Cultivating the art of storytelling for healing and social change
Picture this: You’re in a theatre space in New York City or Budapest or Hong Kong or any number of cities in one of 50 countries around the world. In front of you are a troupe of actors, one musician and a facilitator – called the “conductor.” You decide tonight’s the night. Tonight you tell your story. The conductor moves you from the audience to the “teller’s chair” where you begin to speak. As audience and actors listen, the air becomes hushed and the space fills with supportive energy. When your story has reached a peak, the conductor says the magic words “Let’s watch.” Like tossing a ball, you pass your story to the actors who recreate the story in real time, breathing life into your memory. On this night, you see what you haven’t seen before. Insight strikes you. And you make that subtle shift that can lead to healing for yourself and your community.
This is Playback Theatre — a theatrical form originated by Jonathan Fox with its roots in improv, psychodrama and the critical pedagogy work of Paulo Friere. It’s also the focus of a two-day seminar taught this July in New York City by Saint Martin’s University’s counseling psychology professor and Playback Theatre trainer and conductor, Leticia Nieto, Psy.D.
Co-founder of Seattle-based Pasajer@s Playback Theatre, Nieto believes that Playback events build community and provide tellers with the opportunity to have their stories honored and recognized for their true importance. “Playback Theatre offers an overlap between psychotherapy and anti-oppression education,” says Nieto. “It is an excellent place of deep listening.” Some Playback companies are open, some closed. Some go to places like hospital rooms to perform patient stories. “It can have a therapeutic effect and impact that can lead to social change at the level of community. My work includes psychotherapy, training psychotherapists, teaching, and community building. And I enjoy that range.”
Informed by Nieto’s book Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment: A Development Strategy to Liberate Everyone, the seminar,
Implicit and Explicit Anti-Oppression in Playback Theatre, will offer Playback practitioners an intensive workout in applying their Playback skills within the context of anti-oppression and social justice. “When Playback Theatre is done well,” shares Nieto, “it is inherently, socially transforming.” She hopes participants will come away with a “deep sense of the inherent socially and personally transformative power of Playback Theatre” as well as additional tools and language to strengthen their commitment and skills in promoting social justice.