Since its beginnings in 2006, True Heart Theatre has been regularly performing Playback Theatre on most third Sundays of the month in a variety of venues as our service to the community, as well as host workshops introducing Playback Theatre.
Our events have created an opportunity for people from all cultures, across generations and languages, to meet each other through a heart-full exchange of real-life stories and experiences.
2020: LIVING STORIES
Our Special Saturdays in 2020!
2.45pm for a 3pm start
The University of East London, University Square Stratford
1 Salway Road, London E15 1NF
Everyone is welcome to our Special Saturdays! Its an opportunity for us to have a friendly, easy time of being together and meeting each other in a playful, creative way.
We have to capacity to work in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, so come along if you speak any one of those languages.
We are interested in generating Joy and Connection – what the world needs more of NOW!
And if you can, bring something to share with everybody at teatime…
It would help us know how many will be coming so do email us to let us know… firstname.lastname@example.org
We have kept blogs for most of these workshop/performances to remember the stories and experiences that were shared. See below…
21 June 2015…at Essex Church
A goodly group of people with roots from across the world gathered for this afternoon’s celebration of Father’s Day, the Summer Solstice and the Dragon Boat Festival. It was also the first International Yoga Day!
Our first stories were about fathers. Happy memories and also regretful feelings.
Then we talked about social political events – the recent simplification of getting visas by tourists from mainland China to come to Europe – a commentary on how our lives have been so complicated by paperwork, and administration. This initiative seems to be a refreshing move against this trend, though perhaps the change was more about boosting income from tourism!
Our next story was about paperwork that goes wrong – a recent phase of multiple complications with flight bookings, an unusual conglomeration of errors for an international couple who are otherwise used to much air travel. Taking away the wrong suitcase was the final straw. Returning and exchanging it eventually ended this period of mishaps – followed by a whole day of relief and recovery from the stress of what was otherwise a lovely holiday.
Our last story took us to Stonehenge, a Summer Solstice 5000 years ago – the dream of conceiving this circle of stones, and bringing huge stones from across the land to build this gigantic physical calendar. Remembrance of visits there in this lifetime, 30 years ago, when we could get up close to it. Now its guarded and protected as a national treasure from being damaged and defaced. Thats good, but only on special days like the Summer Solstice can people (as many as 20,000) come close to the stones to celebrate the old wisdom which brings our humanity and our life on earth to awe-inspiring remembrance of our connection to the stars, our sun, and the planets.
From the interpersonal stories of family dynamics to stories of contemporary social reality and cultural values, to a story remembering our human creative potential and our earth connection with the universe.
“Really enjoyed it! Thankyou” Julia
18 May 2014… at Essex Church
We began in a circle with a gentle process of introductions, and simple exercises to help us meet in an easy way. We had folks from Iceland, Taiwan, China, Eastern Europe as well as from up and down Britain. Our performance started with some words that captured our present sense of self. And then proceeded to three stories that explored life choices. In each case the stories were from people who spoke of a significant meeting or connection with another person.
The first story was of the recent suicide of good friend. Someone with a psychiatric condition, he chose not to live a half life on drugs. Refusing to take them, his last weeks led him to suicide or was it a liberation? Our teller is not angry with his friend for this choice.
Our second story honoured those in our families who are the silent, almost invisible ones who do the menial work and are often overlooked. They endure so that others may live sweetly.
Our third story celebrated a mother who refused to accept death or anything less than freedom to live a full life in the face of pogroms and borders.
“how powerful this process can be & how valuable it is to meet people from different cultures” Sarah
“I dont think you see a human as a human until you have heard their story”
“[Playback] enthralls in the moment and absorbs all into oneness”
19 January 2014… Essex Church
It 2014! We have become Theatre in Residence at the University of East London, and Essex Church, here at Notting Hill Gate in the west of London, is welcoming us in their space for three events over this year.
We started our event in a large circle for warm greetings and a gentle way to meet each other. We shared our names, where we come from, our languages, our work. When we began our performance our team Mei Mac, Linda, Bea, Hsiang-ju and Ági introduced themselves with a short story about what was uppermost in their lives at the moment. And then we invited the audience to do the same.
We heard about how a prescription for high doses of steroids energised and created a sense of euphoria over Christmas. We heard about the stress and pressure of writing final essays at university. A teacher spoke of feeling so good at the end of last year and confident of her plan to not bring home work to do over the weekend in the new year, and now anxious and angry that that resolution has gone out of the window. There is too much work and it must be done on the weekends!
Then Veronica our conductor invited the audience to have a little chat with their neighbours while Quang played some gentle music. And when we all came together again, C came to sit in the Teller’s Chair.
She felt she needed to talk about the feeling of not belonging which was triggered when we all stood in the circle at the beginning. She doesnt know her ancestors, as she was adopted . She had a depressed mother and a loving father. Because of his work, they lived in many different homes around the South of England, so there were no stable friendships from her school experience. As her adoptive mother was not friendly person, the neighbours were always strangers to them. C grew up in isolation. Her mother could not accept her individuality. Her only consolation was the deep and abiding love of her dog Mick, and of Nature. She felt freedom and love when playing in the fields and under the skies with Mick. A feeling that sustained her and has never left her.
Our second story was also about difficult family situations. B told of his miserable Christmas. He works with people with addictions, will not drink alcohol himself. He had to endure his family indulging in an excess of alcohol, as well as playing with Helium gas. He was very worried about his little nephew having to grow up in this environment. B could see how easily this boy could slide into becoming one of those addicts he works with. He took courage and wrote a letter to his family after Christmas about his feelings. He hasn’t heard from them. He feels like a stranger in his own family and is very sad about this.
A teller said he felt privileged to be trusted with such deep stories so far.
Our next teller said she was touched by Hsiang-ju’s story of losing her voice in our introductions. This resonated with her deeply. She talked about her experience of having an operation on her voice. She shared her feelings about her speechlessness, silence, having a weak and different voice. She spoke of her identity and how easily her comfort zone is compromised. We enacted this as a chorus. She recognised all her feelings expressed in this way.
Our closing story was offered by a young woman who spoke of her role in her family as peace-maker, her ability to cope really quite well with the difficulties of her parents separation and the frightful arguments that preceded this. Each child deals with this in different ways. And she has had to support her sister through this turmoil. However she acknowledges that she somehow does manage to juggle through these challenges quite successfully.
An afternoon of stories about families, and examples of insufficient and dysfunctional parenting. From a teller who despite her isolation found a way to cope and eventually thrive in her life, to another who fears for his nephew, and then a young person who acknowledges her own capacity for holding her family together through storms and tribulations.
“It was very interesting and moving to see people’s experiences acted out” Alice
“very interesting to see adaptation from story to physical theatre – it brings up personal, emotional responses, and how we relate with someone else’ story” Gillian
21 July 2013… Faraday House
A warm summer mood was part of our sharing this afternoon. We heard about different encounters with children, strangers, duties, orders and rules, and instruments!
Our first teller spoke of getting into Lord’s Cricket Ground by queuing rather than responding to the invitation of a ticket tout. He followed his intuition which was a very good thing to do.
Another spoke of an unexpected hug from a small child, the daughter of his ex-student. It made him think of his own ex-wife and his step-daughter and what it is to have the love of a child.
G told us of her brother and his newly born child. Even though she cannot be with them overseas, she feels a mutual love that fills her with wonder. This deep bond/life-thread makes her love life more.
Our next teller said how much harder it is to learn a language after the age of 50. He is from Spain, his girlfriend from Italy. She speaks good English & Italian, but for him its been challenging to learn. But when he is in Italy now, it feels good to not feel like a tourist!
