Category: Company Members

MPTC and SeaACT drama program

The SeaACT (SEAAC Theatre) program is partnership with Melbourne Playback Theatre Company and SEAAC Youth Services that engages young people living in the City of Casey and Greater Dandenong Council in an innovative Theatre Engagement Program. The program involves MPTC workshops within the two areas, including young people, community development workers from Council and service providers and CALD community groups.

 

“I have learned to have more confidence and energy when acting on stage and other things like studies exam and tests. I want the program to continue because I want it for other people too so they can have more confidence of what they do and not be shy. This program has supported my brothers, sisters and others. I have no complaints about this program. It is too good. KEEP IT UP!!”

Mustafa, Hampton Park Secondary, 13 years old.

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The program was first envisioned in 2012, through consultation with SEAAC Youth Services who we have performed regular Refugee Week Celebration performances. In 2013 we received a pilot Arts Victoria grant (now Creative Victoria) to work with the City of Casey community, and create a theatre hub at the Hampton Park Uniting Church Community Centre.

The program was a great success with other 120 young people registered, and we engaged with the Hampton Park community through the term workshops and performances. We had young people from Greater Dandenong travel 45 minutes to attend the program in Hampton Park. This showed us this program was a need for the young people living in the South Eastern Suburbs. SeaACT young people performed in front of 500 people during the SEAAC Refugee Week Celebration in 2014. This included a performance in Greater Dandenong and council saw the value of the program and supported our Vic Arts application for 2015.

During the 6 months of no funding by Creative Victoria, City of Casey had seen the impact of the program, and in Term 4 2014 funded for a small SeaACT program to continue. SEAAC engaged with students at a local school, and the participants performed in front of their peers.

In November 2014, SeaACT program was re-funded by Creative Victoria to operate in the City of Casey, and pilot program in Greater Dandenong. The program has been a gem for the young people living in these isolated areas, as their stories are heard, shared and valued. Some of the young people attended a MPTC rehearsal on Mondays, and one young person recently performed at the Malthouse, through a referral from the SeaACT program. We endeavour to continue this program, and create a performing arts hub in the south eastern suburbs.

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Evaluation of the program: 

The SeaACT Drama Program provided young people with an opportunity to learn essential skills acting such as group acting, confidence building and improvising. 22 young people completed the evaluation form at the end of the program and provided extremely positive feedback about the program.

  • 82% of the young people learnt something new from the program that they did not know previously
  • 78% made new friends at the workshop which meant that they could share and discuss the new information that they had learnt
  • 90% enjoyed learning drama skills with Melbourne Playback Danny and Mike
  • 90% would like to continue the SeaACT program

Case Study of the Program: 

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“We all love to say that SeaACT has been a great supporting program to everyone. They helped me to build my confidence and they gave me the opportunity to be a youth leader and build my speaking and improve my public speaking. Now I have the confidence speaking to anyone I want, and got some skills to improve things I need in the future. Thank you SEAAC for all your help and your support. SeaACT is a great program to anyone.”
 

Murtaza, Hampton Park Secondary, 17 years old

 

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Personalise your pre-performance ritual

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Recently we wrote about overcoming nerves, but what about warming up? As performers, speakers, teachers, facilitators, we all have our own rituals to prepare us before we face our audience.

Creating your own personalised ritual can take years of trial and error. When to eat? How much sleep do you need? Do you stretch? Sing? Do a crossword? We all have our own traditions and sequences to get us in the zone.

But once you refine it, your ritual can become a reliable friend. It can be the trusted sequence that prepares you to perform at your best.

We surveyed our company to find out what kinds of warm up rituals they do. The answers are as varied and individual as our ensemble members!

We are creating a resource page of warm up rituals. What’s yours? Let us know in the comments section below.

Our company says:

1. Connect with the breath.

Lie in semi supine, flat on your back with knees bent up, head resting on a largish book (either 20 mins at home earlier in the day or briefly during the warm up). Take a moment to be still and notice the breath.

2. Stretch (and shake out nerves).

We all have our personal favourites from yoga poses to Grotowski-inspired specific sequences. The repetition of a routine that reminds us of past performances can be as important as the stretches themselves.

3. Warm up the voice

Humming, trilling,  yawning, brrrrrr (vibrating lips), rrrrrrr (trilling tongue) sounds, singing. And of course, tongue twisters!

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4. Connect with fellow performers.

