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Melbourne Blogback: The Covid Chronicles

EPISODE THIRTEEN – JIG-SORE 🙁

By Lucy Schmidt

When we first went into lockdown in… I can’t even remember the date, now – but t’was many moons ago, the Doc and I started a (mentioned in previous blogs) very tricky jigsaw. There were basically three colours. Snow. Sky. And tree. We could only work on it in the weekends as it was safely hidden under a tablecloth, covered in books and computers, in a nifty home/office set-up, during the week. The pieces were tiny, as was the picture on the box – hence the need to wear our 1.5 magnifying specs (ah, the joys of ageing). These thousand awkward pieces seemed to represent the task of the nation or at least the state of Victoria (and particularly the dwellers of our small apartment), to link together, figuratively – social distancing and all that, to create the big picture. We fooled ourselves into thinking that there was a direct link between this puzzle of ‘Boreal Forrest in Snow’ and the length of the lockdown. In other words – if we could just finish the f*@king thing then we would be free again and liberate the city to boot!

Each weekend we would excitedly pack down the home office to expose our real work. I am proud to say the toil was always collaborative, never competitive (well maybe there was a little race to fill a particularly stubborn hole, occasionally).

We developed a language of our own, similar, I imagine to other jigsaw families out there. It was not at all out of the question to ask, in all seriousness, if one or other had seen a cinch-waisted, big head, dip toe?

We mainly worked in shifts – in between watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ on Stan (a pandemic must see, if you haven’t). A triumphant tap of a piece in place followed by a resounding ‘YUSS’, signified success. Toward the end, it was not uncommon for one of us to rush down the stairs to see exactly which empty space had been satisfyingly plugged and ooh and ah over the success. Celebrate the small wins they say, and so we did.

There was also a fair amount of stress that, as the puzzle was second hand, perhaps the set was incomplete. We imagined how rough this would make us feel. And, as pieces found homes, and the picture began to form, this stress became a genuine concern. There were a couple of places that we could not find the perfect match for love nor money. There were also times when we had to undo a near perfect match that had stuffed up a whole section. I’m not going to lie, this was an intricate job and we were rookies at it. We learnt a lot. A tip for first timers – check the floor religiously! Random escapees often need to be caught and returned to puzzle prison.

The weekend of September 13th we finally finished it. Every, single, piece found its home. It was done!!! Complete!! …Just in time to get another two weeks on our already long lock-down sentence. To say it was anti-climactic is too much. It was worse. There was just an emptiness. Had we failed, or succeeded?

I guess the lesson is to invest in the journey, and sometimes the big picture does not provide the big picture. But we sure were jig-sore. We walked Merri Creek with a lack of pep in our step, with no jigsaw to rush home to. BUT… As we returned we saw a new batch of books on our apartments building’s very cool, bring-a-book-leave-a-book-library set up. As we browsed, what should we see? Could it be? Another 1000 pc jigsaw. What a find! So! We are now the proud puzzlers of ‘Sumo and Bobo’ a very seventies looking picture of two baby orangutans. There are three colours. Green, Brown and Orangutan! Maybe this time, folks. Maybe this time!

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Melbourne Blogback: The Covid Chronicles

EPISODE #12 – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #8

By Lucy Schmidt

This week’s gang member is our fair and benevolent leader – Artistic Director, Rachael Dubois. Rach (and Alex) were the first Playback faces I ever saw. I remember thinking, these two look extremely fit, young and healthy – I may not be able to keep up with them! My first ever Playback gig was also with Rach. I was quite nervous and felt very lucky to be in such talented and experienced hands.

She reminds me a bit of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern (incidentally, Rach and I are both Kiwis). She is incredibly dedicated, listens attentively, has enough confidence to defer to experts, does not get in a flap easily and seems to naturally lead in a democratic, inclusive way – all the while raising a very cute and super funny daughter.

True story – Rach is so dedicated to Playback, she was in an audition workshop when her waters broke with Zoe!