Our first Story was about playing musical instruments. Her parents gave her a violin when she was 8 years old. It looked easy and was light to hold. But when she started she realised it wasn’t so easy. She sounded like a chicken! Then when she came to England from Taiwan, she stopped lessons in music to learn English. Now for two years, she has picked up the violin again, and she doesnt need her mum to remind her to practise hard. She loves to play and with the enjoyment also came opportunities to perform which is great because before she could be only in the audience.
Our next Story was set in the world of the army. Our teller worked in the kitchen and prepared sandwiches for his fellow soldiers. When he cut some to taste, he thought that the chorizo sausage seemed a bit fresh and bloody. When he checked further, he realised there was a mouse in the meat they used to make the sandwiches. They were already served and being eaten. He was in a terrible dilemma. Should he tell everyone… he could imagine the revulsion and the vomiting that would ensue, and would people get sick? He was miserable, and then decided not to tell. Nobody got sick. He felt the learning from this experience is that perhaps it is sometimes better not to know what you are eating!
Another story followed about military service many years ago in Eastern Europe. There were very strict rules about wearing uniforms. At that time, the army was not popular. So when one day our teller saw a beautiful girl on the street, he decided to meet her in civilian clothes. He went several times, but unfortunately he bumped into his Captain on the street, who recognised him. When questioned he refused to speak, and was persecuted for a long time. Eventually he decided to unofficially share this story with his colonel, who fortunately was a more relaxed sort of man. Even so, until the end of his service, our teller never wore civilian clothes, and never met the girl again.
Facing terrible dilemmas and finding best solutions are never easy. When making decisions we have to take responsibility for the consequences. And its probably a good idea to trust your intuition, and remember all loving people you are connected to.
“I enjoyed having a chance to share a story and felt that a solitary experience can become a collective one. Playback Theatre is a great model of inclusiveness and empowerment.” Jonathan
“It does not take a lot to be happy or to make others happy”
19 May 2013… Faraday House
We heard from a young girl who decided to sign up for the Triathlon – a big challenge. Being alone can be also a challenge. We are usually surrounded by people. Someone told about his week in Croatia without talking to anyone only reading books, enjoying the blue sky, sea and perfect weather.
Then we heard about a young woman who applied for a course of study in England despite her family’s disapproval. Just when she was about to move to the UK her mum was diagnosed with cancer. What to do? How could she leave her mum during serious surgical procedures? Her mother insisted that she should go for her studies. Two weeks after the operation the results were much better than they had expected. Such a relief. Her mother has recovered and will shortly be visiting her in London!
Our next story was about a girl who, from a very early age, knew that her path was unlike others. Fortunately she had a supportive family which allowed this. From nursery days she wouldn’t talk and everyone suspected speech problems. But her family knew she was only shy. She was taken to a psychologist where she would not speak. Her behavior was even more worrying because her twin sister was exactly the opposite. Very social and confident. Thanks to her family background she was able to grow up in a healthy environment where she could unfold in her own time. She has become a psychologist. She does like listening more than talking!
A former member of True Heart Theatre wanted to acknowledge her sense of belonging to us, and that she had gained much courage in her life from our work together. She feels that drama is so valuable for everybody, not just as entertainment but its also educational and therapeutic, teaching important life skills.
It was the 14th birthday of our next teller. She chose to celebrate by coming to our show this afternoon. There is a teacher she and her friends respect but are terrified of. In discussion they decided that this fearfulness was not a good thing, and gave themselves challenges to overcome it. In very public places, our teller hugged and spoke to a lamppost; her friend sang a song. They were big tasks for shy girls and they had done it. She knows now that the next time she feels shy she can remember these experiences to help her find courage!
Our last teller has had many challenges during her phd studies. There were difficult supervisors, and many obstacles. She has had much anger inside her. She has finally finished her degree now after six years and must return to Taiwan. She survived and is learning to let go of her bad relationships, focussing on her capabilities, regaining hope for a better future.
An afternoon about the challenges of life, and how to overcome obstacles. From athletics, to illness & family ties, and families who stick by you however your behaviour might differ from the norm, to empowerment through drama, to youthful wisdom, and surviving obstructive relationships.
“Playback Theatre builds friendships, encourages openness, compassion and good listening” Anna
“At first it was strange to see other people’s interpretation of my story. By the end I was speechless, and full of emotion in a very enabling and profound way” Taiwo
“Normally we build our understanding on text or words. True Heart has helped me to visualise a culture and play my special experiences in front of me” Maisy
“I enjoyed every part of it. I learnt that every life is full of adventures and courage. I learnt to listen to others and be listened to. Playback Theatre lets people feel that they are not alone and they are supported.” Christine
20 April 2013… at Faraday House
“Through sharing you are able to connect and make yourself open. This strengthens all relationships surely.”
“Improvisation is power. Possibility to make ‘simple’ things rich and deep” Lin
17 March 2013… at Faraday House Room 102
Our first teller spoke of visiting her ancestors’ grave in the Czech Republic. it was her grandfather’s birthday too. Its a good thing to do, she says, we mustnt forget. Another spoke of coming to England 10 years ago and feeling very lonely and trapped. It was only two years ago that something changed and she came out into the world. She appreciates meeting so many different people, seeing bright eyes and warm smiles. At last she feels at home.
Someone had just returned from Serbia and a reunion of his ex-students. They had come from far and wide across the world. A deep pleasure. There was another pleasure when he bought an ice cream for his friend’s son, watching the young boy with his big eyes enjoy eating it.
The first person in the teller’s chair brought us to California where she had been visiting her family. Much of it was a duty visit, but she wanted to give them a treat as a goodbye present. They had tea in a hotel close to the sea, a place where her nephew and wife had had their honeymoon. There was a friendly musician who played while her grandniece Lila danced in her tutu. And her nephew told her how important she was to him, and how much it had meant when she introduced new experiences to him as he grew up.
From California we came back to London via Cyprus for our second story. Our Teller grew up here under the wing of his loving and playful grandfather. His grandpa had always wanted to bring him to Cyprus, to introduce him to their original home, but he became ill and died before this could happen. When our teller eventually did visit Cyprus, he felt within him all the old values that he had been so well taught. A deep and good feeling. A special grandpa.
Our last story had connections to Russia and Germany. Our teller was especially fond of his Russian grandma. When she passed away he wanted to attend her funeral. He had just begun a training course. It was difficult to re-arrange, but he found a way to go. When he returned to start the course 6 week later, he met the girl who is now his fiance. It was as if his beloved grandma had arranged this.
So many of our family histories take us around the world, to places we have never seen. Yet through our ancestors we have inherited values & customs from these places. What do we know and remember; and what is the unconscious knowledge that guides us through our lives? This day we heard of strange and sweet connections between generations, across continents, and within families.
“there is such a warm sense of sharing that isn’t as readily available in the outside as when one experiences Playback”
20 January 2013… at Faraday House
Winter is here. The holidays are over and 2013 started with memories and new perspectives.
Snow is a miracle, said someone. Another spoke of relief and joy for an Iranian friend who was granted asylum. A woman with a warm and long relationship to Cuba felt inspired to maintain this link in London by going on a course on the politics of Latin America! She loves being in London, but misses so much the heat and friendships there.
Our first teller told of his experience in the Israeli army. He talked about danger, friendship, personal growth, difficulties, reality and fantasy. A journey from safety to real danger, and learning to grow up very quickly. His conclusion is that a gun is never a solution.
Our second teller spoke of a childhood during the Second World War, being sent away during the blitz. So many of these experiences for young people were terrible, but for him, he was lucky. He was in the care of a good man and his family on a farm in Wales. He remembers the smell of glue. His guardian made books. After returning to his family in London, he regrets never seeing the man again to thank him.
In China, the one-child family has meant that it is not uncommon to live together with cousins and be as close as siblings. Although they were very competitive they had a great deal of fun. She feels very close to her cousin, and hopes that her own child will have as enriching an atmosphere to grow up in.