Group warm-up exercises force us to make eye contact and be ‘in response’ to our fellow performers. Zap is a great one for this reason. Nerves often send us retreating into our own heads, so anything that can encourage presence with other performers and playfulness is good. Being gentle & positive with co-performers before a gig is important.

What are your top three warm up rituals? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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Unique Visitor: A Melbourne Playbacker in Hong Kong

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Two Australian theatre practitioners, a Japanese teacher and a Chinese Human Resources Manager walk into a bar. No joke.

A few hours later I walk out with a Chinese name. My new name translates roughly as ‘Unique Visitor’. I’m a guest speaker at TEFO’s Drama Theatre and Education Conference in Hong Kong and it’s the second night of the conference. Tonight, we four merry travellers have participated in a workshop led by Sean Shun-pui Kwan.

In it he shared one of the many ways he incorporates theatre exercises into his corporate workshops. The conference has been full of great keynotes, panels and workshops like this one and we’re inspired to continue the conversation over a beer.

On the first day I joined Mr Kwan, Jonathan Neelands and Yong-wen Peng to speak in a plenary session on corporate learning and development. In my presentation I spoke about Melbourne Playback Theatre’s work supporting organisational culture programs with our performances and training.

I made grand statements like; ‘Theatre is a change agent and community builder’, ‘Storytelling helps people understand and shape organisational culture’ and ‘Playback theatre is transformative’.

Like most of the applied theatre practitioners, teachers, social workers and corporate facilitators at the conference, I’m interested in the pro-social benefits of theatre. This is our shared interest and despite the diversity of practical application, diverse cultures and varied experience, it connects us. Just as theatre helps connect the people we work with.

Jokes that start with three characters of different nationalities walking into bars strike me as culturally insensitive and inappropriate. Sometimes they are downright racist. They are a form of storytelling that people use to make sense of cultural differences. But because they use stereotype and make fun of those differences I think they often serve to divide us. At the bar tonight, we spend a lot of time sharing stories and learning about our cultural differences.

We grew up with different families in different countries at different times. But each of us has a personal story that make us unique. And through hearing each other’s stories we also discover similarities.

Qian’s English name is Michelle. In her first English lesson the teacher offered her a choice of two names, Michelle or Stephanie, after characters from an American TV show. ‘Was that Full House?!’ ‘Yes!’ A bad 80’s sitcom we both loved as kids isn’t the only similarity we find tonight, but it’s a funny one!

In my presentation at the conference I cited this Harvard Business Review article and its list of mechanisms that business leaders can use to shape organisational culture.

Our playback theatre performances and the theatre-infused experiential workshops that we deliver contribute to most of the informal mechanisms listed. These techniques build connections between people, just as the workshops at the TEFO conference bridged massive language and cultural barriers to build relationships.

But there’s also a lot to be said for ad hoc social gatherings like this drink at the pub.

Mike McEvoy delivered his presentation ‘Theatre Leading Organisational Change’ at the TEFO Conference in Hong Kong on 1st May 2015.

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Hong Kong Perspectives

By Karen Berger

It seems a cliché that travel broadens the mind, but studies have shown that a journey really can make us wiser. In an article for The Guardian, Jonah Lehrer, stated that ‘seasoned travellers are alive to ambiguity, more willing to realise that there are different (and equally valid) ways of interpreting the world’.

The sense of perspective given by travelling can lead to better problem solving.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Hong Kong to run a two day Playback Masterclass (particularly its applications to corporate training) with Andrew Gray as part of the Hong Kong TEFO Conference on Drama Education. Being at this conference not only gave me new perspectives, but also opened my mind to subjects I’d never even thought of before. The following are brief notes on some of the things that stood out for me over the 5 days I was in Hong Kong.

In our Masterclass we played a ‘get to know you game’ where the participants stand in a circle, and one person steps forward and states something that is true about themselves. Others for whom that is true will also step forward.

Attempting to liven things up a bit, I stepped forward saying, ‘I vote left wing.’ Andrew immediately stepped forward and there was rather confused discussion among the participants.

