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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE EIGHT – THE SECOND WAVE!

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

There is no I in team. But there is one in community. And that is the take home message of the day. Every decision we make in these times of COVID-19 may affect (or infect) another being with whom we share this earth. This afternoon Metropolitan Melbourne went back into lock down for six weeks. Residents may only leave for work, shopping for essential items, to care for another or to go to the chemist or doctors. Over the last week there have been over three hundred community transmissions of the virus and, as we have seen in other countries, things can quickly get out of hand and soon overwhelm medical capabilities.

 

There is a joke circulating on the socials right now – COVID-19 and Australia are like the Spice Girls. Everyone is doing their best but Victoria is ruining it for everyone. I must disagree with this. Posh was a very important member of the band (and the only Spice Girl with a fashion empire and an OBE from the Queen).

 

 

When we work together on the playback stage, there is an understanding that the team comes first. What is necessary to support the story is always the priority. Unlike other forms of improvisational theatre, Playback sources their narrative exclusively from the audience. So, the crowd have already heard the tale once. As a team, we must mine the emotional truth, search for a fitting metaphor and perform a satisfying interpretation of the teller’s story. Individuals may stand out from time to time for certain characters or a clever shaping of a story.

But we endeavour to deliver a unified performance. Much like we must do in Victoria.

Although the other states are treating us like we have nits because they have all managed to either flatten the curve or eradicate COVID-19 entirely, we must all pull together and ensure that our actions do not compromise the health of others. We must work as a team.

 

Another important parallel between performing playback and fighting a pandemic is that blame is dangerous. If a scene falls flat or an a-symptomatic carrier unwittingly goes to work, accusations only serve to dishearten the team. I have often taught that if a scene is in trouble you must enter to help save it.

It’s hard sometimes from the wings to be brave enough to enter a dying scene with new energy, especially when you have no idea how to save it. But the important thing is that you let your fellow players know that you are here to help.

Likewise, when a scene is going swimmingly, the audience is laughing, or crying and the team is flying without your genius, then let them. Be happy for them. So, let us delve deeply into our compassion, help our fellow Victorians. Wear our masks, help our neighbours, go out our way to keep social distancing, and get tested if we feel any symptoms and isolate if we are diagnosed. This is the only way to get the show back on the road. And speaking of shows, hopefully we will all be able to perform and watch theatre in all its live glory soon.

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

 EPISODE SIX – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #4

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

Let me begin by saying I am in awe of Diana Nguyen. Her hit web series Phi and Me absolutely blew me away. It is brilliantly structured, full of heart, and, like many successful comedies, manages to go deep through a cast of characters that give us a unique perspective into a world. Do yourself a favour and view it here

Diana is also the busiest person I know.

She is tireless in her creative juggling, whether it’s stand up, writing, clown doctoring, dancing on LinkedIn, flying to meet producers in various countries (pre-Covid19) or performing in a playback show, Diana is on the move.

I love rehearsing and performing with her. She is so open, generous and often arrives into the scene with an offer of exactly what is needed. She is a very intuitive performer and truly, truly funny. She is a fellow seeker and it is because of her encouragement and tales of her own pilgrimage that I ended up walking the Camino Portugues. Thank you, lovely Diana!!

 

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

It was in 1996, at the wee age of 11 years old. My primary school friends and I were fascinated by Sister Act 1 and 2, so at lunch time we practised the “I Will Follow Him” with all the moves. The principal took an interest in us, so we did a regional classroom tour of all the 3/4 and 5/6 classes, and then they asked us to perform at the school morning assembly. Five girls dressed in choir outfits, singing to the song. Unfortunately, there was only one microphone, and the principal placed it in front of me the whole time… and I knew that I wanted to perform. It was magic.

 

2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

Improv does not allow me to be on flight mode or be running around busy.

It reshapes my brain to be present. To listen. To feel, and then to share. That is why I have been with Melbourne Playback for 10 years. The act of listening is an intimate gift, and to play back someone’s story is an intimate gift.

