As told by Alison and Amanda, Tarte Noire Project Managers – 2017
We had been working together for 10 years growing Playback Theatre events and had long held the hope that we might be able to bring a group of women together to actively engage with women’s narratives using Playback Theatre. A group emerged from the training courses we ran in Devon. In January 2007 we held our first meeting, talking about the shared themes that concern our lives. We came from different backgrounds, theatre and performance, therapy, hairdressing, social work, management, training and education. We ranged from our 20’s to our 60’s. Many of us are mothers.
There were a lot of strong and passionate feelings at that first meeting. We were interested to gauge the emotional, social, political and spiritual climate of women’s lives today. We had a strong desire to hear how the voices of individual women fit in to the collective experiences of women and to create a place where women could speak openly and honestly together about their feelings and life experiences.
Initially, it was more difficult than we had imagined to create a living context where individual experiences could be expressed. Often it seemed that women were reticent to speak openly in a public arena. This changed, however, as women came back time and time again and as our audiences grew. The very method itself that we were deploying allows us to see ourselves in each other’s stories, and a sense of intimacy comes live. The most common feedback we were given – and continue to get is that women experience of the playback method makes them feel less isolated. As stories and their playback unfold and echo invisibly among participants, they are reassured to know that women grapple with similar issues in their lives, We are not alone in what our lives encounter as women in this world, this society, not alone in the feelings our experiences generate.
Over the past ten years we have toured local towns, cities and villages exploring many different themes which affect our lives. The themes we bring into the forum are explored in the company before we take them to our audiences. We embrace and grapple with the different values and outlooks within our group which fuels our growth and our capacity to tolerate and understand difference. We then create events focused on these particular themes, and open the door for attending participants to engage together and find understanding of what is similar in our lives and where differences lie, through expressing a range of experiences.
Themes we have explored include Body Image and Food; What do we stand up for? Stories of power and powerlessness; What matters to you? – Politics from our hearts; Break the Chains – Ending violence towards women and children; Dreams; What sets you on fire?; Envy, Power and Trust; What do women need to do together next?; Cherishing Womens’ Stories.
Alongside our work in local communities we work with START supporting the lives of women refugee and asylum seekers from many different cultural backgrounds through workshops and performances. This is deeply enriching work and we are deeply moved to engage with women from cultures and homelands very far from the realities of life here in UK – yet navigating these cross-cultural realities in their current daily lives.. We have worked on Pattern Changing programmes for women who have experienced domestic violence and find the work fits well as a tool for women to sit ‘ outside ‘ their lives and revisit their story in a new way. The feedback from women in these programmes has documented how the impact is often immediate and transformative.
Most of our performances are for women only audiences. This is because we are interested in what can be told in women only settings that perhaps would not be told if men were present. We do occasionally invite both men and women to certain performances around certain issues. This has enabled a way to have honest and open conversations often around challenging issues.
Tarte Noire started with 13 women many of those original women are still with us. We have opened to new women joining us four times over the past 10 years and there are currently 17 of us actively involved in Tarte Noire.
We meet every Tuesday evening and for a weekend and a day every term. Once a term we hold an Open Rehearsal evening for local women.