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Reliving past experiences through someone else

Playback Theater gives audience a unique way to understand religion

Published: April 4, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


This Thursday March 3, 2008, an interfaith dialogue was facilitated within Chums Coffeehouse. At the crux of a deliberation and investigation of religion, how it plays a role in constructing one’s own truths as well as one’s own reality, was a performance by Brandeis’ own Playback Theater Society.

The troupe, led by current sophomore Etta King and Brandeis Alum William Chalmus, came into Chums with a chorus of song and dance as well as a few requests. These were to be comfortable, to be yourself and, (if you feel ready) to be willing to share a life experience of your own.

The whole idea behind Playback Theater, which was founded in 1975 by a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Fox, is for a group of improvisational actors to hear real life accounts from people in the audience, internalize the essence of their stories, and play them back for that person and the rest of the audience in a variety of artistic forms.

These forms range from Pairs in which two actors at a time will physically manifest conflicting elements within a person, to Long Forms in which someone’s entire narrative is re-enacted by all of the actors. The Playback Theater is all about honesty. Spontaneity is of course a great way to harbor that within actors. Nothing in Playback is scripted at all and so performance are the actors’ honest reactions to the stories of the audience.

Today’s stories ranged from an anecdote about the best and laziest day ever, to people’s accounts of personal miracles and the workings of religion in their own lives. The entire event was quite touching.

It was a “very supportive environment” (that’s an inside joke for those who attended) and by the end of the approximately hour-long performance, people were comfortable enough to really come out of their shells and share stories that they’d never before told to anyone else.

Playback continues upon its mission to give people a chance to sit back relax and rewind. For a chance to sit in on a Playback rehearsal in which your stories will be heard and you may even have the opportunity to act out some experiences yourself, check out the Playback Theater Facebook group for more info on rehearsal spots and times etc. For those of you without Facebook you can also contact me at justinpl@brandeis.edu. Trust me when I say that you don’t want to miss out on the chance to be part of something unforgettable.