 

3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I have been consolidating Phi and Me video content, and sharing it to the world. We’ve had 1.3 million views on TikTok, and we are starting the process to develop Season 2.

Phi and Me is the first ever Australian Vietnamese family comedy series in the world. It celebrates the trials and love of a Vietnamese Refugee mother’s love for her daughter Phi Nguyen. www.phiandme.tv

 

 

4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

When I got heckled in Adelaide Fringe in 2017.

The audience member was drunk, and I replied the door is open for you to leave, unlike my mum who had to flee here by boat. It is a free country you may leave.

They sat back down, and 2 minutes in, they stood up and left while I was mid-sentence. I decided in that moment of raw comedy to cry…and I couldn’t stop. The audience breathed in with me, and it has become one of my most memorable moments too because the audience created a village around me, and got me drinks after the show!

 

5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

When 1000 people crammed into Bourke Street Mall, and watched 250 people sing karaoke. I hosted the event from 5pm-10, and ended up finishing at 11pm because people wanted to see more. They wanted to see the joy it brought to people’s faces. They wanted to sing.

I love karaoke, because it doesn’t matter what voice you have. It is the commitment, and that is when you are truly present.

 

6 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

I lost a lot of work due to Covid 19 with the Comedy festival cancelled. I decided that 2020 was my year so I was producing and performing in 2 shows Chasing Keanu Reeves and Deadly and Diverse, and also managed a venue for comedy festival with 10 acts. So when Covid crashed…I crashed.

Taking a moment to reflect, for 4 weeks, the work I have received has been quite magical. People are in writing rooms, people are supporting each other with grants and there is a human collaboration of “We will get through this.”

 

 

7 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

Because my mum wasn’t supportive of my love for the arts, I have had many guardian angels that have supported me.

Grade 4 – Mrs Scalise – Classroom and singing teacher. I sing because of her. I found my voice and was able to articulate how I feel with music.

Yr 12 – Mr Steve McPhail – Yr 12 Coordinator, Drama teacher, Actor from Phi and Me show, and friend. I still remember sitting with him eating Pho in Springvale, and asking him, “Steve should I do my DipEd and become a teacher like you did for me?”

He said, “You haven’t given it a shot yet. Give the acting a go, and if that fails become a teacher.”

15 years I am living my dream.

8 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

I miss feeling the energy. I miss that moment when you look out to the audience and they laugh, smile, cry and acknowledge each other in that moment – “Oh yes!”

I miss the craft of playback which is to be ALIVE in the moment with my team mates.

9 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life.

With the limited roles for Asian Vietnamese women, I would be selfish and like to play myself! lol

 

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE FIVE – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #3

 

By Lucy Schmidt

 

When I first saw Danny, I noticed, yes, that he was very tall (he gets that a lot), but more that he was incredibly fluid in his movement. It was no surprise to later learn that he was a classically trained mime artist. His body just seemed to do whatever asked of it, following the most direct route and without hesitation. This is something to envy when one stands only 164cm tall and suffers from arthritis.

 

The next thing that struck me about Danny was his kindness. He welcomed me into the company with his big smile.

 

He is often jovial and warm and has an extremely funny naive clown that made me laugh so hard one day that I totally stopped participating in the exercise we were doing, just to watch him, like a delighted child.

 

1 – Was there a defining moment that spurred your interest in performing?

More than one!

A clown who was half-acrobat and half-silent-comedian came to my primary school and I was delighted by him. Watching The Goodies was also a huge inspiration as was watching Australian Theatresports on TV. I had a Theatresports-themed birthday party when about 9 years old and my brother and I wrote the guidelines of all the games and used them with my friends.

 

2 – How does improv help you in your day to day life?

Often. It has helped me a lot in the times I’ve worked as a teacher. It has made me able to respond when students are particularly excited about something, and make it the centre of a lesson but then find ways to weave in the other things they need to learn. I think it has also helped me listen to my kids and be more playful as a dad.

 

3 – How are you using your creative juices during the COVID19 restrictions?

