Since 2013, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company has been facilitating the youth theatre program SeaACT program in the South Eastern Suburbs. In 2016 Melbourne Playback was re-funded by Creative Victoria to facilitating a new exciting program with young people living in the City of Greater Dandenong to provide a space of storytelling and performance in the area.
The program was facilitated in four components:
We had over 45 young people participate in the program in the 9 months at the Walker Street Gallery and Drum Theatre. They came from diverse backgrounds from the South Eastern Suburbs, different schools and 50% of the participants have been part of the SeaACT program since 2013.
The impact of the program for the young people in SeaACT was astounding and life changing. The opportunity to make work with professional artists and be heard, was the essence of the program.
The program started with a series of 5 writing workshops with Didem Caia, an emerging writer from the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Over 5 weeks with the facilitation with Melbourne Playback drama exercises, their stories flowed in the rehearsal room. Finally intimate stories the young people wanted to share with each other, were documented and written into a script by Didem.
The rehearsal process was a game changer for the participants who were used to improvising and performing the playback form. The rehearsal period was intense, with extra rehearsals held, and focusing on learning lines and not letting down the team. Through this process the young people became great friends and supported each other, and became comrades in this creative piece. They articulated their unique voice by collaborating and presenting a show, the participants’ skills were grounded and developed. They had ownership of their performance, and the audience were in awe of the work.
The process of MPTC was intense with collaboration of 4 artists working together with the young people for 3 months weekly. It was a wonderful working process for the young people to watch how professional artists worked with each other, but also with them, how the collaborative the process was. The young people saw the playback process improvised and then transferred to the rehearsal process.
We had over 150 people attend the performances at Walker Street Gallery in Dandenong, and was highly promoted by Emerging Writer’s Festival Festival and supported by City of Greater Dandenong.
The impact of the program could be seen by the commitment of the young people, and the hardwork of Melbourne Playback artists who committed to the project. Our Artistic Director Emily Taylor, said it was the most rewarding work she has done with the company and hopes we continue to nurture young people living in City of Greater Dandenong and in Victoria.
The program was in partnership with Emerging Writers’ Festival, City of Great Dandenong, Drum Theatre and Copyright Cultural Fund.
There are moments in life where you are powerfully reminded why you do what you do. For me as Creative Director of The F Word, Thursday 10th March was one of those moments.
It began with the atmosphere in the room. Despite a freak rainstorm and lots of traffic congestion, Howler theatre was packed and buzzing. Already I knew a singularly special audience had converged to experience and participate in the evening’s events.
We had gathered on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We began. We opened the space for our stories.
Photo credit: Ruby Gaile
Were you at The F Word? What do you remember most from the night? Go in the draw to win tickets to our next show by sharing your story in the comments below.
Our first panellist, Jane Gilmore challenged us first on the notion of equality (the first thing I usually say is that feminism is about equality) but equal to what? There are some things that women don’t need to be equal to men with. Equality is a subjective term. We need to be more vigilant with our language, more precise. What exactly do we want? Equal pay and opportunity? Yes. Equal violence and suicide rates? No.
Melba Marginson gave us a detailed history of her work with migrant and refugee women, showing how important it is to educate women on their rights when they come to Australia, to enable them to find their feet in the culture here. Melba also focussed on accented English and how
“many of us need to be reminded that accented English is still English, and as Marginson eloquently explained, we will only be enriched by enhancing our understanding of other cultures through actively listening to people with these accents.” – Caitlin McGrane, Aphramag
Video credit: BatchEdit
Tammy Anderson then took the stage with power and vibrancy, sharing with us her experience as a playwright, actor, ambassador, speaker, director and board member. She spoke of inter-generational trauma, of the battles she has faced and how she has faced them through her art. She shied away from nothing. Her generosity with us was astounding.
Clementine Ford closed the panel by sharing a great story about an all women’s pool in Coogee (highly recommended by her) as well her experience with trolls and online abuse. She shared with us how making jokes about people who are misogynistic online is the way she has found to get through to them, and to show other women that they don’t have to hide away and stop speaking out when they encounter such attacks.
And then…we had a playback performance.
Photo credit: Ruby Gaile
Our all female team took the stage, led by the vibrant Alex Sangster. Now it was time to open up the floor. We heard stories of identity, of struggle, of power and joy. What was missing from the panel was brought to the stage in the stories. A story of the word ‘lesbian’, from not knowing what it meant to it being a favourite word. A story of being in transition between gender, of mother and son, of family and independence. Stories of grief, of solidarity, ultimately of support.
