Based on the authors’ extensive experience in the US, India, and the Middle East, this concise article proposes a set of well-reasoned principles and guidelines that support the effective, ethical use of Playback Theatre for social change. Ben Rivers is Co-Director of the Arab School of Playback Theatre in Lebanon. Jiwon Chung is a practitioner of Playback Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed in Berkeley, California. (See full bios following the article.)
Playback Theatre and Social Change: Functions, principles and Practices
by Ben Rivers and Jiwon Chung
Playback Theatre can contribute towards social justice by giving a human face to the issues and demands that define a movement. The enactment of personal stories brings out the truth, dignity and detail of a cause, re-grounding political struggle within our shared humanity.
In this article, we will propose several functions that Playback can serve within social movements. We will also look at some guiding principles and techniques that can support our work as Playback activists.
Functions of Playback
Through Playback Theatre, silenced voices and counter-testimonies are heard and amplified. This helps to raise awareness about the realities of injustice and oppression.
“Garland of Flowers” is Jonathan Fox’s recent account of working with a Playback project in Nepal, a country where he spent two formative years as a young man (referred to in his memoir Beyond Theatre.) Returning to Nepal in 2016 brought new understanding of how his long-ago experience there contributed in important ways to the formation of Playback Theatre.
February 2016: Exhausted after the 24-hour journey from New York, having survived the sudden storm as we approached the Kathmandu Valley, then finally disembarking into the gloom of an airport that had lost electricity, I staggered around in the darkness looking (in vain) for my suitcase, eventually wandering out into a shadowy hall to be met by a handful of beaming strangers bearing prayer scarves. Later, finally settled in a hotel room (with backup generator), I shocked myself by catching sight of my bleeding forehead in the bathroom mirror—when and how had I sustained this injury?—finally realizing that the red was not blood, but dye from a ceremonial welcome tika that I did not remember.
I awoke the next morning to sunlight and views of a bright colored stupa and rooftops with flowers. At breakfast when asked, “Coffee or tea, sir?” I answered proudly in Nepali. But when I tried to tell the waiter how I knew Nepal 48 years ago, my words failed. I sighed and said in English: “Peace Corps Volunteer.” Continue reading “Garland of Flowers by Jonathan Fox”