight is laid onto the room. It was Father’s Day, a day highly commercialized and used for boosting merchandise and sales, but actually it is also day for acknowledging the important history and sometimes complicated impact of our fathers in our lives. Stories of fathers were shared among the audience, revealing common images of a hero, someone who’s always right, a guiding light, a role model. We also heard stories of guilt and hurt feelings connected with the father figure. The atmosphere gets heavier during the course of the performance.
“Because of the enactment, the improvisation, and seeing again by different ways, I have learned the others’ stories and their worlds” Robin
“It’s incredibly accurate! How do you do that?” After watching her own story re-enacted on the stage, a young woman from the audience left the teller’s chair moved to tears. She told us her story of having a prejudiced father who pays every attention to her sister without recognizing any of her own achievements. The story was shared, listened, performed, contained, embraced by every audience member in the room. Through the Playback Theatre performance, not only did we hear the story, but we also witnessed the journey of how the story evolved, was transformed into art, and how the Teller responded to it. Even if there was misunderstanding, hurt or even hatred in our stories about our fathers, there was also an ineffable love in that relationship which was also shared among the audience.
Every time I am at a Playback Theatre performance, I can always feel a sense of warmth and trust in the room. We let go of our heavy work load, our prejudice and struggle, and we just become a human being again, sitting there in the room sharing our true stories. Be it the sharing of a momentary feeling, or an incidence in our lives, each individual’s history is contained and honoured in Playback Theatre. The attentive performers, making magic with simple music and colorful cloths, enable shared truthfulness and authenticity. They remind us of who we are, how we are, what we do, and why we are here in this life.
Playback Theatre invites shared sincerity, honesty and generosity to listen, to have empathy and compassion in dealing with a situation, a problem, an event. Thinking of all the fierce fighting and political discussions going on in our society leaving unresolved situations and problems, I can’t help but wish Playback Theatre might well play a role to encourage connection and dialogue in those contexts.
On that special Father’s Day, the audience was uplifted in shared reflections on our complicated relationships with our fathers. I will remember their faces in deep thought of their fathers, and of being a father.
15 May 2011…?
Blog by Veronica
Faraday House apologises for the big error in their bookings schedule. We were locked out this Sunday! However, being the great improvisers that we are… we offered our guests several worthwhile options!
They chose to go en masse to the Museum of London, near the Barbican, to visit their new Galleries of Modern London. For many it was their first visit, and wont be their last. There is so much to enjoy there. Most importantly we were able to tell our own story of working with the London Chinese community in 2009, using Playback Theatre as part of the process, to facilitate the creation of an art installation – Beyond the Public Face.
The beautiful metal sculpture of phoenix rising from the flames, designed by Hale Man with so many of us in the community helping her construct it, is really quite magnificent in the main public space on the lower floor, and represents the aspirations of so many migrants, not just the Chinese, who have come to make a new life here, and add value to what makes London so special. The NEXT three months at Faraday House are now INKED indelibly into their schedule, so we hope to see you there soon! June 19, July 17, August 21…
17 April 2011…Museum of London Docklands
Blogged by Julie Cheung-Inhin with thanks to Lap Fung for notes
Museum of London Docklands: Performance for the Meridian Society
To mark the opening of a new exhibit at the Museum of London Docklands, True Heart Theatre performed a half-hour piece at the museum to the Meridian Society, a not-for-profit organisation whose aims include spreading the knowledge of Chinese culture to both the wider public and the younger Chinese generation.
The exhibition is based on an oral history project focusing on the Chinese from Bengal: a community of Chinese immigrants who settled in Calucutta, India, during the 1960s in order to escape poverty and famine in Southern China. Once there, the Chinese community established itself in the carpentry, engineering and leather businesses before being forced to move away again when the Sino-India border dispute of of 1962 loomed. True Heart Theatre had been invited by Wen Lan (Chair of the Meridian Society) to do a short playback performance as part of the day-long event being held at the museum.
Julian, as the conductor, did an excellent job of drawing out one man’s experience of growing up in India, an experience much marked with hard work and industriousness in a closely-knit community. With Valentina as the musician, Lap, Linda, Xiang Ru and myself enacted his story in a form known as perspectives, where each actor portrays a different part of the telling: the teller himself, another significant person in the story, an object in the story, and a metaphor of the story.
