For Pamela Freeman, Jessie Cox and Sarah Halley, being co-founders of Playback for Change has always been about stimulating social change in communities, not money or fame.
Since its start in 2002, Playback for Change has maintained the goal of serving communities by recognizing the universal need for affirmation and connection with others.
Playback’s method is created through collaboration between the troupe’s actors and their audience. There are three main roles in the troupe: the conductor, the teller and the actor. The conductor role is cycled among Freeman, Halley or Cox.
The conductor asks a member of the audience to be a “teller” and tell about an event that happened in their life. Topics range from bullies in the workplace to rape at a campus party. The teller then comes up on stage and picks actors to act out the event.
“It is up to the actors and the conductors to listen to the story and get the essence of the issue,” said Cox.
Cox believes understanding the essence of the issue can only be done by tuning in to both the essence of the teller’s emotions and the essence of the story. For this to occur, the actors and the conductor have to have tools to bring closure to that person. Playback members have to be prepared to handle a variety of topics, including racism, homosexuality and sexism.
“We have to be able to ‘sit in the fire’ of emotional conflict,” said Cox. “We may have gone through similar situations, but we have acquired the tools that enables us not to have our own meltdown in the middle of a performance.”
Jonathan Fox, founder of Playback International, said in his book “Acts of Service” that Playback companies “are in a process in which the members are continually in a dialogue with each other. We see this process of opening up to and hearing each other as the seed and foundation of realizing our great dream.”
This process is established in three forms. In the first form the actors stand in a line and come out one at a time to embody a feeling stated by the teller. The second form is “pairs” or two actors taking different sides on the same issue. The last form is the “story,” a longer part of the improv mentioned earlier, where the teller picks out the actors to perform.
Playback’s process has an almost healing power, allowing the audience to express its voice in a peaceful environment. However, Cox wants to make it clear that Playback is not intended to replace therapy. The belief of Playback is to realize that we, as a nation, cannot move past oppression until we confront and heal our past. Playback is an instrument in breaking the roles of racism through expression.
“The difference between Playback and therapy is that in therapy you are served,” explained Cox, “[while] in Playback we serve the community.”
Playback for Change performs the third Saturday of every month through June 2004. Tickets, ranging from $12 for adults to $6 for students, are available at the various locations. For more information, call (215) 842-1492 or visit their Web site at www.spiritbodyresources.com.
Alexis Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org