I am slowly making some comedy video material. It involves responding to problems and questions that the audience send in. My panel of “experts” (all me) respond with life advice.

 

4 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

I was in a comedy by Aristophanes in my twenties in Canberra that makes my queasy to think about.

A large cast of actors were taken through weeks of theatre exercises by the two directors and very little time was given to working on the actual play.

I played a powerful antagonist and was given a gimmicky “funny” costume to wear which diminished my already weak grasp of the character.

5 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

No one stands out. But I remember a lovely improvised scene performed with Melbourne Playback at an event in Sydney, opposite Rachael (now our Artistic Director). It was a story told by a home-sick English woman. She dwelt on lust and attraction and the colourful language of her friends back home. I played a man romancing the main-character. The scene involved wordplay of filthy yet poetic language.

 

6 – If you could play any historical character, who would it be and why?

Jack Mundey would be an honour to play, a man I see as both heroic and very relatable. He had a wide vision and left valuable legacy. He had an unaffected charisma and united widely different people.

He combined being practical with being compassionate. I also like the sideburns he sported back in the 70’s.

The struggles he championed are extremely relevant right now as parts of our cities become smothered in freeways and concrete blocks, while in other places people succeed in preserving greener and more human spaces.

 

7 – What is the surprising upside of the pandemic for you?

Slowing down. I had the chance to experiment with video which I don’t usually use.

 

8 – In your opinion, what makes a good story?

When there’s something that matters at stake. And when there’s something true to the story even if it’s fantastic. The Wizard of Earthsea is a favourite story, also some autobiographies.

 

9 – Do you have any pre-performance must do’s or superstitions?

It must be both slow and fast. Stretching and humming and also running about fast. I need a game that gets me to forget about myself too, by being playing and having fun.

 

10 – If you could thank someone who helped you in your early career – who would it be and why?

Lorena Param, my school drama teacher at Dickson College. She was patient, warm-hearted encouraging, open-minded to quirky ideas, a good director who pushed me too.

 

11 – What do you miss the most about not performing during the COVID19 restrictions?

The moments in live theatre when a performance clearly hits the audience’s funny bone. Or they visibly empathise with a character.

 

12 – Who would you want to play you in the story of your life?

Either Grover (my life in Muppet musical form would be entertaining) or Daniel Craig because I’m not much of a tough cookie unlike many of his roles. There’s nothing like seeing an actor playing against type.

 

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CRONICLES

EPISODE 1: THE 6 RULES OF IMPROVISATION APPLY!

 

By Lucy Schmidt 

 

It was only 64 days ago that the Australian Government announced an enforced societal lockdown unseen ever before. Our freedoms were to be slashed for our own good. This was serious. The culprits picture was plastered across TV screens worldwide. A very contagious, and deadly, virus was hitchhiking from body to body across the globe, leaving a path of human destruction and despair in its wake. Strict protocols of hand washing and social distancing were to follow. COVID19 bought with it new customs and lingo – panic buying, curve flattening, iso, Zooming, hand sani… to but name a few.

 

But what about the rules that we, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company, were already committed to? Turns out that they were just as helpful as always in my household. Allow me to share.

 

          1. COMMIT YOURSELF 

As my partner (hereafter referred to as ‘The Doc’) and I recovered from the shock announcement of a worldwide pandemic, we decided we were going to ‘jump in’ boots n’ all to keep ourselves (and therefore others in our community) as safe as we could. Hand sanitiser that I had bought for The Doc’s 50th birthday party was luckily never used. We found it and squirted it liberally on leaving and entering the apartment. Hands were washed according to YouTube clip tutorial standards. Happy Birthday sung twice for good measure – sometimes a little Nina Simone thrown in for a soul change.

Fortunately, our beautiful niece had bought us a 48 roll ‘Who Gives A Crap’ box of toilet paper for Christmas as a ‘joke’ present. Which, in this ‘present’ was no joke! People were being knocked out for a four pack at Aldi.