We also had further tellings that reminded us of how different things are today, and how much easier life is thanks to the hard work of those before us.
We ended with a large fluid sculpture that was a good summary of the performance and which captured the different thoughts of the audience.
17 April 2011…Faraday House
Blogged by Julie Cheung-Inhin with thanks to Lap Fung for notes
After a much-needed lunch at the museum we made our way to Faraday House for our April Open Sunday Session where we were joined by Andy (himself fresh from another playback performance earlier that day with fellow playback friend Arnet), Quang, and a host of visitors, old and new.
As usual, our warm-up was a mixture of social mapping and lighthearted games. Standing in our customary warm-up circle, we each gave our names with a description of the meanings behind them, remarking on the universal themes of strength, virtue and prosperity behind our names despite the different cultural backgrounds the names hailed from. Linda and Xiang Ru then led the group on a round of hand-clapping, feet-stomping action before showing us a Japanese song designed to be performed in pairs with some merry movements which, when done correctly, is very satisfying indeed!
With Veronica currently away delivering playback training, Julian was at the helm once again in the conductor’s role. We kicked off with a few fluid sculptures, one for a teller who remarked on how enjoyable the warm-up had been from a trainer’s point of view, and another for a teller who confessed her embarrassment at her body refusing to co-operate whenever it was her turn to clap or stomp.
It was an open theme today, so Julian threw out a few suggestions to the audience for inspiration – the upcoming Easter break being one of them.
Our first teller told us she had recently lost a much-loved grandfather, whose funeral was to be held on Good Friday. Coupled with all the university work she had to deal with over Easter, this Easter break was not going to be an easy one. However, she remained positive: her grandfather had lived a long life and at university she was doing something she loved, so she was able to remain philosophical and bouyant. We performed her telling as a Narrative V, with Quang at the apex, portraying the grandfather as a grand king looking over his kingdom, and the teller as a young girl moving through life and carrying on.
The next teller also shared her story of loss: that of her father a few years ago. She described how it had taken a long time to let go and to finally accept his death. We used a transitional fluid to represent her transition from her initial grief to her eventual acceptance that he may be gone but that he lives in her yet.
Next, our attentions moved on to another much talked-about event: the royal wedding. One teller shared her annoyance over the media’s obsession surrounding the wedding (no doubt a view echoed by many!).
Another teller offered his view that, despite being completely indifferent to the wedding, he in fact felt that the monarchy did a good job and was, as a result, pro-monarchy. Julian then suggested we do a combined fluid, combining both these tellings into a fluid sculpture. A good way of summarising and meshing the two feelings, it felt like there was a certain yin and yang amongst the interplay.
These tellings then set the ball rolling for the rest of the session, which turned its head towards politics and the world at large.
The first story we had was from one teller who, rather than being anti-monarchy per se , was powerfully anti-inequality. She felt that a too-heavy focus on corporate interests by the aristocracy, along with cuts to the welfare state and a distinct lack of philanthropy, had created a nation manifest with inequality. Further, she felt that the royal wedding was simply being used as a distraction – something to divert the public’s attention away from this dark reality. Linda, as teller’s actor, gave a convincing depiction of the teller in turmoil, angry at the people snatching away money from good causes, and angry at the folly surrounding the royal wedding.
Our next teller gave us a similar offering from the point of view of frontline staff at a hospital. He felt angry at seeing money being taken away from the field of care and being put towards political use, and used the analogy of people being used for war games. Like the previous teller’s assessment of the wedding as a distraction, this teller was aggrieved at the way the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia had been deflected away from public attention. This time we saw Quang as teller’s actor, giving a powerful performance of a man who wants to fight back, and who wants everyone to know that the people can and should fight back.
We reflected on how today’s session had taken on quite a political theme, and our next teller told us of his experience of having a father who often speaks at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. He told us how he hasn’t always agreed with or fully understood what his father spoke about but is now of an age where he can better appreciate what he says, and where he can now admire his commitment to and confidence in what he is speaking about. We enacted this telling in perspectives.