Some memories came up about the former Yugoslavia and the war there. His country was betrayed; if only leaders could see themselves. War can be a mirror and opportunity for reflection. Although our teller felt good living in London, he still has many thoughts and memories from his life in Belgrade during those years.
Bridges connect people and places, but they can be easily destroyed by outer circumstances, such as wars. It is such an enormous task to rebuild them. Despite all difficulties this seems to be a most worthwhile task.
“I have learnt that taking action can change me, rather than trying to think my way into feeling better’ Daniel
“an important mirror; astute harmonising of (sometimes painful) experience; deepens understanding of others’ challenges in very different cultures” Gillian
18 November 2012… at Faraday House
Now that winter approaches we can even more appreciate the lovely cup of tea that we share together. We started with some games to get into the mood of sharing, wake ourselves up, sharpen our senses, and activate our listening. Circle games allow our guests to get to meet so that when we start a performance they are not such strangers to each other anymore.
Right at the beginning Veronica connected us to the present moment by asking “How are you?”
We received different responses such as “watching TV isn’t relaxing at all, but this performance is and it is creative as well”. One of our tellers said she felt nostalgic – “just like when you don’t see your grandma for a long time and then you are back and everything in the room, the smell is familiar.” And how precious this moment is to return. Someone was energised by a crazy week, writing essays, and have missed theatre because of University demands. One said that reading books is changing her whole perspective on life.
The first story was about two cats, Fluffy and Snowy. Fluffy was the teller’s first-ever pet, and he got it despite his mum’s aversion. He adored Fluffy who was very naughty and behaved like a dog. They had to be careful to close the back door so that Fluffy would not escape. Unfortunately one day the gate was left open and the cat walked away and never returned. The whole family was very upset as Fluffy had captured their hearts. Fortunately the story took a new direction with a newcomer called Snowy. This cat enjoyed the outdoors but kept coming back. While the family had Fluffy for only 6 months, they were very glad to have Snowy to love for many years.
From pets to people, we heard about the arrival of a baby into a family. As a newborn the teller was in Intensive Care and despite her weakness she proved to be a very naughty and lively baby. Her father recognised her immediately without being shown which is his child. Despite all difficulties she recovered and grew up healthily. It was just a few days ago when her mum showed her videos of those times when she was a baby. She told her about how much her elder brother cared about his little baby sister and always wanted to be close to her. His parents tried to distract him so that he would leave his baby sister alone and not disturb her.
It was good to be reminded of the great value of a loving, protective family.
Our third teller told a very different story about family life. When she was 6 years old her father was forced to move out because he was violent and abusive towards her mother. The teller had 2 siblings who were 4 and 10 at that time. First her father seemed to care for them, but after his mother, their grandma, passed away he became negligent and unfortunately got involved with drugs which made him even more aggressive towards his family. He used to see his kids at the weekend, but then that was stopped because of his abuse. The Teller had ambiguous feelings because she resembles her mother and therefore her father always treated her differently. He never hurt her, but his treatment of her was different. Her mum and the kids had to move 16 times over many years, to escape being found by her father.
The next story was set in Zambia. Pets are trained to be guard dogs and not as family friends. However Simba was not just a guard dog. He was also the Teller’s best friend. She named him after the Lion King which was her favorite movie at that time. She was 5 and she loved to play with the dog, and had so much fun despite the disapproval of the adults. Unfortunately Simba was poisoned and the teller found him dead in the garden. It was a terrible shock, and she mourned him for a long time.
The actors captured the story as a photo album of Snapshots which brought back the loving as well as the sad memories of the teller.
Other family stories were shared. A young girl talked about trying to save her mum from being overweight by starving herself. She believed that if she didn’t eat, her mum would not get fat. She became seriously thin. Her sister said she could see her heart beating. With help of her friends she is feeling better now, even though she still feels fats. Its a long, long journey towards recovery.
So the sense of FAMILY is not just about people. It includes all the creatures around us that we love and care for. And our experience of family life is so very different. We can but be grateful for the good and acknowledge the bad times.
“One of the stories inspired me to write a play script. I experienced that Playback Theatre gives the chance for people to release stress and pain from past experiences. The whole event was perfect.” Ray
“I enjoyed the sense of community and I felt liberating to be open and free. It was warm seeing people respond to my story so nicely. I think Playback Theatre builds relationships and trust.”
“I enjoyed the warm up games and it is great to get to meet people. It was amazing to see how a safe space can be created between strangers. Playback Theatre reduces barriers and allows us to see what we have in common.” Duncan
6 September 2012…at Faraday House
The new season started for True Heart Theatre this September. We welcomed our Hungarian friends Bea and Denes to join the group and practice with us through the term. Denes is a graphic artist who watches and does his art as we perform. He captures the essence of the story by drawings. Bea is spending her assistantship in London supported by Grundtvig (EU funding). So we are looking forward to a very fruitful and inspiring autumn.
We asked the audience to give us a feedback about their experience. Many had seen us before and we always have new people coming.
This is what some of them said.
“It was positive and I learned a lot. I told a story. It was great. They played my story which was amazing”. Haddad
“Great space. Fantastic acting. I talked to someone I’ve never met before. I have learnt about the importance of sharing experiences and listening to other people’s stories. There are seemingly hidden spaces which are so productive”. Izabel
Our Open Sundays during August 2010 to July 2012 became part of a Grundtvig Lifelong Learning project with 4 other European partners. We called this AMC – Arts for Multicultural Communities. See HERE for blogs during that period.
18 July 2010…at Faraday House
Blog by Lap Kung Chan
So after a few months of roaming a various number of theatre spaces in London, we made a return to Faraday House in Holborn. We are just over half-way through the year and True Heart Theatre has already been on such a journey so how fitting it was that ‘journeys’ turned out to be the over-riding theme of this session.
We as a company decided to take a rather different approach to this event, allowing Veronica a break from the responsibility and pressures of running it. Instead, Wing Hong volunteered to run the warm-up and Julian and myself offering to conduct the Playback.
There were a number of new friends who were welcomed into the group with a couple of our tried and tested introductory name games followed by some more unfamiliar ice-breakers. Very soon, we were discovering each other’s similarities and realising how much we all have in common. The warm-up was concluded with a number of bizarre ice-cream making machines. The task was to create, in groups, a machine that makes a certain type or flavour of ice-cream and it was the audiences job to decipher what type of ice-cream was being created. Mmmmmm.
The moment the Playback began, there was an expression of intrigue by one of our audience members who had never seen Playback before. Alas, the show was off and under way. Then followed a few quick fire fluid sculptures including such feelings as being alive and engaged, the excitement of Summer and learning. The memories of Summer and the World Cup came flooding back to our tellers. We learnt that not everyone enjoys football, a young teller expressed the ‘torture’ she endured through football related homework and World Cup school uniform!
The first of our stories was about the highs and lows of cycling. Three friends decide to take a bike trip down the scenic routes of London along the banks of a river when their journey was cut short by an unfortunate accident. Our teller hit an obstacle on the path and fell into the river when parts of her life came flashing before her eyes, namely her friends and family. Fortunately she was rescued by her friends and came away with just a few cuts and bruises and was brave enough to cycle again another day.
Following on from that journey, our next story was a rather eventful road trip to South-West England. Plymouth to be precise. There were conversations about work, feminism, and custard among many other things while the whole trip was accompanied by the Yellow Car game. A game that should be played on all car journeys, especially long ones. Other highlights of this adventure included seeing the Stonehenge, eating at Little Chef and singing along to Magic FM radio.
The final story was about a last-minute holiday to Lanzarote. Our teller had not been on a holiday for two years so made a spontaneous decision to book a cheap and cheerful one. It turned out to be a holiday of many ‘firsts’ for our teller. For instance, not only has he never travelled abroad alone, but during the holiday he experienced sailing on a boat and swimming at the beach for the first time. Along with cockroaches, taxi drivers, pub crawls and football, it turned out to be an extremely relaxing and enjoyable time away from London.
