Originally Posted in Our Community of Humanity at Inner Child Magazine
Playing Back A Colorful Life With Lots of Moving Pieces
Last week I participated in a Playback Theatre workshop or playshop as we called it. Penny Clayton from the Centre for Playback Theatre taught this amazingly rich beautiful class in Seattle about five hours drive from my home in Spokane, Washington.
One of the values of Playback Theatre is to create a space where everyone feels respected and listened to as they tell their story. Like an ideal world, the class was a microcosm of people who were similar and different in many ways from me. I listened to them. I watched them and I told my story, too.
Sometimes, I listened and then retold the story or played it back using only fabric. Telling the story I had heard through the colors I chose, by the way I moved the fabric through the air, by the shape I created with gauzy ribbons of color. I learned that a piece of fabric can be imbued with life and become a character, an emotion or theme in the story. Once the fabric takes on a role, it must be treated with the respect due the storyteller, that person brave enough to share a part of themselves with a room full of strangers or sometimes even harder a room full of friends or colleagues.
Sometimes, I listened as I eyed the musician's table replete with still instruments for me to select and bring to life. There were so many different ones to use to illustrate with robust sounds the emotions contained in the words of the teller's story. You can try this now. Think of an experience. What instrument would you use to tell the story if all you could use was one instrument—not your words, not your body, and not your facial expressions? What would be the beat that told your story if you could only use a drum or tambourine? I recently heard the Spokane Symphony play Peter and the Wolf, a musical story by Sergei Prokofiev, where each character—Peter, the duck, the wolf, the birds and other animals are all portrayed with a specific instrument. When that character is in the story their instrument is played. The story of how the characters interact and weave in and out of the story becomes a lively and expressive symphony of sound. I listened one evening in the park surrounded by my Spokane community.
Sometimes in the class I listened for the over arching theme. What was the teller really saying? What was the moment in the story when everything changed—the royal moment? What title would I give this story, if asked? I tried to find the strongest feeling that the teller felt as they spoke to me or as they gently gave their story over into my hands? What did I feel as I heard the story? How had the experience touched the teller and those around him?
With only my body and mouth, what sound and movement could I make that in a short moment brings to life the retelling of the teller's story? What had I seen in her body or hands as she told the story? What could I give back to her that would say, "I hear you. I understand or am trying to understand you."
I listened for a pair of emotions? Did the teller express sadness and joy—both parts of the same experience? Were they nervous and excited to be launching on a new venture? How did they feel about the dogs at the house where they were staying? I listened for those mixed emotions with which we face life. It is not always a smooth and easy ride, but it is also not all an uphill battle. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Plato, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." But it is not always a hard battle. Sometimes there are moments of exquisite joy and love and abundance. Most often there is some of both.
I listened to the sounds my fellow actors made. I watched out of the corner of my eyes the movements they choose to retell the story, to convey what they heard as we shared the stage. And I thought about what I could add so the teller of the tale would know they were heard and respected. Did they feel respected simply for living life, sharing an experience, taking a moment to look inward at what their life means to them and what it means in a global context? In the back of my mind I thought about when and how we would end the retelling of this story. How would the sounds and movements end? What would the fluid sculpture look like as we, each of the actors, came together on the stage? I wondered, "would the teller see beauty in the sculpture that our bodies made at the end? Would they see their story and some greater meaning of the experience from a new perspective? I tried to find my way, my part of the whole story.
In the polarity walk, I moved and made a sound, that organically rose from me in response to the exercise as I walked across the room. I also listened and watched as the other person—my friend and colleague—walked towards me in a way that rose organically from them. Often times funny, sometimes tragically we walked towards each other, making a sound and moving forward. At that meeting point where we came into contact with each other, where we came into relationship with each other, I took on their way of walking. We each took on the sounds that rose from the other and shed our own movements and sounds. We finished walking across the room in the other's shoes, in their way, trying to feel what they feel, showing how well we listened and saw them.
I hope that everyone in the room felt as seen and heard as I did for we are all part of a community now. The community that grew out of listening and respecting is now our community and part of a larger Playback Theatre community and global environment.
Kimberly Burnham, PhD (Integrative Medicine)
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