The Doc made a clandestine trip into the office, grabbing anything that may be needed for the foreseeable future, then set up a home office in the lounge. Washable masks, bought online for the bushfire smoke, were donned as we took our daily walk. If people were not committing to the 1.5 metre social distancing requirements, we committed to walking around them. Once our minds were made up and our house rules were agreed upon, committing was easy. Yes, occasionally there were blips, like when a friend arrived downstairs to drop off a jig-saw puzzle and I had a brain fade and went to hug her. Luckily, she too was committed, and backed off like I had a knife in my hand. Well done, team!

 

          2. MAKE YOUR PARTNER LOOK GOOD 

I did this literally! The Doc had to attend an online happy hour Zoom that was designated 70s dress-up. “Sweet!” I said. “I’m happy to help. Why don’t we really commit” (see Rule Number 1 above), I’ll do your make-up and everything”. I looked up online pics of the real deal. I even attached long purple lashes, liquid eyeliner (notoriously difficult to apply) and the obligatory garish matching eyeshadow.

A long black wig was donned and a jaunty scarf tied around it, to “make it look even more like real hair”. I was chuffed with the results.

A transformation back forty years in forty minutes! I was so excited that I forgot that I wasn’t attending the party. I had to make do with drinkies for one on the balcony, until I was joined by this amazing looking 70s apparition (ooh great, a new person to chat to). When The Doc said sadly that nobody else dressed up, my little heart broke. I reassured that everyone was probably really cheered that the brief had been taken up so faithfully – even if only by one person. And she did look good! We had a little party of our own.

 

          3. ACCEPT OFFERS 

Without the third rule, this blog would not exist. I have taken up every offer, unilaterally. Do we want some feijoas? Yes please. And a lovely apple and feijoa crumble was cooked by The Doc. Yum. Do I want to write a monologue in twelve hours to be filmed by an actor for Centrepoint Theatre’s online archive? You betcha. And for a mere $20 you can view ‘EScaPe – A Kitchen Sink Monologue’ (and nine other New Zealand writers’ work – not to mention ten brilliant performances) here on their website. I have swapped an easy 500-piece jigsaw for a 1000-piece one that features snowy pines and blue skies. It is infuriatingly difficult and we can only do it on the weekend because during the week a tablecloth goes over it and The Doc uses said table to do her Important Job.

 

 

But. We are determined to finish! Because accepting the offer means we ‘say yes’. I have said ‘yes’ to many a drink on the balcony. Sometimes I even say ‘yes, and’ – yes, I’ll have a drink and another drink after that, thank you.

I have said ‘yes’ to making socks for all the people on the third floor of our apartment that have birthdays during the restrictions.

To every Zoom offer (except ones that conflict with The Doc’s online yoga classes – sacrosanct). I even say ‘yes’ to self-issued challenges, like walking 70 kilometres in a week. Accepting offers is like signing for packages, exciting, and sometimes a true surprise awaits – if only you say YES!

 

          4. LET GO 

This rule is arguably the most important rule to apply during these times of change. We must let go of the freedoms we enjoyed before COVID-19 for the good of everyone we share the world with. We have let go and let our hair grow. Everyone being in the same boat, without a hairdresser, makes letting newly grey hair distinguish my temples an easy decision.

We have let go the usual social get-togethers, movie dates, dinners out. Tickets for Patti Smith expire and postpone to a new date. We let go. It’s easier without a choice.

My dear mother passed away last year on the 5 of August. My seven siblings and I made an oath we would make it back to ‘her little beach’ on the east coast of New Zealand on the same date this year and take an ocean plunge. Upon her request, her ashes had been delivered into these same choppy, white-tipped waters after she died. We would ‘take a swim with our mother again’ on this first anniversary. Alas, we all inherited her love of travel and are dotted about this globe from Ireland to Melbourne. Due to grounded planes, we will not be able to keep this promise. Letting go is part of life. Letting go of this plan is much easier than letting her go last year. But at least we were all there for that. Standing around her bedside in the little ramshackle bach she adored. If it had been this year, she would have been alone in hospital. Many poor people have had to make their last moments alone – the cruellest restriction of these times. Realising that it is the ability to ‘let go’ that gives us purchase to accept the epic ups and downs of life is an important lesson. One we must remind ourselves of, often.