Long may our journeys continue.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)
20 June 2010…Kedlestone Community Centre
Blog by Julian Li
This month’s open session was held in the new venue of the Kedlestone Community Centre in Bethnal Green and as always with a new environment a combination of excitement and anxiety filled the members of the company. Combined with the new venue, this was the first time the company had experimented with Haiku Playback in public – an intriguing new method of hearing from the tellers.
For those reading this entry and were unlucky enough to not have been able to be present at the session perhaps a little explanation of what Haiku is in order. Haiku is a form of poetry originating from Japan and consists of 17 syllables. The form of the poem is such that there are 5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second and 5 again in the last. Though this is the official structure our participants were given much greater freedom to write as they felt without such rigourous restrictions.
So here are a few that were read out at the session:
“A man and a snake in a forest”
“What day is it today? I got drunk in the desert but don’t laugh at me Beautiful girl I’ll be with you forever”
“The orchid Purple blossoms in the night Sharing under where/wear?” (pun)
“I like chocolate I want it always It is very nice”
For each of these the tellers had a purpose for their writings but I think it’s more beautiful to simply let them be as they are without any explanation. Something to be savoured and enjoyed without excessive intellectual thought. A total of three stories were told at the session and the first concerned a dilemma regarding career paths and desires.
Currently studying business studies due to parental pressures, the teller has a secret desire to study drama derived from her experiences in a drama club during her time in secondary school. Despite having applied to drama schools without success, she is nevertheless highly driven to become a brilliant actress. With only one year left before graduating from her business studies course she is torn between giving it up to focus on acting or completing her diploma with all its number-crunching and false niceties.
The second was a story of change and connections. With Father’s Day being the very day of the session, the teller describes a day out with her partner and child to a car boot sale. Having migrated from abroad and set up a new life in the UK 15 years ago with little in the way of connections to the country, she comes to realise that this local car boot sale is full of familiar faces. Neighbours and friends and even teachers of her young son are all present at the gathering. A sense of community and belonging fills her mind on recollection of this discovery.
The final story of the session began with the watching of a film about the Holocaust and how a father attempts to convince his son that life in the concentration camps is just a game while his non-Jewish wife joins them out of choice. The bleakness of their plight is paradoxical to the love, care and bravery they muster in such extreme circumstances. Having watched the film with her boyfriend they both feel that though the Holocaust has ended some time ago, people all over the world continue to suffer to this day and have a renewed motivation to do what they can to make a difference. The reality however is that currently the teller feels that her job in a charity is flawed and not quite the direction she wishes to spend her efforts, resulting in a great deal of frustration.
Open Sunday at Kedlestone Community Centre was a refreshing and new experience and I felt that everyone present really felt connected despite our many differences linguistically and culturally. Quite the contrary in fact. It was because of our differences that the range and depth of the sharings was profound and moving. We all have wishes for the future and some of us are further along our paths than others. Sometimes these paths will meet in places and great things happen in those moments when they do.
16 May 2010…at Lauderdale House
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
Last Sunday was our May Open Workshop. This month, we were in the Long Gallery of Lauderdale House. It seems that our “roaming playback” style of recent months has proved to be a positive thing: we are managing to keep hold of our regulars (one even travelled for three hours to get to us!!) as well as reach out to new communities. So, warm-up. Today’s games were quite possibly, to me, the most memorable ones so far. We had our usual social-mapping exercises, where we learned (as ever) just how diverse we are in terms of countries and languages, as well as group work involving finding three things we each had in common before putting them on stage for the other groups to guess. We also had some wackier games, notably one which had us all engaged in a Westside Story-esque face-off about who had flies in them. Yes, flies. My words here can’t really do justice as to how comedic this was, but I will say I think this game has a lot of replay factor.
Having had a lot of fun during the warm-up games, I think the fun and comedy then became transported into the playback half. Today’s audience had a few families too, and the children who shared their stories gave us a lot of opportunity for playfulness on stage. Today’s workshop was an open theme, but we began with a few sharings around the old English favourite: the weather. Spring is in the air and for some (myself included) that means an easier wake-up call in the morning. Someone else also described how the changing seasons seemed to match her own life routines.
As I’m sure most of you are aware, political shenanigans have been a major issue recently with the general election, and a few tellers gave us their own experiences.
We had one person who was both interested in the political goings-on and yet also slightly tired of its omnipresence.
We also had one one teller’s experience of actually working in politics and knocking on people’s doors in the run-up to the election, and another teller told us how, at school, there was a special visitor one day in the form of Nick Clegg. Omnipresent politics indeed.
However, those of us acquainted with the sporting world will also know there’s a lot of football around at the moment too, and this formed part of the first story: a teller’s reflection on a complete and utter aloofness to what some might call a new religion. Wing Hong, as teller’s actor, gave a thoughtful performance as he searched for the essence of the appeal of the ‘beautiful game’, whilst I enjoyed playing the somewhat manic wave of said game.
The next story was from one of our younger audience members. A recent school project had involved her taking care of her own baby – or, rather, jelly baby – and hers was a story of strange music and talking sweets with a bit of responsibility mixed in. Elaine played the sweet jelly baby (oh yes, pun definitely intended) who was a little on the neglected side whilst I played teller’s actor – a great opportunity for fun and games and a voyage of discovery as we saw the jelly baby come to life. Linda, as the teller’s mother, was also an important guiding feature in the journey as she showed the teller how to look after her things… as well as proved that jelly babies don’t talk but music systems can….
Following the theme of nurturing that had now been embarked upon, our next story was about one teller’s experience of keeping ‘dog-rabbits’ – not mythological creatures as the name would suggest but, rather, your average rabbit kept in the house rather than a hutch, allowed to roam free indoors. The teller described Toffee, her current dog-rabbit (who shares a striking resemblance to a famous rabbit currently on TV!), as well as Toffee’s past ‘boyfriends’ Chocolate, Chip and Elvis. The story unfolded with a lot of bunny-hopping energy and I, as teller’s actor, got the chance to own some rabbits which I’ve always wanted. I think it was also a rather nice toast to the past dog-rabbits that had since departed this earth.
Next up was our final story of the day: another of our younger audience members told us of the time she fell into a pond but was saved by her teacher, who then presented her with a much-coveted hot meal, the juice of which was then stolen by an unknown ‘friend’. We had a rather scary pond on stage, which veritably swallowed up Elaine as teller’s actor and which pretty much threw me too before I managed to pull her free. I think Quang did a convincing job of covertly stealing the juice too….
Wrapping up, we all noticed how it was raining heavily outside but it felt cosy and bright inside after the fun and games. We had a lot of people wanting to get their own dog-rabbits, as well as a lot of appreciation for the stories from the younger tellers. I especially liked the themes that we embraced today: the dawn of spring and the idea of looking after things, be it a jelly baby, pet or schoolchild. Indeed, I had a bit of a spring in my step on the way back home despite the rain. And, yes, pun intended.
18 April 2010…at Lost Theatre
1st Blog by Julian Li
Martial Arts, for me, has been integral to my physical and psychological development during my adolescence and is very much a major influence on who I am now. For within it I can find parallels throughout the many different aspects of life beyond mere conflict and very far-removed from bloody-minded violence. Today Martial Arts presents itself as a sport or healthy exercise but I feel to truly appreciate the many disciplines to their fullest one must understand the circumstances surrounding their inception – and from this their philosophy and mind-set.
This month’s open session revealed the relevance and extensive reach Martial Arts has in our society and the world currently. While there were a number of practitioners present, the grand majority were not, but in many cases were nevertheless indirectly connected in some way or form.
The first to share was a practitioner and he recalled his unfocused and active youth. Full of energy and looking to diversify his interests, by chance he comes across Judo. Rapidly it has a profound effect on his focus and development to the extent where the lines blur between his own being and the Judo he loves. With his personal identity being so closely tied with Judo and its practices he cannot imagine life without its influence.
