Playback Theatre South West did a series of conferences and workshops for Torbay Council, Learning Disability Partnership.
Each conference had a specific issue that was being looked at, and were attended by service users and their care workers, with representatives from different professions and organisations relevant to the topic being covered also present. On different occasions there were police, social workers, psychologists, councillors, representatives from political parties, transport companies and those who work with adults with learning difficulties.
“Leaving Home – Hopes and Fears” – 14th May 2004
“Staying Healthy” – 2004
“Keeping Safe” – 3rd March 2005
“Transport” – 5th April 2005
“Your Right to Vote” – 14th April 2005
“Opportunities and Change” Workshop – Changes are being made within the system – 11th July 2005
The performances were a creative form of dialogue between the actors and the audience members. The actors asked open questions that allowed responses from audience members to be volunteered. The actors then turned the responses into an artistic form for everyone to see and experience. This generated another question followed by an enactment and so on. In this way the actors were facilitating a conversation amongst all audience members around the specific themes.
In each conference the performance-dialogue opened out the specific issues for the day and created a transparency for everyone there to know what views were around, see where the priorities were, what was working and not working within the organisations. The skill of the actors eased the conversation and created the environment where difficult situations could be viewed alongside each other and given equal value.
The transport conference was held in advance of a new policy being written for transport workers about conduct and procedures in relation to service users. This was in direct response to the experiences told and portrayed by service users in the previous conference “Keeping Safe” that had happened whilst using public transport. The performance-dialogue was one method the organisers used to gather material that could directly feed into the policy writing.
At the first conference several individuals spontaneously portrayed their own story. At the second conference, in anticipation, one service user had prepared his presentation with written words, followed by actions, which included directing the actors to support his portrayal of his own story. Familiarity with the Playback Theatre form became evident as service users began to recognise us and come to tell us their news and anecdotes from their lives before and after performances, as well as more readily offering personal anecdotes during the performances. This is evidence that the Playback Theatre form evokes a positive response and draws communication, which improves with continuity.
“Thank you so much for your work. It really made the day very special and was appreciated by so many people.” Helen Toker-Lester, Learning Disability Partnership Manager, Torbay Council.
Performances and Workshops are unique to the people who participate. The audience involvement is non-threatening, no one is required to get up and act, the actors are asking the questions, the answers are volunteered and are then reflected back artistically to the audience. This creative dialogue becomes a useful tool for finding the views and experiences of all participants.