Eventually our Open Session drew to a close and we invited the audience to share with us some final words, thoughts and feelings. We ended with a pot pourri fluid sculpture to end our session, with the words ‘moving’, ‘inspired’, ‘frustrated’, ‘appreciated’, ’psychological’ and ‘connected’ providing a good summary of what was another satisfying Open Session.
Some Notes from one of our new friends – Maria Chamber
I went along to this … partly because my friend Gillian W. asked me to … and also anything to do with theatre I am interested in. One of my best jobs ever was in the 70s when I was assistant to Gillian Diamond who was the Casting Director at the National Theatre – and I was there at the opening of the new premises on the South Bank.
Since then have worked in lots of different media – books, magazines and my last 9-5 job was with the BBC at White City – and I left there in 2001 to learn Spanish and live in Cuba which I did for three years. Am now in the process of moving to London – with an aim of writing…
I arrived very much with an open mind … not knowing really what to expect.
1. The warming up exercises were interesting – I especially liked the part where we all got to explain our names. It was a real icebreaker plus fascinating to find out so much in so little time … just with a name.
2. A break and tea … and again as the initial introduction were made – it was very easy to start and join in conversations. Plus I found the hosts /members very welcoming and easy.
3. Then the acting out of themes. One person spoke about her grandfather dying – and how important and wise a figure he was in her extended family. After her piece had been done – I spoke about my father’s death which was in 2005 – and the group then did a piece using my story which I found very very moving.
4. The mood then moved on to the current political situation and D spoke about being in Serbia and once again the personal history … and what that had meant and continues to mean and impact his life. The group did an incredibly affecting piece then with Andy acting out a suicide (which I know from my experience of having family in Ireland … at the moment is prevalent as a way out for many people!!)
5. Lastly (as I had to leave early) – G spoke about the Royal Wedding and her feelings – which were then done by the group and actually raised a laugh when one of the women flew across the stage with a white piece of cloth .. saying something like “look at me I am Kate Middleton” – which I found very funny and apt … as that is really the only thing I find interesting … what clothes she and the guests will be wearing (apart from that – for me – it is a quite cynical move to divert people’s attention from what is really happening to the economy in Britain…)
So overall – I was knocked out… by the energy – the breadth of topics – plus the superb improvisational skills of the group. I would certainly come again once I know I have a place to live in London. On my next visit in May I will try to be there. All the best!
20 March 2011…Faraday House
Blog by Veronica with thanks to Linda for her notes
Todays workshop and performance were all managed bilingually in English and Mandarin. The performance started with some comments about the welcome sunshine and excitement about gathering together through Playback Theatre. Amongst us were some people who had completed a training in PT over two weekends in January (www.playbackschooluk.org for more info about Playback Theatre training in the UK & Europe). They had not seen each other since then but had arranged a reunion this morning and made time to practice. So as the audience were invited to warm up to their stories through moments and reflections of recent days, we got them up on their feet to perform some short forms for us. Great work!
An audience member spoke of aching muscles from the pleasure of dance.
Another spoke of a special moment when teaching at a Chinese Supplementary School the day before. At the beginning of his presentation the teenagers paid no attention and were running around. By the end of the story he was telling them, they were still and deep in reflection. This was so rewarding he wants every moment to be like that!
Then A spoke of having just returned from Hong Kong seeing his family and friends, and during this week back in London, he has been completely addicted to playing Monopoly – on the web, on his iPhone, everywhere. He knows its completely silly but it inspires him!
And F said he has been inspired too, but from driving around the countryside in his spare time. He has only recently got his driving licence, and borrowing his brother’s car, he has been driving around Kent, and reflecting on how lovely it is to see the world out there, and explore “my country”. No need to travel out of the UK for the holidays. There is so much here to do and see, he says.
The audience were invited to chat together. We made sure that our Mandarin-speaking visitors were matched up with other Mandarin speakers to enable them to fully engage with the process. When we embarked on stories, True Heart members came back on stage, and one of our new friends from China came forward to tell his story. Xiang Ru translated, with Quang, Julie, Julian and Andy as actors, and Valentina and Lap on music.