Our second teller was the mother of a practitioner. Her son achieved a black belt in Karate just the week before and the swell of pride in her face was all but plain to see. However, the story is far more intricate than that as she remembers the beginning of her son’s training in Karate and his life at that time. Being prone to bullying from his elder brother and resistant at first to the idea of attending Karate class, he begins to build in confidence and skill. Over the years he now stands taller than his elder brother but despite this does not abuse the skills imbued during his training. Nevertheless, as a mother witnessing the gruelling training and examination regimes in order to acquire his black belt leaves the teller with mixed emotions.
As we move into the story phase of the performance, our teller describes his exploration of various Martial Arts culminating in a tournament bout. Dissatisfied with the adolescent activity norms in Bolivia he decides to try something somewhat more irregular. Having tried a few different Martial Arts and deciding that they were not rounded enough for his liking he discovers Ninjitsu – a Martial Art that fit him perfectly. Though a relative novice at the time, his teacher instructs him to replace one of his classmates in a competition and insists that nobody else can possibly fill the spot. Through a mixture of pride for his school and apprehension concerning his level of training, he enters the tournament to realise he’s facing off against a significantly larger opponent. He calls upon his training from all the different Martial Arts he knows and gains a rather speculative victory due to his unorthodox style.
Spirituality is a common aspect associated with certain Martial Arts and this is the topic of our second story. The teller is a trained dancer and considers herself adept in movement and form. Tai Chi, famous for it’s ties with energy and spirituality, seems an obvious point of call to further her spiritual journey. Having joined a packed out class she fails to learn much as she’s unable to see the instructor at the front clearly. Undeterred she finds an advanced class assuming that she’ll have no problem in replicating the required movements. The instructor merely asks her to hold one stance. Through all her training this should next to no challenge. Time passes and still she holds the stance unmoving. Not until the instructor asks if she’s ok does she realise that much of the class had already moved on and in fact she had the freedom to stop when she felt ready. Though perhaps she hadn’t learned much Tai Chi, instead she came away with another valuable lesson.
The final telling refers to racial preconceptions and the ties between a mother and daughter. With the prospect of leaving Taiwan and travelling abroad to the UK to do a masters for a year, our teller finds herself eating and enjoying all the things she will be leaving behind in due course. Her mother’s foresight that Tai Chi may be of some use in the UK and offer of tuition are swept aside in favour of these soon to be missed luxuries. Not until a classmate presumptuously requests she do a Tai Chi solo within their choreographed performance does desperation set in. Consulting her mother on the other side of the world she attempts to learn what she can and even includes some in the her own piece. Despite her mother’s disapproval having seen footage of the performances it has nevertheless created an even stronger bond between them.
Interestingly, by the end of the session many people felt the desire to learn more of Martial Arts or even give it a try for themselves. I think much can be gained in the way of knowledge, experience and skill for those that desire it. That said, such a path is endless as there is always more that can be learned and new methods explored. But is that not the case in all aspects of life? I’d finally like to raise a toast to our Martial Arts forebears, whom have through the centuries have gifted us with their wisdom, fortitude and knowledge.
2nd Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
Today’s open session was devoted to the theme of martial arts. True Heart associate Winifred Mok, who is currently producing a documentary on martial arts, approached us to ask if we could do a session that could help to explore the martial arts world. Most of us have little or no experience of martial arts (me especially!) so the session was always going to be an interesting one….
Taking place at Lost Theatre, we had a small, nice rehearsal room full of participants (this being the first time that we had to limit space to visitors), a few of which were there especially due to the martial arts theme. Our warm-up had the usual getting-to-know-you exercises, such as S & M (sound and movement, in case you were wondering) and social mapping (we looked at where we came from and the languages we speak, as well as our experience of the martial arts world).
As soon as the playback performance began, we had some great offerings.
We had one teller’s experience of how he learned to focus all his childhood energy on martial arts, and another teller describing her mixed feelings around her son’s intensive martial arts experience: on the one hand she was anxious that he was taking too much on, but on the other hand there was a lot of pride surrounding his strength and ability.
Having opened with such good tellings, we found we were ready to venture into story mode, and the first story we had centred around one young man’s rather positive experience of being a ‘jack of all trades’ in the martial arts world. Finding himself in a rather unexpected situation, namely a nail-biting jujitsu competition whereby he was up against a competitor far larger and with far more experience in jujitsu than he was, he decided to use his initiative. Craftily drawing upon his basic knowledge of a number of different fighting styles, the audience watched a modern-day version of David and Goliath. On stage we had a four-armed giant with Julian as the teller’s actor, ambushing the opponent with a spontaneous mix of martial arts moves and a heavy blow of confusion. Needless to say, the teller won this particular match.
Our next teller spoke about a one-off, much-remembered tai chi class many years ago. She told how, as a professional dancer, she believed that a tai chi class would be nothing too taxing – merely another place where she would be given movement instructions which she would follow. However, after being told to take a certain tai chi stance she realised that this was a new kind of instruction, especially when the class came to an end and she was still in the same pose. Embarrassed, confused and bewildered, she never returned to the class again. However, reflection causes us to see things in a new light. Embarrassed or not, the teller realised that there was a certain lesson to be learned: that of following your own path. The class was freestyle, and she was expected to do what tai chi she wished, yet – being too good a student, it seems – she remained as she was, waiting for another instruction that never came. Watching back the playback, she also learned a new thing: the teacher cared about her well-being. The actor playing the teacher, in a not uncommon stroke of insight, asked Valentina (in the role of teller’s actor) whether she was alright at the end of the class, which the teller then remembered is exactly what happened. For the first time she was able to see through the shame and realise that the teacher didn’t think she was odd at all, but actually cared.
The next story focused on another type of teacher: the teller’s mother and her knowledge of tai chi. Despite her mother’s recommendation, the teller – about to depart home for her studies abroad – decided not to learn tai chi from her mother but instead preoccupied herself with enjoying the local food before leaving. However, at university, it soon became apparent that those around her expected her to be proficient in the traditional martial art of tai chi, and her course – a performance studies course – seemed to warrant that her tai chi ’skills’ be put to the test. What followed was a touching story of a mother-daughter relationship, their connection over tai chi and how mothers always seem to have a knack of knowing best.
Speaking to Win and to each other before and after the session, it became clear that today’s theme wasn’t just about martial arts, but about the culture surrounding it and its links with spirituality. We also saw what an important role teachers had to play along the way, as well as the skill of ‘winging it’ – a lot of the stories involved tellers feigning greater knowledge than they possessed, and I think we can safely say that many of us actors did too…. All in all, a satisfying session for all concerned.
21 March 2010…at Faraday House
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
This month’s open session was not without its hitches given a clerical error resulted in the starting of the session being delayed by quite some way. Nevertheless, the overall atmosphere remained energetic and the attendants had high spirits having participated in the warm-up games facilitated by Veronica. Every month the group is composed of an interesting and diverse array of people from around the world and this month was no exception. On top of this it seems each month we have new faces joining us which would indicate that our reputation is spreading and there is clearly a strong interest in the work we do.
The grand majority of the first few tellings revolved around the feelings members of the audience had having experienced the warm-up and it was clear there was a sense of anticipation about what was to come in the later sections of the performance. A number of Fluid Sculptures and a Chorus were chosen as forms to perform these tellings. Though our company has already been formed for a number of years now, it is clear that there are still areas where we can improve upon and Chorus is one such area. Clearly it will require some special attention to attain the skill level and refinement necessary for our performers to feel comfortable using this particular form and today the performing team wasn’t yet prepared enough.
With a brief discussion break we moved into the Story phase of the performance and were able to hear three stories before we sadly ran out of time.
