The 4th UK Playback Gathering was held at a wonderful waterside location in the city of Plymouth this autumn, and hosted by four core members of Mirror Mirror Playback Theatre Co. The purpose was to enjoy a long weekend together and create an opportunity for those involved in Playback Theatre to meet and to share practice and think about this dynamic and evolving art form.
The weekend was a mixture of workshops led by some of the UK’s leading Playback teachers, and performances by established companies and one night only groups, and facilitated discussions.
Ideas that were explored in workshops included metaphor, actors singing the story, artistic structure, conducting for beginners, emotional awareness, the body’s stories, stories and sculpture-making as well as new Playback forms. Discussions explored were engendered narratives, privilege and power, and communities in crisis. Opportunities to watch performances were offered by Mirror Mirror, True Heart and Tarte Noire, and two for one night only performances – an impromptu men only group at the same time as the women only performance, and an invited group from several different companies. The conductors we were able to experience all together were Alison Fairlove, Veronica Needa, Rea Dennis and Amanda Brown.
Those who gathered this year were members of new groups, people at the beginning of their journeys in playback theatre, people who are re-visiting the meaning of playback in the world, people waiting for a group to join, people ready to start a group and a continuum of people whose lives are connecting with playback theatre in myriad ways. We heard many stories and many more were told at meal times. The strength of connections being made was palpable on entering our shared space.
For Mirror Mirror, organising this gathering on our home turf became a natural continuation of the playback theatre work that is evolving in the south west region of England. Alison Fairlove and Amanda Brown have been travelling this Playback Theatre journey alongside each other since 1995, fortunate enough to learn from Jo Salas and Francis Batten in the UK with Veronica Needa, and in the last three years developing series of workshops that give people basic skills and understanding of the form. One outcome of these workshops is the creation of a women only company, Tarte Noire, who give local performances touching on women’s issues that come from exploring the collective experiences in the lives of the women members. Alongside this co-leadership in south west, Mirror Mirror, formed itself in 2005 and have been performing locally and for third sector, voluntary and business organisations. We are particularly keen on the work we do within the mental health services and the use of Playback Theatre to engage people in a consultation process to improve services in their communities. Mirror Mirror is working in the city of Plymouth, and soon to be delivering “The Play and Replay Project’ that is working alongside a college to start a young people’s company, and the university to have conversations between students and refugee/ asylum seekers. This work will feed into an international Playback Theatre Responds training in Plymouth led by Jonathan Fox, in one year’s time – “Encounters at the Crossroads”, and continue this work beyond.
An exciting added element to this gathering was that True Heart Playback Theatre Co came early to Plymouth to give a workshop and a performance to the local Chinese community. This opportunity was organised by Arnet Donkin and has opened a door for future collaborations between True Heart and the local Chinese community. An inspired idea!
A huge vote of thanks goes to Veronica Needa for gently but surely encouraging us to take this step and for all the fires her enthusiasm and generosity have lit in people’s hearts for Playback Theatre in UK, and for continuously promoting the value of coming together nationally. This gathering built on all previous UK gatherings and there is a hope that a continuity of UK gatherings will open up the way for conversations between all those who are practicing Playback Theatre in UK about good practise, good relationships and art. We have even found the host for the next UK gathering.
No profits are made from UK Gatherings and traditionally any monies left after expenses go to the next UK Gathering organisers, in the hope of creating the means to offer more bursaries as time goes by. So, “let’s watch” and do all we can to grow these national gatherings under the right conditions that includes everyone.
Companies that were represented from:-
- Breathing Fire in Bristol
- Findhorn Playback Theatre
- Liverpool Playback Theatre
- London Playback Theatre
- Mirror Mirror in Plymouth
- Spirit Level in Cornwall
- Stroud Playback Theatre
- Tarte Noire in Totnes
- Theatre de Bouche a l’Oreille in Paris
And individuals came from:– Dorset , Oxford, Wales.