CL told us what happened this morning for him. A friend of his – a student from Hong Kong – had offered to teach his son English. So this morning CL went to SOAS where they went online to his 13 yr old son in China! CL was sitting next to the teacher and watching his son through the internet and absorbing the English lesson vicariously. It was the first lesson of what will be many, he hopes. It’s his long term plan for his son to learn English and become as proficient as an interpreter.
After the Tea break we continued with T’s story. He could have told three he said, but this is the one he shared with us. It was about his dog. When T was 8 years old in Scotland he got a Pekinese dog for his birthday. It was what he wanted most of all in the world and he called his dog Sugarlump (played with roguish charm by Julie). He already had a reputation from the kennels for being ‘The Bandit’ – always being able to escape from captivity and chase the girls (Sugarlump’s girlfriend was a collie!). To stop him from rushing off he was tied to a long lead. This lead kept growing, and T’s family would tie objects to this lead – colanders, spoons, forks etc. It was a peculiar device to keep Sugarlump’s roving spirit in tow. T remembered this with affection and sadness. Leaving him to go to boarding school was very hard. And traumatic too when he received news of Sugarlump’s disappearance. It was brutally painful, and T feels that Sugarlump must have finally got free of the lead but in the wilderness of the countryside, fallen into a pit, dying never to be found. An agonising encounter with death and loss for a young boy.
L told the last story. Another story about death and loss. It was recent – in January this year in Hong Kong, just before L came to London for her studies. Her grandfather was 101 years old – a typical Chinese man who was proud of his health, a practitioner of Tai Chi, and had never been in hospital before this time. He was the master of his large family, and had lost his wife only 6 months earlier. L said he knew he was going to pass away, and had refused to eat, only drinking cans of Coca cola. She was able to tell him her heart’s truth at the end, of her gratitude and the blessing of his example. She and her father were present at his passing. Present at the very last breath. This was both a terrible and extraordinary experience.
The enactment was contained and graceful. We were able to capture some sense of the magnitude of the moment. There were tears from L and many in the audience. It was great privilege for all of us to help L celebrate her grandfather’s memory; and for all of us to be so close, through her telling, to that sacred moment of the last breath of life.
We closed the show with our remembrances of the stories shared, and gathered in a circle for a round of thoughts and reflections from everyone.
20 February 2011… at Faraday House
Blog by Veronica with thanks to Duncan for his notes
Only four THT members were available this Sunday to host this event. However THT friends mucked in straightaway with help in preparing the room and refreshments. Many people who attended this day were newcomers – friends of friends and some hotfoot from doing an intensive Playback Theatre training in January. After introductions and social mapping (people with roots in North and South America, Mauritius, China, Singapore, Israel, Turkey, Caribbean, Africa, Germany, Ireland, Britain…) we played some simple games on the theme of Rabbits – to honour the start of the new Chinese year of the Rabbit (3 Feb 2011 to 22 Jan 2012). When time came for the performance, we began very simply with just 4 of us on stage, and then invited audience members to join us in the line-up after our opening and a couple of sharings from the audience.
One teller told of being in a frantic rush to get here, convinced that they would be late, and being surprised to arrive in good time. “..in your face, Internet!” was one triumphalist offer from Julie, which got a laugh.
T spoke about enjoying warmer weather outdoors.
Then J told a longer story about her morning at home – her sons making a ‘mess’ of their bedrooms when they were supposed to be tidying up, amongst all the rush of getting ready to come here. Rather than being angry with them, she couldn’t help but laugh at their creativity.
Another, Q, who had not slept until six this morning, is captive to her dissertation. It is interesting but also hard work. Responses from the actors included: ‘reel it in’, ‘it’s a sword’.
Mrs H spoke about the need for respect within the family – a deeply cherished Chinese value. But can she respect others when they have opinions different to her own? She recognises her challenge to respect others’ desires as well as her own. We came back to this story later.
L spoke about the situation in the Middle East. How she is torn between her distress at events over there and being grateful as well as guilty for feeling safe at home in London.
M spoke of the tedium of doing the laundry and household chores, and then hearing music outside her window from demonstrators against the financial cuts. She is so inspired by their camaraderie and energy that she joins them for a very different and rewarding experience of community action.