The first story was that of a life long dream of owning a property and calling it home. An aspiration from years gone by but as many of us know, with a perpetually morphing economic and financial situation, this is no simple feat. So with our current recession Chance has reared its head once more and the dilemma thickens into a choice between two flats within the same locality. Both have their pros and cons but a decision must be made and time is tight – 24 hours tight. The metaphor of a guillotine blade and executioner portrayed a harsh and brutal London with the ultimate prize of a home placed just out of reach on the other side.
The second story involved not only a change in life direction but also the discovery of a true passion. Having followed a particular path of education the opportunity to do some training in acting arises and is quickly taken up. Despite language issues and embarrassment regarding age, perseverance wins the day and the realisation that this moment is lifechanging by recognising the freedom of expression and massive potential acting has. A very physical interaction between performers portrayed a great dynamism between teller and passion while reinforcing the need to continue striving to take this passion further.
Our final story begins with a filming project in the Bahamas but rapidly becomes much more than expected. In this far away land where religion has a special place in society an opportunity emerges to interview the most elderly woman on the island with her friend. Despite being a charismatic and highly talkative individual, the conversation takes a sudden turn when the suggestion of video footage for the interview is raised. With a rush of urgency she grabs a jet black wig and arranges it on her balding head all the while demanding the interview only take place once she were ready to be filmed. Unfortunately, the opportunity never arrived to talk with her once again but the contrast between the jovial, free and natural spirit she exhibited compared to her made-up self were virtually polar in effect and unforgettable as a result.
Overall, I’m very excited by our work and have noticed a great deal of evolution in the style and skill during our performances. So onwards to better things……..
21 February 2010…at Faraday House
Blog by Cemil Beliki
EAST meet WEST (Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day)
Last week we had an open session to celebrate Eastern and Western perspectives on important celebrations – inspired by the coincidence of this Chinese New Year starting on Valentine’s Day. Now feeling very much at home at Faraday House, we hosted the whole Open Session in the main hall. A good choice as we had one of our biggest audiences ever!
Cecil and Linda facilitated the warm-up. To tie in with the day’s theme our visitors were asked to perform an action representing what they were doing last weekend, and then say their name. This was a variation of our usual Sound-and-Movement game. I sensed the willingness to share from our visitors and then we did the ‘where we were born’ activity to get a sense of the diversity of people all gathered here today.
Once the playback started, it was evident our warm-up proved a great way to get minds thinking on stories to share. With Valentina as conductor – me, Elaine, Julian and Quang on stage – we were in full-swing! Cecil translated everything into Mandarin brilliantly for our Chinese speakers.
Our first teller expressed to us how, in their opinion, people seem to be reserved and somewhat shy, but deep down they like to celebrate and have fun! Another teller wanted to know about other people’s culture and customs, and how this would never happen in their own country! Someone from Singapore shared about his experience of Chinese New Year back home. During these festive times, all senior family members would give money in red packets to those who are still single; they would pay respects to their ancestors; and give treats to their children, even during times of economic hardship. He finished by saying that people would work very hard during the year so they can receive bonus pay at Chinese New Year – like children do!
Another teller expressed a dislike to the Western New Year! There is so much anticipation which leads to disappointment as you end up drinking far too much leaving an empty feeling inside. He felt, on the other hand Chinese New Year was more substantial as it focused on food and celebration!
After our tea-break, we moved onto story form.
First up, was a story about making Turnip Cake, taking on her mother’s old recipe & ritual, and sharing it with family & friends! On stage were Julian, Elaine, Quang and Linda! The offers given by the actors were truly commendable, especially Quang playing the ‘turnip’ with the others in the mix!
Next up, and following the red-thread, was a story about making a pineapple topped sponge cake! The tellers were two young sisters who had come with their father and older brother. The story evolved around the challenges of baking a cake at home, while waiting for the return of mother and brother from a long journey! And thanks to our actors the ingredients to the cake very much ‘came alive’, with jelly bean rabbits and monkeys dancing on top!
The next story was of a tale 25 years ago on Valentine’s Day! The teller explained how he had a pair of very expensive tickets to the opera and was kept waiting at the venue by his girlfriend. So at the last minute he sold the tickets to an American couple. A moment after he did this, his girlfriend rushed in! He had to buy standing tickets right at the back. Their relationship did not prosper. And to this day he is still waiting for his true love to turn up. But he did make a profit that evening from the ticket sale!
Our final story was from a teller who said how previously Valentine’s Day did not interest her! When she had a boyfriend things changed dramatically! They celebrated Valentines Day together 3 years ago in Taiwan. But then her boyfriend moved to London to study, and she was in the US for their second Valentine’s Day. This year, she came to London to be with him and to visit Europe. She looks forward into the New Year – as its start coincided with Valentine’s Day – and asks what it will bring next in their relationship. Its a new chapter as they will both, together, return to Taiwan soon.
All-in-all, I can say for sure that this was one of my favourite Open Sessions! The audience was so willing and open to share their stories! And it was great to welcome our regular guests, and see so many new faces – old and young!
17 January 2010…at Faraday House
Blog by Julie Chueng-Inhin
Last week we had the first open session of 2010, and we had a new space for the new year. Exciting times indeed. Having recently been on the look-out for new rehearsal spaces, last Sunday we tried out the spacious Faraday House in Holborn. In a nutshell, we True Hearters all loved it, and our visitors seemed to be very satisfied with it too. We had a very large studio as well as a student lounge, and decided to use the former for our getting-to-know-you warm-up games (lots of space to run around) and the latter for our playback performance (intimate, cosy, and – in my opinion – just the right kind of lighting). So… new year. For most people, the new year brought with it optimism, hope and a breath of fresh air. For others, it was time for a new job. Interestingly (or maybe not…?), when Julian, our conductor for the day, asked who was happy in their job, a grand total of two (out of about 30) raised their hands.
Cue the first story: one teller’s search for employment pastures new. Straightaway, Valentina made the valuable offer of using a relationship metaphor for the story, with myself (as teller’s actor) looking for The One. I enjoyed the team work we had going in our telling of this story, with Alice and Elaine also fleshing out the metaphor to illustrate the different facets of the story, such as the offer of a ‘partner’ in the wrong location and the idea of the ‘perfect (yet somehow unattainable?) one’.
Next up we had another job-related story, the teller here reflecting on his worklife and what work means to him. Valentina, as teller’s actor, used the cloth to show the different layers to the teller’s worklife and history, where the cloths she chose were simple and effective. With the colours and the properties of the fabric representing the different layers, I think it made us all relate to the teller’s story – I think many of us dream of our perfect job yet many of us find ourselves on a somewhat colourful path towards it.
Following the red thread of work and new beginnings, our next teller shared his experience of betrayal and loss. He had had a great job (he was the best in his field) and great friends, until his friends’ betrayal took it all away from him. However, with his mother’s encouragement he started again, creating a happier life for himself. Using a transitional fluid, we saw on stage despair, sadness and anger transformed into peace, hope and happiness.
So, all in all, a good beginning to our year. I liked how the session, with no theme, almost instinctively inspired our tellers to share with us their aspirations for the future and their reflections on change. Incidentally, I deliberately didn’t make any new year’s resolutions this year… perhaps I should have higher aspirations myself…?
15 November 2009…at Camden Chinese Community Centre
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
Global Playback Theatre – Human Rights Week
A couple of weeks ago we held our November Open Session and, since it followed Human Rights Week, we decided to devote this session to the theme of human rights. As seems to be the custom these days, we had a large number of visitors, a few of which were from our friend Jaimie’s extended network of the Latin-American community. As always, it was a treat to meet new people and have the extra theatrical talent to work with.