 

          5. BE PRESENT 

Breathe. Notice the sunlight through the trees. Hear the Merri Creek rushing past, swollen with the recent rains. In a way, the COVID-19 restrictions have given us all an opportunity to reset. Patterns that were so ingrained have been re-evaluated. As a regular walker, I observed that gyms closing and restrictions on other leisure options made for crowded paths. It was like the clock had turned back to simpler times, where the ‘outing’ of the day was a family stroll through the park. I liked to see this. I also got up earlier to avoid this. As society ground to an almost halt, the sting was taken from the usual speed of the city. We were all concerned about catching or passing on this disease. We took time to wash our hands thoroughly. Took time to look through cupboards and soak chickpeas overnight. To cook from scratch.

The Doc and I made plans of what we would do with this extra time gifted by this awful virus. We scanned the jigsaw pieces for a ‘particular’ blue piece of sky (note: hours can be lost this way) I cleaned the fridge and pantry – instead of the usual rushed wipe. I paid attention to the detail. It was a joy.

I meditated daily as the afternoon sun streamed through the slats of the blinds. The whole world was joined in anticipation of what would happen. We were unified by a common enemy instead of each other. We huddled around TVs to get new instalments from countries facing the worst of the pandemic. Heard beautiful arias sung from balconies in Lombardy. Uncertainty placed us all in the moment, together. I try to stay as present now as we were in the early days of the pandemic but admittedly as we get used to living with this uninvited guest we revert to the status quo. But reminders like the smell of garlic and onion sizzling in a pan, the sound of rain on a roof, the warmth of a hot water bottle as the nights get colder can bring us right back to where we thrive. The present.

 

          6. PUT DOWN YOUR CLEVER (PICK UP YOUR ORDINARY) 

I take this final rule as an encouragement of simplicity. When we are not trying to be super-impressive and original, we can drop our ego and operate from our true selves. Vanity and obsession with how we are perceived can inhibit our thought processes.

But instead, let us concentrate on letting our needles point to our own true north. There have been a lot of limits put on our day to day freedoms. And now they are being lifted slowly. Let us act collectively to avoid further spread of COVID-19, instead of finding imaginative ways to beat the system and avoid a fine.

When masses of people have the clever idea to flock to a beach party, when people decide to ignore sore throats and coughs and go to work instead of isolating, when we decide we are different from the many, then we put the many at risk – as well as ourselves. There is no clever way to outwit a virus, other than the very simple rules of washing, social distancing and isolating. But if you are clever enough to come up with a vaccine – ignore this rule and please carry on!

 

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Voyager: Mental Health Week Panel and Playback Show

by Rachael Dyson-McGregor

For our fifth and final panel and playback event of 2016, we partnered with Mental Health Week to present

Voyager; Young People’s pathways to Mental Health

Mental Health is a voyage that all of us embark on and navigating the sometimes choppy waters takes time, awareness and support. For our young people, this journey can be particularly acute at a time when they are still finding themselves and their place in the world.

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Joining us on our panel were three inspiring young people who have all held advocacy roles in the community. Philly, a hip hop artist and Indigenous Youth worker, Steph Darling of the REACH Foundation and Aref Ramazani, a media artist and refugee advocate for young people settling in Australia.

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As our panel shared their experiences of journeys towards mental health, the themes that arose were needing a sense of belonging, of having a way to be able to share their stories and of having people who would listen when they were brave enough to ask for help.

 

After the panel, our facilitator Danny Diesendorf led an exploration into the stories held by the audience, who shared some of their own personal journeys and those close to them.

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Through moments and stories, we worked our way through the shared and unique experiences in the room. The intimate theatre at La Mama Carlton Courthouse, which was used by us in traverse for the first time created an intimate environment for both the audience and the performers.