A then offered the first story from the teller’s chair. He says that holding his weeks-old grandchild in his arms with deep joy, he is proud to look at his family and know that he has done a good job as a father. But he is also sad and frustrated to reflect that time is running out and he has yet not been able to express his full potential as a human being. He is an artist by instinct and talent, but has had to make compromises in the way he earns his living. In the enactment Linda’s symbol of the golden cloth offered both a representation of his dreams and of his granddaughter. “Wake me up” exhorted Brian, building the energies up to the potential birth of a new future.
After the actors took a bow for A’s story Mrs H spoke up to say to A that ‘my son is the artist that you are!’ and came to the chair to tell her story next. She wants her son to have the freedom to create the life he wants for himself as an artist, but worries about his future, especially when eventually she and her husband are not there to provide a safety net. Although she is very proud of his new horizons, their communication often breaks into criticism and argument, and she is very sad about this. This is complicated by the fact that it is customary in the Chinese culture for people to speak loudly even in a simple one-to-one conversation. Her British-born son finds the escalating volume hard to accept. She feels she needs to change her habitual behaviour in order to not lose her son. At the end of a moving enactment, Alexis – playing the son – says “You made me! Can’t you see this in my art?”
We ended the performance by sharing a bow with everyone in the audience who had come up to perform with us. It was wonderful to see so many of you come forward to express both your creativity and demonstrate your capacity to tune in with others as a team. A courageous stepping into the unknown – which is what we do in Playback Theatre.
On reflection we can see how one of the deeper conversations we have been having is on the theme of creativity, how it is expressed and valued in our lives and in our society. J has told her sons to tidy up their room. Instead they make what some mother’s would see as a mess. She chooses to see it as an art installation. M is doing chores, but is seduced by the atmosphere of the crowds outside – their political action is expressed through song and dance – and feels much rewarded by joining in with them. But A has not allowed himself to follow this impulse so freely. He feels incomplete in the legacy he might leave for his grandchild. Is it too late to live in the full expression of his artistic potential? Mrs H is painfully witnessing her son take up this challenge of living his art and making his art into a living. He seems very content, but can she find a way to fully accept his choice with serenity, and rebuild a loving connection between them.
12 December 2010…at Faraday House
Notes from two guest bloggers this month…
Mirror Mirror is a Playback Theatre group based in Devon, who are working with minority ethnic communities in their region. True Heart invited them to London to share with us their experiences.
First from guest blogger Susan Glass
I was lucky enough to attend True Heart’s Open Sunday when they were hosting Mirror Mirror. There was a wide variety of people, of all ages and from many different countries and cultures. Some were Playback actors, some were already fans of Playback, and others were new to it, but judging by their first experience and reactions to it I would guess this is not the last time we will see them at a Playback performance! Every time I looked around there seemed to be more people.
After True Heart and Mirror Mirror introduced themselves we had a variety of warm up games, sorting ourselves by country of origin, by name in alphabetical order, sorting ourselves, without words, by height and the colour of our eyes! Plus various other games to get us moving around and interacting. We divided into small groups to discuss times when we first noticed a difference between ourselves and others; this could be skin colour, religion and culture, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this turned out to be the main theme of the Playback performance by Mirror Mirror after the tea break.
As a fledgling Playbacker I am full of admiration for what I watched, also a bit daunted. They portrayed the stories of difference in a creative and sympathetic fashion. It was all seemingly effortless but I’m sure was backed by years of practice. Some of the forms were new to me, others familiar. All in all, an extremely enjoyable and stimulating experience.
Second from guest blogger Terence Chang
It was a chilly afternoon, and it was challenging to find my way to Faraday House for the first time. Once there, Veronica and her True Heart co-workers had prepared lots of biscuits, tea, coffee for a warm welcome. The five members of Mirror Mirror Playback Theatre from Devon were there – Andy, Arnet, Alison, Amanda and Kate. They were the special guests of the Open Workshop/Performance that day. With broad smiles, they were chatting with the workshop participants. I could feel that the experience coming up would be full of interaction and deep feelings – laughter as well as tears.