With Veronica away, we had Valentina and Elaine facilitating, and the warm-up they organised prepared us well for the human rights theme. Creating a ‘Museum of Human Rights’, us True Hearters constructed three statues that addressed issues such as torture and freedom of speech. Our visitors were then encouraged to change the scenes before them to ones which showed a greater understanding and respecting of the Rights. Healthy discussion followed, along with some interesting ideas being brought up. I think the key was to change the statues so that the Rights were respected, not to entirely change the statue to a completely different scene. Regarding the torture statue, I think one good idea was to change it to a statue potraying the right to a fair trial, and not granting the tortured a vengeance scene lest the torturers become the tortured.
Once the playback started, it was clear that the warm-up exercise was a good choice.
A few tellers kicked off by saying how they appreciated what had been done so far during the workshop, with one teller saying how being able to change the statues held a sort of symbolic testament to how we have the power to make a positive change.
As expected with such a theme as human rights, the stories were thought-provoking. One teller shared his thoughts on how confusing and arbitrary a country’s rules could be, creating an unequal freedom of movement.
Another teller described his experience of rallying against the BNP after realising how his lack of voting had had devastating consequences.
Indeed, the right to speak out seemed to resonate throughout the day, and it felt good to finish with a positive story about one woman’s right to her freedom of opinion and expression after her right to be heard was infringed.
So, in summary, another interesting and thought-provoking session. Those of you who are interested in reading more about human rights might like to see the UN’s page on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights . Meanwhile, let’s all enjoy Article 27 of the Declaration, whereby “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community” and “to enjoy the arts.” Hear, hear!
18 October 2009…at Camden Chinese Community Centre
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
Last Sunday saw our October Open Session taking place with one of our biggest group of visitors in recent times. Ananda, True Heart Theatre friend and Theatre Studies lecturer at the University of East London, had come back to us after a few adventures of her own and, perhaps more excitingly, had also invited her students. We also had some new friends and old friends, and were pleased to have Nikos (fresh from his playback core training) as our musician.
We kicked off with the usual getting-to-know-you exercises, before indulging in a few warm-up games. One worth mentioning involved organising ourselves into two circles, one inside the other, with the inner circle facing outwards towards a partner in the outer. Paired-up accordingly, we then took part in mini-improvisations where all those in the inner circle played, for example, a candle, whilst those in the outer played a moth. Other pairs included dog and bone, moon and river, and cello and bow.
Following the tea break, it was time to tuck in to some playback. It was a treat to find that Ananda’s students had already encountered playback through Veronica and so enthusiastically took to the stage. After a few short forms (mainly of stories of late nights!) we then had two memorable and captivating stories.
The first was a bittersweet account of one woman’s experience as ‘an angel of mercy’. At a train station a few years ago the teller encountered a child who was being continually beaten by his father. Unable to allow this to carry on, she approached the father in an attempt to make him see the error of his ways and stop. After she left, she looked back, and saw the boy looking at her, with a face full of surprise and thankfulness – a face, the teller told us, that she will never forget and will, from time to time, think of again.
The next story was prompted by Ananda’s students, who were eager to hear a story about her and her husband (who we all met for the first time that day). We and
Ananda’s students then had the luxury of hearing Ananda’s romantic journey from meeting her husband to walking down the aisle. We had the Chinese love god tying red ribbons between the couple, a wonderful beaded dress, and a wedding. It was fitting that Ananda shared this story with us in a playback setting: she and her husband told us that every piece of their wedding had a story behind it. It was a very heartwarming story to end with!
As with all our open sessions, we all had the chance to say a few words at the end. Going around the circle, it was a summary of the day, and a few words stuck with me. As a couple of Ananda’s students said, drama can change the world, and it brings together those people who wouldn’t normally meet in the course of ordinary life.
20 September 2009…at Islington Chinese Association
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
Big Family and Living Stories
Autumn’s here and the bright full moon Brings families together, Yan yuet leung tuen yuen!
Yes…. Brown leaves on the ground, shorter days…. summer’s very much on its way out. But be not depressed, for on its way in: more playback and THT’s theatre-in-education play, Big Family: Chinese Festivals in a Flash!
Big Family: Chinese Festivals in a Flash
Yep, Sunday was the September Open Session, but with a difference: we did the first performance of the new and updated version of Big Family, and followed it with a festival-themed playback session. The original version of Big Family consisted of just three characters (not including the musician): three storytellers of old travelling around and bringing to life the stories behind various Chinese festivals. Veronica, Wing Hong and associate member Christina Paul were the first cast (as well as the creatives), with Lap taking over from Christina in more recent times. We also saw the musician becoming more of a fourth character when Elizabeth took on the role after William. Performances took place at the Artsdepot and Lauderdale House.
The newest version has a fourth character: an earnest, slightly nerdy girl of today (as per the stage directions!) called Julie. Yes, me. Having found a book called “Chinese Festivals in a Flash”, the old storytellers literally come to life when Julie opens the book, and Leen Tse (a motherly, slightly eccentric character played by Veronica), Sor Duen (a clownish character in the form of Wing Hong) and Ah Chau (a smart, serious, know-it-all played by Lap) teach Julie how to speak Chinese and the origins of the Chinese New Year Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Armed with a new script, a fourth character, and Christina as our director, it was time to bring Big Family to the stage once again. Having rehearsed Big Family a few weeks ago before Sweet Mandarin took over (I will eventually write a blog about this, so more of that later….) we found a few more rehearsals last week were really beneficial in helping us get back on our feet again. Although it was an inaugural (as well as a work-in-progress) performance, I am happy to report that it received good feedback, with people remarking on how the lively, entertaining nature of the play was perfect for schools. I saw how it was the perfect play for THT to be doing.
As a play that will be touring in various Chinese schools in London this winter, it’s safe to say that it’s important that it be (amongst other things) educational, engaging and entertaining, and I think we manage to achieve this. First, using Chinese phrases frequently throughout the play, and teaching the backgrounds of the Chinese festivals, the play ticks the educational box. Secondly, we have lots of opportunity to engage with the audience, literally talking to them and getting them to talk to us. Thirdly, it really is fun. The fast-paced playfulness ensured there were more than just a few laughs in the audience on Sunday. One thing I think particularly works is the characterisation of some characters – an (extremely!) old couple, and an unusual-looking Goddess to name a few. I also think our use of music (we all took turns in the musician’s corner) and our imaginative use of props made it all the more ideal for a school audience.
Living Stories: Playback Theatre
Following Big Family: Chinese Festivals in a Flash was the playback half. (The ‘Living Stories’ bit of of the Big Family and Living Stories package, as it were.) Conducting was Valentina, performing was Elaine, Julian, Cecil, Quang and Linda, and playing the music was Wing Hong.
Valentina conducted at a good pace, allowing the audience time to think and search for something to share. Our audience today also had a notable number of Cantonese speakers, and so it was also important that we gave proper time for translation. One of our specialities is our ability to work bilingually (and trilingually when Mandarin is involved, and even multilingually at times as we encourage all languages possible in our work) and we like to take care in exploring how best to do this. Our challenge is really to find a way of truly integrating the other language in the smoothest way possible. On Sunday, we had Valentina conducting and translating, as well as sometimes Wing Hong from the musician’s corner. Both seemed to work okay. Interestingly, having focus shift from a teller, to the conductor, to the musician’s corner wasn’t as distracting or clumsy as we had thought it might be. I’m sure we’ll continue to explore the possibilities in this area, though.
As always, we started off with some fluid sculptures, mainly mooncake-focused ones (two extremes – eating too many and not having enough!).
We then had a chorus, which was the perfect choice for someone’s description of Greek festivals – the physically close acting of chorus really supplied the energy needed.
We also had some really interesting and moving stories. One teller reflected on the difference between the way he celebrated Chinese New Year now and the way he did when he was young. It was a story about maturity and time and how the excitement of youth naturally fades with the latter.
This was followed by a story which reminded us how festivals are a time for tradition. For one teller, his Chinese New Year always involved one hour of listening to Elvis, a tradition forged when younger, during time spent home alone with the King whilst his brothers were out partying. We were amused and touched to learn that he had passed this tradition to his children.