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I was surprised to realise ‘vote’ and ‘left wing’ were being explained. No one else stepped forward. At the end of the second day of the workshop, a lively participant from Ghangzhou in mainland China told a ‘moment’ about her experience of my revelation. Once she understood what I meant, she initially struggled with deep regret that she had never experienced voting, but then she thought, ‘Whatever! I should just get on with my life.’ I have never been made so aware of a right that I don’t properly value, so much do I take it for granted…

 

Carmel O’Sullivan, Director of the Arts Education Research Group at Trinity College, Dublin, spoke about how it’s her problem if colleagues have trouble describing what it is she does, and her responsibility to explain it to them. Her ten year research project running weekly drama groups with autistic children has been assessed by Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Unit to gauge its impact. It’s the kind of qualitative and quantative research our own Melbourne Playback’s Artistic Director, Mike McEvoy would love to demonstrate the value of our work with various corporate organisations.

 

At the end of Mike’s plenary session on ‘Corporate Learning and Development’, an audience member asked the speakers if they had any qualms using their theatre expertise in the aid of business.

 

Mike related that at his interview to join Melbourne Playback he was asked his attitude to doing gigs for big business. Seated in the audience, Andrew Gray smirked – he’d been the one to ask the question. I listened with interest, having not heard that question asked of any Playbacker. Mike had responded by saying that he felt that as an artist, his role as an agent for positive change in any setting was a privileged one. Also on the panel was Jonothan Neelands, Professor of Creative Education at the Warwick Business School. In response to the question, he asserted that we need to broaden our definition of business: a freelance artist or a person selling food on the street are actually business people. Both business and art can be good or bad. There should be no value judgement on ‘business’ as such.

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In his keynote address, Neelands spoke with great passion about the recent Warwick Commission Report on the Future of Cultural Value of which he was a Director of Study.

This study used irrefutable statistics to argue for the strong relationship between creativity and economic growth

and the need to change England’s poor arts education standards for children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

A powerful image of the relationship between the arts and economy for him was a scene from the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony where the UK health care system was proudly displayed – the sports stadium filled with performers playing doctors and nurses surrounding a beautiful giant baby. Having started watching the opening ceremony with his fingers over his eyes (the cringe factor could be high!) he ended up feeling proud – the ceremony seemed to him a defining moment of national identity.

Neelands finished his speech by talking about what he felt might be a defining moment for Hong Kong’s identity – the ‘Umbrella Revolution’. He highlighted the neat areas for students to study with post it notes from demonstrating teachers offering tutoring and their phone numbers; the wishes for Hong Kong’s future printed prettily and decorated with yellow ribbons; the overall politeness and care symbolised by busy thoroughfares taken over by people carrying delicate umbrellas.

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I had had a visceral taste of what it might have been like to be part of the Occupy Central Protest two days before during a conference workshop run by four young people from a Hong Kong NGO, entitled ‘The Process of Empowerment between Calm and Passion: Exploring Our Position in Civil Disobedience Movement through Process Drama’. In a shortened form, participants were taken through a workshop they had run to help potential protestors clarify their intentions and the possible ramifications of their participation, including on their family and friends. I found the opportunity to play a member of the rally (with other workshop participants playing the roles of police, media, etc) and to play a relative of someone about to join the march, a surprisingly powerful and direct way of experiencing many dimensions of this experience that was so important to many Hong Kong residents.

 

The impact of politics on people’s daily lives was also brought movingly to the fore during the conference’s final session: a Playback performance from the local Encounter Playback Theatre. The final story told and enacted by the team was from a man from mainland China who had been very moved by a performance on the first night of the conference, PsychoSEE, which skillfully staged a theatrical intersection between the Occupy Central Movement, Antigone, and a personal story about powerlessness in the face of rape. This performance had brought up very strong memories for the storyteller of Tiananmen Square and the interdiction on commemorating that event in China now. Witnessing his tears while telling his story and the moving playing back by Encounter Theatre provided me with a deeply personal perspective on an important world event from someone who was sharing his story in a public forum. That’s something Playback can do wherever it is seen – like travel it can allow us to gain the kind of wide perspective so important for creativity and problem solving. We can go on a journey from the comfort of our theatre seat.

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Allen Laverty – Company Member Profile

Originally I trained as actor at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba (just west of Brisbane) and have always had an interest in physical theatre, circus and acro-balance in my work. I love how these skills support my acting craft and also provide me with a great way to train my body. I only came to acting when I was about 30 years old. Prior to that I’d worked as a carer for people with disabilities and also taught job-skills to folks who’d been long-term unemployed. 
 