I like Playback very much. I love people who participate in Playback Theatre, because they are all ready to listen, ready to take things into their hearts, and sometimes, ready to share their own stories. Then I realized the uniqueness of what True Heart is sharing. Most of the participants were adults. The Name Game at the start was not as energetic as I have played with youngsters, but people were still excited enough to speak up, to exchange positions, to make mistakes and to laugh. The participants came from many different countries and the Mapping Exercise helped us recall our life journey as well as remind us of our internationality as a group.
Smoothly, Mirror Mirror asked us to think about the first time we encountered someone who was different from ourselves, and what we were told by our parents or significant other people to think about this. At first we shared our stories in small groups. Then for the whole group Arnet conducted a mixed team from the audience to come up and do fluid sculptures on this topic. This warm up led to the heart of the event: Mirror Mirror performing stories from the audience. Re-playing these stories on stage requires actors to think and react immediately and interpret the story honestly. Actors need to be alive and listen well, mixing their unique talents as ensemble. With the musicians underlining the emotional score, they played out the stories one by one, honouring the tellers at the end of each story.
Sometimes the playback is not only helping closure with the past, but also inspiring the future. The depth of the emotion that we shared is unforgettable. But it is also safeguarded with the warm heart of all participants and the ongoing interaction after the workshop/performance. Thanks to True Heart and Mirror Mirror to have made such a memorable snowy afternoon for all of us.
21 November 2010…at University of East London
Blog by Linda Chan
A small group gathered for the November Open Sunday at the University of East London. The studio on the 3rd floor gave us a view of London and was in close proximity to London City Airport. Through Playback Theatre we travelled from London to Cyprus (DLR station for UEL), Ukraine, Peru, Thailand, Austria and back to London, all in two-and-a-half hours.
It was Global Playback Theatre Week and we worked with its theme: What do I hunger for? (in Body, Mind and Spirit). In the introductory games to get to know people a little bit more and to build on our humanity and commonalities, we had some surprises in this month’s group: only two people had been born in London; another guest studying in London was surprised to be speaking in her native tongue to another guest who had learnt that language around the other side of the globe; musicians were enthralled to know there were likeminded tuba players, other instruments were mooted by other folks such as guitar, clarinet, peipa. The stage was ripe to move into small group work and to create a communal statue expressing the group’s own interpretations around the theme and for the audience to guess from what they saw. Some titles were: In search of me, What am I made of?, Stranger and friend, A proper(ly) paid job, Freedom to be myself, Conquering the mountain and focus turning upwards spiritually.
“Its important to be openminded. You learn most when you hear and see stories from other cultures” Sarah
In the first part of THT’s performance people were invited to share how they were and what had been going on for them. People shared: contentment and peace; Can I open my heart and be supported? Being present at the moment of death (on a few occasions) wasn’t in the job description as an interpreter. As these were reflected back through movement and sound, folks seemed visibly touched and heard. This prompted another guest to share his story about when he was delivering humanitarian aid in the Ukraine: an elderly lady had taken painstaking effort to get to the door using a chair as a zimmerframe, but had been so grateful for the gift of provisions.
“It was funny to see yourself as an observer, but also it made more aware of things; things can be accepted – we tend to see ourselves in a negative light”
The next person carried on the ‘red thread’ of Stories emerging from each other’s experience. We have all heard of Happy Mothers Day, Happy Fathers Day, well, in Peru, there is a Happy Teachers Day! His experience when working there was that the children celebrated this joyfully; and then was very surprised when the teachers, colleagues, the local staff, ‘let their hair down’ at the private party later…and celebrated very exuberantly demonstrating their energetic and heartfelt appreciation, which, at first, he found overwhelming. He felt THT had captured such a moment in a way that he couldn’t have described to his friends and was glad to have been able to share it for the first time.
“I have always been interested in cultural diversity and Playback Theatre is very good for learning intimate and personal stories that are beyond cultural boundaries” Queenie
The second Story was about a recurring dream: of a tailor-made house in warm, sunny Thailand, with a vegetable and herb garden, with a back gate opening into a forest and fauna, just right for her two dream dogs, specifically an Arctic Eskimo and a Golden Retriever.
The last Story was that of a young Austrian student who left home to study in London. Through Playback insights unfurled into the possible thoughts of her family and a different way of seeing herself in the experience.