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The culmination of openness shared by our panel and our audience created an incredibly unique and unforgettable afternoon. As reviewed by one of our audience:

“It was real, it was authentic, it was so full of courage. It was intimate and I felt my heart beating the whole time. It was human beings speaking from the heart to other human beings. The skills of your performers is beyond words; they are SO present to what they see and hear, this blows me away. I want to convey my deep appreciation for his event – I will never forget it. Thank you.” Rosie Cuff.

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Thank you to all who came to take part in Voyager. We feel honoured and inspired to hear and share these stories of courage, pain, hope and love. Stay tuned for next year when we will host our next panel and playback shows.

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On Our Shores : Refugee Week Q&A event

by Diana Nguyen

Our third special Q&A event after our beautiful and poignant show “SticksnStones’ at Federation Square, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company celebrated

“ON OUR SHORES”

Every year, the world celebrates World Refugee Day, and our multicultural and diverse communities living here in Australia. What makes our country proud is the contributions each Australian has brought and given back.  On Thursday 23rd of June, Melbourne Playback Theatre Company brought Melbourne together to “Celebrate the Fighting Spirit in Our Community.”

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With the recent #LetThemStay, #BringThemHere and the crisis of Australian asylum seeker policies detaining humans on offshore detention centres, Melbourne Playback allowed a space for human stories to be heard to remind us what was at cost.

For hundreds of years, many have set sail to call Australia home. With refugees risking their lives at sea, the Australian government is still shipping children and women into offshore detention centres. Melbourne Playback Theatre Company puts a spotlight on why we continue the plea for all people to be treated humanely,

 

Alex Sangster, MPTC Company member welcomed the audience from Footscray and afar and introduced our four wonderful panelists who shared their stories

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Mariam Issa – Refugee, Author and Human Rights Advocate

Kon Karapanagiotidis – CEO and co founder  of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)

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Lucy Honan – member of Refugee Action Collective

Mohammad Ali Baqiri – Refugee and Human Rights Advocate

The evening Q&A flowed into a performance from Melbourne playback where audience members shared their own stories of their own refugee experience, or their connections and relationships with refugees and migrants who have impacted their lives.

 

Stories of

Love between a young couple from two different lands, onions and being grateful.

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A mother’s separation from her son for one second, while hearing the story of Mohammad Ali who has been separated from his mother for years.

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A woman’s despair of fleeing, and sadness by the Australian Government off-shore detentions, but hope for the future.

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“We left the theatre that night having examined and gained insight into some human parts of ourselves and our fellow audience members that are not so often brought into the public or the conscious eye.”

Review by SYN June 2016

 

Thank you to the following supporters ASRC, Amnesty International, Refugee Action Collective, Love Makes a Way and Footscray Community Arts Centre.

 

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Getting ‘Down Under’

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Let’s not mess around…let’s get ‘Down Under‘ with a very special one-off performance that will be held on Friday 22 May at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.

We want you in the audience for this exciting show so comment below and be in the draw to win tickets.

We have two double passes to give away.

Our theme is a big topic. Reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a loaded word. Some champion it, some see it as a distraction from treaty and constitutional recognition. The definition of the word means: ‘to bring together again; regain; win over again, conciliate

What does reconciliation mean to you? If not reconciliation, what word would you use? What is your wish for First Nations and non-Indigenous Australia?

Many wonderful people are coming from far and wide to take part in this very special performance. We can’t wait to hear the stories that will be shared and the connections that will be made.

A playback show is a conversation, and we want to start this conversation now.

What does reconciliation mean to you?

Let us know in the comment section below. Two comment-eers will win a double pass each to the show!

So, let us know, what does reconciliation mean to you? Comment below to win!

We will draw the winners on Wednesday 20th May. Winners will be notified by email.

Or, if you just want to book some tickets, you can do that HERE

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Storytelling

by Alex Sangster.

“A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling”

Robert McKee

Once upon a time there was a leader who wanted to share a vision……

Once upon a time there was a pioneer who wanted to take her people out into wild new wonderlands…

Once upon a time there was an exhausted company manager who really wanted to find a way to get his people on board with the new branding… 

Telling stories matters and telling stories well isn’t something that just happens. Melbourne Playback is all about opening people up to their untapped potential as storytellers so that the message of their brand or the vision of their company, can be fully actualised.

