80 Playback Theatre Companies Worldwide to Enact True Stories of Kindness on Nov. 13th

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On November 13, 2005, at 80 sites in 18 countries around the world, Playback Theatre will present spontaneous improvisations based on the personal stories of audience members. This event will mark the first coordinated global Playback Theatre performances on a shared theme – “Acts of Kindness.”

On November 13, 2005, 80 Playback Theatre companies on 6 continents will celebrate World Kindness Day with coordinated Playback Theatre productions, sharing the single theme of “Acts of Kindness.” Playback Theatre is improvisation based on the personal stories of audience members. This event will mark the first coordinated global playback performances on a shared theme, in locations as diverse as Scotland, Hong Kong, New York, Senegal, Nepal, and Uruguay.

“Playback Theatre groups share a common goal – to honor personal stories,” according to Raphael Peter, who conceived of the event. “On this day, we will do our part to create a world in which kindness is a driving force. By focusing on audience members’ stories of kindness, and stories reflecting when kindness was absent, thousands of people will be re-inspired to strive for kindness in their daily lives.”

In Olympia, Washington, USA, a local group which advocates for kindness has organized proclamations proclaiming November 13th as World Kindness Day both locally and statewide. They are working together with Heartsparkle Players, playback theatre specialists, in producing an event in their area. In Japan, Nagoya Playback Theater is collaborating with an Osaka-based group – Theater The Fence – for a joint performance produced by the City of Nagoya. There will be four groups performing separately in southern India, three in New Zealand, and two in Hungary. Details on the locations of all performances are available on the group’s website, http://www.globalplayback.org.

A playback theatre performance is based on the personal feelings and experiences shared by audience members. A typical performance begins with a simple question to warm-up the audience: What was your week like? Who has traveled a distance to be here tonight? A group of actors dramatizes what they hear in brief “fluid sculptures”, accompanied by live music. Then the “conductor” of the evening invites someone to tell a longer story. An audience member comes up to the stage and is interviewed. The only rule is that the story told must be the personal experience of the storyteller. The actors and musicians listen carefully, the conductor shapes the story, and the enactment follows without planning or discussion. At its best, the “playback” reaches into the story behind the story, serving the storyteller by adding insight and art to what has been shared.

The international network of Playback companies has been growing for 30 years and now circles the world. In addition to pure entertainment, Playback has been used to increase tolerance and understanding between people, and affirm our shared humanity. Palestinians and Israelis meet at a playback performance and come to a new appreciation of differing perspectives; villagers in Botswana teach about AIDS through personal stories; Dalit people of India (formerly referred to as “untouchables”) describe what it would take to overcome the stigma of their caste; young Germans are connected with the legacy of their grandparents from World War II. Around the world, playback is in schools to show children the effects of bullying, and in prisons to provide a forum for inmates to share their hopes and fears. Public performances often include a mix of humorous stories with those of challenge and transformation.

Jonathan Fox, who founded Playback Theatre in 1975, is very enthusiastic about the potential of the global event. “Playback Theatre is based on the idea that everybody’s story has value. We come to the stage with nothing prepared – we have no script. We have only our ability to bring people’s real lives to the stage in the moment, our listening skills, and our humanity. November 13th is a day to look forward to. It will be a day of hope for a troubled world.” Fox’s comments can be seen in a short film on the group’s website.

Global Playback for Kindness is a project of EarthStage Productions, Inc. “We are thrilled to present this amazing event to people in so many countries,” said Mountaine Mort Jonas, Producing Director of EarthStage. “Having been involved in many scripted productions designed to raise consciousness about social and environmental issues, we are fascinated by the power of Playback to touch the hearts of audience members.”

“The potential for this global event to impact people around the world in a positive way is tremendously exciting,” says Deborah Scott, artistic director of Asheville (NC) Playback Theatre, and a member of the global playback planning team. “When people listen in a deep way to the stories of others, they can’t help but see beyond differences, to the underlying humanity that we all share.”

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Raphael Peter