“Spontaneously women and men came forward with extraordinary stories of love, loss, grief and transformation.” – Caitlin McGrane, Aphramag
Our actors, musicians and facilitator met each story with guts, heart and energy. I cried and laughed and gasped and cheered.
Every speaker, every storyteller, every moment was met by rapturous, supportive applause. Every diversity in the room was cheered and celebrated and loved. There was no question of ‘should we be feminists?’, or ‘what is feminism?’ There was no question. We were all in it together. There was power in that room. It was radiating off the walls.
“Be it trans rights, refugee and migrant rights, indigenous rights, or disability rights, they are all human rights and the people affected by these issues all deserve a platform to be heard. Playback Theatre and the wonderful panellists definitively demonstrated the compassion, courage and strength required to achieve equality in all these areas.” – Caitlin McGrane, Aphramag
I didn’t stop buzzing for days. It was an incredible evening.
Thank you to everyone who came, and those who wanted to. We hope to see you at the next event.
If you were at The F Word we’d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve even got tickets up for grabs to our next show if you do!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Melbourne Playback in News on 17 Jun 2015
We’re writing to ask for your voice of support.
What is happening?
Senator Brandis recently announced a plan to shift $104 million dollars from the arms-length Australia Council for the Arts to a ministerial controlled ‘National Programme for Excellence’ which will administer the funds directly from the minister’s office.
Below are some links with more information about the changes and the uncertainty it has created in the arts community.
What is concerning about the change?
The principal of arms-length funding and the rigorous peer-review process for arts funding is an important feature of Australian Arts Funding because it ensures excellence, innovation and diversity in the sector and it removes the possibility for political interference in deciding what artwork is created and supported
The move to bring funds under ministerial control is akin to allowing the sports minister to pick the Australian cricket team, rather than the expert selection panel best placed to make that difficult decision.
It is also evident that some of the worst hit by the change will be the thriving independent and small-to-medium sector which is the breeding ground of new talent and innovative new Australian work, in the same way that the VFL and grassroots football clubs feed the AFL.
What is Melbourne Playback’s position?
Melbourne Playback is a not-for-profit organisation which operates as a social enterprise so we do not directly rely on Federal Government funding to survive. However, some of our community projects are made possible through state and local government grants that will feel a knock-on effect from the changes.
And critically, our company’s success relies on the independent artists who form the ensemble. The health of our company is directly related to the health of the arts sector in Australia.
Like any ecosystem, all the different organisations, individuals and artworks are connected and dependent on each other to ensure a thriving arts sector. The artists who work for Melbourne Playback also work on independent projects and on projects with major performing arts organisations. Our work on those projects influences the quality and style of our work with Melbourne Playback and make it possible for us to have sustainable careers.
A number of our partner organisations, cultural festivals and the venues we rehearse and perform in are under direct threat because of the proposed funding changes; La Mama, St Martin’s Youth Arts, Dancehouse, Multicultural Arts Victoria, Footscray Community Arts Centre and many more.
Did you see the article in The Age recently titled “The rise of soft skills: Why top marks no longer get the best jobs”? The journalist John Elder described how leading companies from Australia and the UK are valuing more than ever ‘soft skills’ in their workforce.
So what exactly are soft skills?
They are skills that build personal connection. Have you noticed how things are more likely to go our way when we are able to make a genuine connection with someone? Soft skills help us do that. They are skills in emotional intelligence, communication, conflict resolution and using collaboration (rather than compromise) to solve problems. Its something we can all relate to.
Soft skills really can be a game changer.
Associate Professor Jennifer George is director of a new masters program at Melbourne Business School that is offering business training that includes a soft skills program complete with actors from Melbourne Playback.
We join the participants for sessions in voice projection, posture and presentation skills. Later on we do ‘real-play’ sessions where our actors play scenarios with such as the boss who the participants have to break bad news to.
For skills that are inter-personal, there is no substitute for trying it out in a safe place, with an actor who isn’t actually your boss.
The ability to have a go, get feedback and have another go is invaluable as a way to learn these skills. They can’t be mastered by theory alone.
What soft skills do you want to master? You elevator pitch? Listening? Collaboration? Share them in the comments below.