In contrast to her sure and dependable leadership, Rach can be wickedly mischievous and is great fun to be on stage with. Her improvisational skills are off the hook. She is one of the best scene shapers in the company and her character work is enchanting. In my four-ish years, I have seen Rach play the gamut, but in particular a romance obsessed Frenchman and a regal queen of nature were so well drawn, I recall them wearing costume (impossible as we dress in blacks for shows).

Under Rachael’s tutelage as A.D, MPTC has grown in many ways; notably, we are encouraged to push our own boundaries and feel free to explore without constraint. Thanks Rach!

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

Probably the school play I was part of in 5th form (Year 11). We wrote a play about a flock of sheep who discovered they were controlled by the farmer and destined for slaughter. My character ‘Romney’ decided to escape, not knowing what life would be like on the other side of the fence. I think the experience of imagining life from the perspective of a sheep did it for me! It was so strange and liberating. I also enjoyed being part of the story making process, finding a way to free this trapped character I was playing.

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

When I play with my kid, it’s ‘yes, let’s’ all day. I see how far we can take games, and try to keep opening up options for her of what play can be. When I’m at work, I ‘yes and’ to enhance collaboration and momentum with my team. With my partner, I listen, listen, listen (sometimes!).

3 – What was your most memorable moment on stage?

I have had two experiences of performing where something magical happened and I felt so free and invincible. Both times it felt almost like I was flying, like actually flying. I can’t explain it, but it’s an experience I’ve only ever had while performing.

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

Probably like lots of us, eating better, sleeping more and taking that adrenalized rush out of day-to-day life. My 3-year-old is living her best life, she loves having so much family time.

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

Purpose. Truth. Vulnerability. Transformation. Comedy.

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

Creating with others spontaneously, with our bodies and voices. Being expressive with my body.

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MELBOURNE BLOGBACK: THE COVID CHRONICLES

EPISODE ELEVEN – UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE GANG #7

by Lucy Schmidt

Writing about this week’s MPTC member is slightly difficult as it is myself. I must say that when I first met me I mustn’t have made much of an impression as I can’t remember any of the first 3ish years… Reading my Plunket Book (which cost a whopping 15 cents, 48 years ago) I see that at 18 months I had one tooth and liked bananas… at two I had 16 teeth and was speaking in sentences with a continuous runny nose. I was quite proud to read that – not the runny nose bit, but speaking in sentences. I attribute this to being the 7th of 8 children. Lots of noise and action in the house. At one point, we had 13 people living in a two-bedroom house. To be fair the garage was in play – where my brothers slept. Believe me, having one bathroom for 13 people is EPIC.

And I guess this is where my performing bug bit, competing for our mother’s attention. I did this by getting into theatre – which cemented my identity as the entertainer of the family. A title I hold still.

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

I did a play in primary school where my character had to eat pikelets. We did not rehearse with them, so when the day of performance came I took a big bite, my mouth went dry. I had to chew and chew. I got the giggles and couldn’t say my line. The audience clocked the problem and started to laugh at/with me as did the rest of the cast.

I remember tears running down my face as I looked out into an audience of flip-top laughing heads – even the teachers were losing it. That is when I truly learned the power of spreading joy.

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

I am writing this blog for MPTC and working on my opus – an hour long T.V. drama series.

3 – What was your most terrifying moment on stage?

Drying. Losing my lines. This has happened a few times in my career – as it does to many actors. But It terrifies me to the point where I mainly do improvised theatre and film these days instead of scripted theatre. That way I can always make something up – or do another take.

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

Walking daily by the Merri Creek. Watching the seasons change. Learning the differences between, Rosellas (red heads), Rainbow Lorikeets (blue heads) and Red Rump parrots (green heads). And most pleasingly getting to hear the Eastern Common Froglet’s call. I love this sound and call it the frog disco.

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

An intriguing premise. Depth of character. High stakes and lots of heart.

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

Mrs Jones. My guitar teacher of thirty years ago. She was the first one who heard I could sing. She went around to my house and asked my mother If I would be allowed to sing in a talent contest she was organising. My mother laughed. I won first place.

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

Florence Pugh is a good match for younger me and a terrific actress. Myself now, even though we don’t really look alike – I’d go for Melissa McCarthy. She is one funny lady and I love her improv skills.

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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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