Our last story came from a woman who spent a very unusual Christmas last year. She was literally and metaphorically caught in the middle of a difficult family arrangement when she went to spend the holiday with her partner’s friend and family. It was a bittersweet tale: a story both about a family that was struggling to be a family during what is arguably the most family-focused time of the year, and a story about family affection.
In conclusion, the day was a good opportunity to showcase Big Family and squeeze out the ever-fascinating stories that we all hold about festivals, tradition and family. It was also the first time (I believe) that we had performed playback in the new premises of Islington Chinese Association and it was good to see some old friends again. We found that we were warmly welcomed and well-received, and hopefully we can do more to benefit the community there in the future.
16 August 2009…Camden Chinese Community Centre
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
Last Sunday brought us together for another open session, so here’s another blog post to commemorate the occasion. As a few members of True Heart were away, we had Julian and Lap as co-facilitators/conductors, the latter making his debut as an open session facilitator and conductor. Also, for what I think was the first time ever, we had the same four actors throughout: Cemil, Quang, Linda and I (Julie), with Wing Hong as our musician.
A recent tradition of ours has been to give each open session a theme – for example, last month it was the Olympic Games (and other themes have been Mothers’ Day, Valentine’s Day, and Human Rights to name a few) – but today we had decided to be themeless and completely open. Set themes are always a great way to gear an open session, but having no theme can be equally interesting: when stories are shared in playback, the stories will often (some might argue, inevitably) begin to share a theme. It is then usually the case that you can find links between the stories, with one story connecting to the next. This is known as the ‘red thread’ in playback – the thread that runs throughout the stories, linking them together, often on a sub-concious level (but more of that later)
As usual, before our customary tea-break (that’s right, we have a tea-break – with biscuits – every open session… always a good reason to join us) we had our warm-up and getting-to-know you games. We had a quick round of names (we had quite a few visitors with us), as well as a brief look into the stories behind our names, before moving onto what I can only describe as the Handshake Game – a game that demands concentration and effective use of short-term memory. Given that we, in our closed session, struggled to make it work in our small group, it was pretty impressive that we managed to handle it so well in the open session. We then squeezed in a game of the old drama favourite Zip Zap Boing before concluding the first half.
Moving on to the second half, which focuses on the playback performance itself, we kicked off with a few fluid sculptures, mainly surrounding the tellers’ excitement about what was to follow.
We then had (what I believe was) the first story to begin the red thread: a woman’s story about her journey with her mother to Wales. We were delighted this woman had also brought her mother (who was soon to be turning 90) to the session, and even more delighted by the story of the two of them climbing the mountain in Wales.
Following the thread of holidays and trips we then had a teller describing her lack of any holiday this year,
… and this was soon followed by a story of one man’s journey in finding love.
After witnessing a lovely mother-daughter relationship, we were treated to a heart-warming story of love: some time away from home, finding love across the miles, and a special encounter in an airport.
Well into story-mode now, we then had another sharing surrounding relationships. The course of true love never did run smooth and here we heard of one young woman’s exasperating experience with a less-than-reliable beau (or, rather, ex-beau).
With the next story focusing on trust within the family, it seemed to me that the red thread was now following a relationship-based route. The teller here described a recent stay in Hong Kong with some family, where the peace was shattered over some missing money and ensuing accusations. The teller questioned whether she would be able to carry on her relationship with some members of her family after the event.
Next up was another story revolving around family-oriented relationships. The teller, having spent some time in Germany with some friends, reflected on how one of them missed his wife and son so much (they were on holiday) that he couldn’t help calling them constantly during his time with his friends.
The last few sharings from tellers were portrayed on the stage in the ’story’ playback form (in short, a mini-play) and I found all of them very rewarding to do.
I particularly appreciated the variety of the stories – the different kinds of relationships that were described. From an artistic point of view, I think we four actors did a good job – we all gave good offers and as a team were able to advance the story forward. I think we managed to show the feelings behind the stories realistically and honour the tellers. Of course, the open session is also a chance for us to rehearse playback and, as such, we still have areas which we can work on and improve on, but I think we can be happy with what we achieved.
Our conductors also did a good job of running the session. Lap took the first half of the playback section and Julian the second. As an actor I felt more than comfortable with both of them, as they were both clear in drawing out the stories for us. One interesting thing I learned was that being the conductor in the first half can be, contrary to my previous belief, more difficult than being conductor later on. Although we use short forms to begin with, the conductor at the beginning has the challenge of warming up the audience.
To conclude, I think the open session was successful and enjoyable, and we were pleased to see a few old friends back with us too. In summary, it might also be helpful to consider the themes which I believe came up in this session. There was, unsurprisingly for summer, a travel theme – most stories involved a trip of some kind – and there was certainly a tangible theme exploring relationships. I have attempted to describe the stories whilst bearing the red thread in mind, although I am sure this is by no means a complete and comprehensive exploration into the subject. However, being aware of the length of this blog post, I think now would be a good time to finish by thanking you for reading!
16th July 2009…at Camden Chinese Community Centre
Blog by Julie Cheung-Inhin
London 2012 Open Weekend
With just three more years to go until the London Olympics, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) had arranged an Open Weekend of free events ranging from free theatre to arts and crafts workshops. The True Heart Theatre Open Session was one such event!
The aim behind such events was that the event should be:
– Optimistic – the event should be positive and forward-looking -
– Proud – the event should help generate a sense of pride -
– Engaging – the event should be easy to join in and get involved with -
– Now – the event should keep legacy in mind now -
– and be open to everyone
LOCOG also wanted to send out some key messages, namely:
1. London 2012 Open Weekend demonstrates London 2012 is everyone’s Games
2. The London 2012 Open Weekend is an Open invitation to get involved
3. London 2012 Open Weekend is helping London 2012 create a lasting legacy
Finally some key words behind the events were: Open Up (Theme of Open Weekend 2009), To do something ‘like never before’, Personal best, Friendship, Respect, Excellence, Determination, Courage, Inspiration, and Equality.
To provide some inspiration, we stuck these words around the walls.
Despite a smaller group than anticipated (due perhaps to a rather late marketing campaign from LOCOG which meant leaflets and posters were delivered to us on Friday the 24th – the day the open weekend actually started) there was still a good group of visitors with us and, with them, a rich mix of stories and feelings surrounding the Olympic Games. After some warm-up games focusing on our favourite sports and cultural activities, including an entertaining exercise whereby an Olympic-Games-related word was thrown into the circle and improvised with, it was time to get those stories shared. Right from the start it was clear that there were a lot of feelings and experiences surrounding the Olympics.
We had one teller who was concerned about the Olympics being a ‘money-hungry monster’ and another whose view of Beijing was changed forever after her touching and wonderful experience of the Beijing Olympics.
One teller related her views around the idea of competition, and how it felt at odds with some of the other key themes of the Olympics.
We also had a story that looked back from the time London won the bid for the Olympics and, in the teller’s eyes, its relationship to the London bombings that occurred the day after.
It became clear that, whilst the Olympics was a huge financial undertaking with the potential of starving other projects, it was also the opportunity to see a country as never before, and a way for its citizens to be proud of their country.
Near the end of the session we also had a quick sharing from a teller who could give us first-hand experience of the architectural developments in East London from the unique viewpoint of a tube driver.
As the Open Session drew to a close we realised that the Olympic Games was a theme over which we could talk for hours, with the structural work and preparation London is currently undergoing being another subject of discussion, but – as with all good things – the Open Session had to come to an end eventually…..
So, did True Heart Theatre achieve the aims that LOCOG set us out to do? I certainly think so. From my own point of view, I definitely feel a lot more connected to London and the impending Olympic games – quite a feat coming from one who is about as unsporty as you could get…..