Mirror Mirror Performance at International Conference in Frankfurt 25.11.11.
This performance began many months before we arrived in Frankfurt. ‘Social dialogue in a world in upheaval’ was the theme for the 2011 International Playback Theatre conference, and our company talked together about what we wanted to contribute to this theme. We wanted to invite stories about the upheavals people are meeting in their Playback Theatre work – stories of inequality, poverty and power that have happened in their work – and ask questions about what hinders Playback companies from engaging with difficult issues and what helps – what are the challenges and difficulties we face in bringing Playback Theatre to social dialogue – and what we can celebrate about Playback Theatre work in social change.
We feel the issues that we face in our company, in Devon UK, as a white middle class group, working with people who have very different life experiences from ourselves – and we wanted to open up a conversation so these issues could be aired. How do we feel about being bringing PT to people without a voice? How do we meet stories where we have no experience of the kind of inequality our tellers speak of? Do we have a right or a responsibility to reach into these communities?
The conference organising team had invited the public to our performance, so as the time approached we had to be very open to everyone who might come, and what the conversation might be. Veronica Needa and Simon Floodgate from UK joined us and Christiane Werffelli from Germany played music. We all warmed up together in the space. The stakes were high – performing for an audience with many languages in the room; wanting to meet the issues of the conference and touch the deep feelings that come from engaging with this Playback Theatre work. We had to manage a lot – our personal needs and concerns, making a strong team connection and inviting ourselves to play creatively. Then we had to find personal introductions that were authentic and true, and would invite stories about inequality, poverty and power. The warm up helped us find the introductions we could speak with conviction that felt emotionally true. And so our performance began. We had 30-40 people in the room – all Playback Theatre people. There were many more women than men. Alison Fairlove was our conductor. This is the conversation we had.
The first person to speak was a young woman from Hungary…
My mother told me to work hard so I could make a good life for myself and that if I work hard everything will be okay … but that’s not true anymore. However much I work, it’s not enough so I have to change my picture… change my thinking.
Next was another young woman who is from Italy…
I believe relationships are more important than money now… this is what we must invest in now… I know other people are thinking like me now.
The third person to speak was another young woman, from Czech Republic…
I’ve taken small steps that require courage to live my dreams – like getting dreadlocks in my hair, and going to Nepal… rather than thinking about my dreams I am living them.
Next is a story from USA… She tells of her dearest and oldest friend – they were teenage sweethearts – both are gay now. Her friend has had AIDS for 26 years and has been doing fine up until now. The health care system has collapsed and without medical insurance, he no longer has access to the drugs that have kept him well for 26 years. Now he has no proper care and is being used for experiments at the hospital when he goes for treatment. Now he is always in crisis. He’s so sad. She angry and powerless.
A woman from Germany speaks next … As a younger woman she lived her working life in Tunisia – she knows the Tunisian people and their culture from living alongside them. Now, away from there, she is watching them fighting dictatorship. She is standing with solidarity for these people. They are helping themselves. She knows they can be successful. Though much suffering she witnessed while there, she also witnessed peaceful protest, good human rights and women’s rights. In the past there was fear after 40% vote from Islamic people denying women’s freedom. But now, as a friend, she feels much hope for them.
A woman from UK is next to speak
The day that Mubarak fell in Eygpt, I was on my way to Romania. The Romanian people feel doubt that all will be well for the Eygptian people – Romania got rid of it’s dictator 20 years ago. Now their is so much corruption that they don’t trust that democracy will succeed.
At this point in the performance the audience began to speak about what it’s like to have such big events happening in the world around us and how we are affected.
There was the conflict between wanting to know and be informed about all that is happening in the world, and not wanting to know what’s going on. This internal struggle was represented with pairs.
There was a feeling of being too small to help in such big matters, and also knowing that small things done every day make the difference.
A young father from Austria spoke about the big conversations he is having with friends about money. They are thinking that maybe money has no meaning and soon will mean nothing at all. They have thought of three things 1) to invest in good quality things that will last. 2) to invest in social networks and relationships 3) to invest in our children … and take really good care for them so they grow up well. This was done in the form of a narrative arrow – and the actor used a metaphorical squirrel family for this teller. Everyone was laughing. The following day in a conversation at Occupy Frankfurt we discovered a traditional German saying about money – ‘a squirrel works hard to gather enough food.’ After our performance we talked about these ideas and added another – spend time in nature.
The last story was from a native of the country we were in. A woman who as a girl dreamed of a peaceful world. She lived through the world war and thought that we would learn from these experiences and never have another war. But wars continue in the world. So when her children decided not to have children, she felt happy. Then her daughter had two daughters, who have many dreams too, which they share with their grandmother. She loves them and she fears for their future.
We began with a daughter having to change what her mother had taught her – it’s no longer true. Then an offer of hope to make the change of giving energy to people and relationships. Then we were invited to feel courage and take the small steps needed to live our dreams. We heard of a long friendship and the suffering with a friend whose life is affected by a powerful system outside our personal control. Experiences were shared of helplessness and denial – the need to know and the need to care for the children and joy of sharing in their dreams.
The ending of our time together was a collage; of family and relationships being the most important thing of all; of things to learn from children; that we must never forget the children who live inside us; of knowing where to look for hope, of being touched, being inspired. Then simply of HOPE.
Mirror Mirror Playback Theatre Company was founded in 2005 in Devon England. We are at present five members. Amanda Brown, Andy Blackwell, Arnet Donkin, Alison Fairlove and Kate Hewett.
We are at present engaged in working with the Refugee and Asylum Seeker community in Plymouth. We are also working in schools with teenagers with behavioural and learning difficulties. We regularly work with adults with learning disabilities and within mental health settings. Our work includes performances at conferences, in schools and universities, with carers and in health service settings. We give regular public performances in Devon.
Amanda and Alison also run Tarte Noire Women’s Playback Theatre Company who work solely with women audiences both in the public setting and with refugees and women who have experienced domestic violence. We are presently at the early stages of forming a young women’s PT company.