I moved down to Melbourne in 2010 and joined Melbourne Playback the following year. I was interested in the chance to hear real stories from people and to use theatre as a way to perform these stories back to the audiences who told them.  This month I’m running some introductory acro-balance workshops with our Company as part of our weekly warm ups and training. It’s been great to share some of my circus, acro-balance and physical theatre skills with everyone and we’re currently having fun (and overcoming some fears…) whilst we play with what it takes to ‘base’ someone, find out how to become a ‘flyer’, learn who has the responsibility in a lift, discover how to support and really trust one another and identify what sort of strength (physical and mental!) that we need to do the balances. 
 
Not only are these important ideas for actors, but also they are great metaphors for any group or team to think about in daily work. It’s exciting to see how circus and acro-balance can mix with the Playback form to give us a broader physical language to work with. Now, we’re integrating these skills into our performances to create images and poetry in our story-telling and we’ve already had some beautiful results. 
Allen Laverty

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Andrew Gray Co-Artistic Director

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Welcome to our first E-news for 2013! It’s already March and the year is well and truly into full swing!

Melbourne Playback is engaged again this year in working with Qantas Ground Operations in delivering specifically designed Service Culture & Leadership Experiences. This exciting project has us travelling to Sydney every week to engage with the people of Qantas and the culture of their workplace. This week our crew have been on the ground with the Ramp and Baggage Staff at Melbourne Airport. We’re gaining a real understanding and appreciation for the co-ordinated work that’s required to ensure aircraft are cleaned, bags loaded, seats allocated and passengers on board, so that an On Time Departure (OTD) is assured!

2013 has seen us working with several long term clients again: VISY, Melbourne Health, Mt Eliza Business School, City of Darebin, Brentwood Secondary College and Methodist Ladies College. We’ve recently begun a project with Australian Sudanese Youth in Footscray looking at their experiences with the justice system (co-sponsored by Juvenile Justice and Storyscape) that will culminate in the participant’s performing their stories and producing videos of the challenges they face and the hopes they have for how justice might be applied and communicated.

At Playback we deal in story. The stories of diverse organisations, communities and people. Often we’re working in environments where change is underway. Sometimes the changes are being embraced and celebrated, sometimes there is uncertainty and fear, sometimes people want others to initiate the change, and at times strong resistance to change is present.  Our role is to create a space for the diversity of opinions, experiences, thoughts and feelings to be expressed, and at times to be a catalyst for change. It’s a privelege to be part of people’s engaging, striving and wrestling with change. It’s exhilirating at times and it can also bring it’s moments of challenge. Recently I’ve been finding inspiration, guidance and comfort, in the following quotes: “There is nothing permanent except change” (Heraclitus) and “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” (Barack Obama)

Happy New Year and here’s to ongoing change! 

Andrew Gray 

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Welcome to our new actors!

We are pleased to publicly welcome three new performers to the company!

Rachael Dyson-McGregor, who joins the performing ensemble this year, has a natural flair for the Playback Theatre form. Rachael trained at Unitec, Auckland and has worked with NZ theatre companies: Potent Pause Productions, Auckland Theatre Company, Massive, and Tim Bray Productions, as well as co-founding chor:us collective and the Peripeteia Players. Since she moved to Melbourne in 2007, Rachael has worked with Underground Cinema, 24 Hour Play Festival and devised and produced a theatre and dance collaboration, Neon Toast, for Melbourne Fringe Festival 2009.

Trainee Program

And in a first for Melbourne Playback, in 2010 we are excited to launch a new 12-month trainee program for two emerging performers, Tom Harkin & Diana Nguyen.

Diana Nguyen is an actor and community development worker in the South Eastern Suburbs. She currently works with The Song Room, Her Productions and SEAAC for young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Diana went to NYC to study The Theatre of Oppressed with Julian Boal and has performed in various community projects with young people. Diana’s recent performances include Silence (La Mama 2009), Translations Generations (Big West Festival 2009), Miss Saigon (CLOC 2009).

Tom Harkin was a member of St.Martin’s Youth Ensemble 2005 and has trained at Eric Morris’ acting studio in LA. Tom works full time as a Senior Learning & Development Facilitator at The Reach Foundation using his passion for the dramatic performance space and acting techniques to work with teenagers in freeing their natural impulses and inherent potential.

The traineeship will offer Diana & Tom the opportunity to rehearse and participate in the life of the company and benefit from a mentorship with a senior member of the Melbourne Playback ensemble.

We are inspired by the energy, enthusiasm and diversity of experience that each of these three actors have already brought to our rehearsal room! Welcome.

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