The closure included ‘I remember …’ * an overwhelming appreciation party for the visiting English teachers * an adorable husky dog * a sweet-potato patch saying “Please eat me” * a person seeing things reframed in London.
17 October 2010 … at Faraday House
19 September 2010…at Lauderdale House
Blog by Lap Kung Chan
It was the first time the workshop and performance started an hour later, at 3pm, for our guests, in order to give the True Heart Theatre team an hour beforehand to warm-up and prepare. This was extremely useful as it brought the team together and I feel that the effects of this were evident in the performance later in the day.
The introductions and workshop games were quick, to the point and very engaging. We were able to fit everything into the shorter time we had. This showed that a little bit of planning can go a long way. Quality rather than quantity.
Then the performance… The space was quite dark but with some help from a couple of spotlights provided by Lauderdale House, this problem was soon fixed. The team began with an offering of our own thoughts and feelings about….journeys, music, and weather… to get the ball rolling. This connected with the audience straight away as a number of fluid sculptures followed in quick succession reflecting their experiences.
First we heard about someone learning and trying to teach themselves how to play the Er-hu, a Chinese two-stringed instrument. Needless to say, they found this a very expensive and difficult learning experience.
The next teller shared about a special journey of finding connections with people all around the world. The story reminded us that we should be very grateful to have people to share our lives with and to appreciate the support that is around us.
Then, as the final short telling, a lady expressed her enjoyment of romantic music, particularly Chinese romantic music!
The first story came from an old friend of True Heart Theatre, who shared with us his recent experience of moving house…or his attempt at moving house. The moving day was going very smoothly with the packing of the van and journey to the new house. However, a strange turn of events involving the landlady and housing agent meant that this move was never meant to be. There was a lot of information given to the performing team which can be difficult to digest, but the story was held together and well presented by some good offers and performances.
The final story of the day involved many deep and personal issues that our teller has had to deal with and is still dealing with now within her home. Issues such as mental illness, home ownership and having to move back in with parents after a number of years living abroad. With such sensitive material, the actors created a very moving, succinct and insightful performance.
As we drew to a close, we asked the audience to throw us a few words to describe what ‘home’ means for them: support, security, peace and quiet, fun, warm, freedom, a place to keep my toys, schoolwork, understanding.
15 August 2010…at Faraday House
By guest blogger Jacqueline
As a newcomer to True Heart Playback Theatre, I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived at the workshop at Holborn. I had seen a production by True Heart the previous month, and was impressed enough to give playback a try. There was a very warm welcome from Veronica, and any inhibitions I had soon melted away as we played a number of games that helped us get to know each other. Once we were all acquainted and comfortable, we started to make a few “machines”, and were soon having a blast guessing the purpose of other groups’ machines.
I was surprised at how quickly many newcomers, myself included, soon took to the stage to improvise the stories of others; it’s testament to how good True Heart are bringing out the actor in everyone. Soon we got to the serious business of playback.
The first story was complicated, beautiful and moving, and I was at a loss as to how the actors were going to encapsulate such a tale off the top of their heads.
It was the story of a woman’s family, and her research into the background of the Chinese community in India. She told the story of a grandmother, who had come from China to India to work in the leather trade, and had been a fierce and savvy business woman, travelling as far as Africa to keep her livelihood running smoothly. The hardship suffered by the Chinese children working in India for their family business – rising before dawn to work for some hours and then stealing some sleep before school, then back to the work until night fall – was a story that came as a surprise to myself and many others in the audience, and it was a pleasure to learn about history in such an interactive way.
Next we had the story of Andy, who had been detained by immigration officials when he arrived in Britain, and missed his train. Though the story made me angry at how Andy had been treated, the portrayal of the smug immigration officers by Lap Kung and Valentina was hilarious, along with a star turn from Linda as Andy’s long suffering suitcase.
Finally tube driver Mel told her story of a train that wouldn’t move no matter what she tried, and Lap Kung really captured the panic and confusion of trying to get London moving when everything is going wrong, while Julian played a well-meaning but not-so -helpful colleague.
The whole day was a wonderful experience, and I really enjoyed the acting and music that accompanied the playback performances. I learned a lot and made new friends, and can’t wait for the next open session.