And try this: ask a friend to have a go with you. Make up a scenario based on your target soft-skill, play it out together, talk about how it went and try again. Give yourself permission to do it really badly. Make it fun. You’ll be amazed how easy it becomes.
Posted by Melbourne Playback in News on 10 Nov 2014
by Karen Berger
Each year, Melbourne Playback Theatre is honoured to be invited to perform at a number of gatherings for refugees and recent immigrants. In 2014 these included:
performances and workshops organised through SEAAC (Southern Ethnic Advisory and Advocacy Council)
a performance at Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre
a performance for Whittlesea Interfaith Network
a Refugee Week performance at Footscray Community Arts Centre organised through the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria.
We started wondering: ‘How well are we serving the refugee and immigrant community through these shows?’ There are a number of company members who are immigrants to Australia, and two whose parents were refugees, but still we felt there was a lot more for us to learn. For example: What is the best way for a conductor/facilitator to invite people to share their stories in this situation?
As a result, on July 28th 2014, we organized a special rehearsal where people from refugee and immigrant backgrounds were invited to our North Fitzroy rehearsal space to share their stories and to then give us feedback on how we were doing. We were extremely lucky that these 8 generous and engaging people (children and adults from Afghanistan, Iran, South Sudan and Ethiopia) donated their time and knowledge to help us improve our work.
These are some of the thoughts that came up:
Why do we all wear black in performances? In many cultures wearing black is associated with mourning. (In Vietnam white is worn at a funeral.)
What are the other ways we could explain how a Playback show works before starting?
Can the company develop more expertise in ethnic dance and music (and food etc)?
Refugees and immigrants want to be first seen as people before they’re categorised by where they’re from. It’s important to hear funny as well as sad stories – and stories about everyday life.
Overall it was a very moving evening. A Sudanese guest related that she had thought that after years of living in refugee camps, she would be inured to the pathos of another ‘refugee story’. However she found the details and playing back of specific stories to make them emotionally engaging.
There was acknowledgement of the healing, dignifying and hope-building power of telling a story, and that Playback can offer a wonderful service to people from challenging backgrounds.
We are continuing to develop our expertise in this area and are currently organising to meet with the manager of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture to learn more about how Melbourne Playback can best serve storytellers with traumatic stories.
Melbourne Playback rehearsal exploring our approach to the ‘refugee story’.
Melbourne Playback’s Karen Berger with the Aminullah brothers.
Tesfaye G/Hana and Mustafa Aminullah
Melbourne Playback rehearsal exploring our approach to the ‘refugee story’.
The team we had was awesome!!! They were a fantastic opener to the day; they really set the mood!!! The feedback from the audience was that the day was FANTASTIC! I even had to ask them to start early and they did with no trouble; we will use them again for sure!!
Kayla Miller, Youth Participation and Engagement Officer, Hume City Council
Melbourne Playback conducted many workshops throughout May including Public Workshops (see website form workshops coming up in September 8 & 9)
Melbourne Playback supported Hallam Senior College with their subsidy request for a workshop dedicated to confidence, team-work and presentation skills. Lizl Tregidga is a teacher at Hallam Senior College and teaches an all-girls senior VCAL Personal Development class. Lizl said in her request “We have just come into a partnership with the National Women’s Council of Victoria and will be working closely with them this year. As part of the plan for our girls (my class, the broader female student community at Hallam), I was hoping to organise an incursion focusing on an full day ‘girl empowerment’ program.”
Feedback from the day printed in the school’s newsletter said:
The Melbourne Playback Theatre Company focussed a lot on encouraging the girls to build their confidence by gaining and holding an audience and just feeling comfortable being themselves.
Sebel Town House hosted a performance for Financial Counselling Australia (formerly AFCCRA) for all parties to discuss and reflect upon the complexities, frustrations and successes that both groups experience in solving client matters. Playback is an effective tool for groups to reflect and appreciate the circumstances under which we all work, to find solutions to processes and, as a way to increase understanding of the needs of others.
The following feedback was received from Lauren Levin, Manager, Policy & Strategic Projects, Financial Counselling Australia (formerly AFCCRA):
The session was great. I’m just doing our survey and will forward any specific comments I get, but the people I spoke to love it. Your team is totally professional.
Thanks to all for the great feedback – we look forward to seeing you at Melbourne Playback again soon!