In her recent book ‘Gossip from the Forest’ looking at how telling stories are one of our earliest cultural forms, Sarah Maitland argues that;

“The whole tradition of [oral] story telling is endangered by modern technology. Although telling stories is a very fundamental human attribute, to the extent that psychiatry now often treats ‘narrative loss’- the inability to construct a story of one’s own life – as a loss of identity or ‘personhood,’

it is not natural but an art form — you have to learn to tell stories.

The well-meaning mother is constantly frustrated by the inability of her child to answer questions like ‘What did you do today?’ (to which the answer is usually a muttered ‘nothing’ – but the ‘nothing’ is cover for ‘I don’t know how to tell a good story about it, how to impose a story shape on the events’). To tell stories, you have to hear stories and you have to have an audience to hear the stories you tell.’

Melbourne Playback opens up space for people to hear stories – to really hear them. We also create a space where people begin to learn, not only that they do have powerful stories within them but also how to tell these stories to a community.

We know that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems — that children learn about the world through listening to what happens, once upon a time, to wild wolves and brave girls. We also know that the ability to hold our personal story in the context of our culture’s meta narrative is profoundly empowering.
Jonathon Gottscall in his book ‘The Storytelling Animal’ draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology to reveal to us what it means to be a storytelling animal. And he argues that ‘the more absorbed you are in a story, the more it changes your behavior. So if you are equipped to tell your story or the story of your organization and its vision well, then you are more likely to be able to initiate behavior and culture change’.

We also now know that our brains become more active when we tell stories.

And that we feel much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

He writes of how, rather than struggling with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, you should simply tell them a story. Research shows us that storytelling is the most effective way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.

Melbourne Playback has a proven track record in working with organizations to help them learn how to articulate their own story and to then dynamically share that story with the wider world.

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Celebrating 30 Years

It is a great honour to be a part of Melbourne Playback Theatre Company at this point in it’s history. 30 years is a long time for any organisation, but for a theatre company run collectively by its members without Government funding, this is a particularly impressive achievement. Our work is all about celebrating and illuminating the stories of people, communities and organisations. So as we pause to celebrate this milestone, it is fitting that we reflect on the many stories that make up our own history. 

We pay tribute to Jonathan Fox & Jo Salas, the founders of the playback theatre form, and to Mary Good and Melbourne Playback Theatre’s first ensemble members who set the foundations for this successful company. It is a credit to the culture of the company and to the dedication of each generation of members that Melbourne Playback has achieved so much. (At last count, only 62 performers have been members in the company’s history. Of the current troupe of 15, the average length of service is almost 7 years!)

We also pay tribute to the community of supporters that have grown around the company over these 30 years; audience members, clients, advocates, workshop participants. These people have enthusiastically embraced our work and provided us with two elements essential for playback theatre; audience and stories. And there has been no shortage of stories. We have performed in theatres, performing arts centres, conference centres, school halls, community centres and board rooms all over the state for an enormous range of people. Our clients include major players in the corporate sector, Government departments, community organisations, schools and even individuals looking for a unique way to celebrate their 60th birthday. We estimate that Melbourne Playback Theatre has performed over 1,200 performances and transformed over 5,000 stories for over 65,000 audience members since it was formed in 1981.

2011 is an exciting time in the company’s history. We boast an ensemble of highly talented and respected performing artists and theatre-makers who continue to refine and investigate the playback theatre form and the theatrical possibilities of storytelling. Over the past 5 years we have been through a phase of steady growth, and a residency at Auspicious Arts Incubator helped us improve our business operations. Significantly, this year we welcome the company’s first administrative employee, Sherridan Green, as our inaugural Company Manager.

With a history built on the strength of story, we look to the future with the same excited anticipation that only a good story can provide. 

Andrew Gray, Petra Kalive & Mike McEvoy
Artistic Directors
Melbourne Playback Theatre Company

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