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Paper Is

A Potted Personal PaperBag Playback Portrait – 

From birth to ten years old

                                               By Sally Swain

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PAPER IS…….

 

1993

My intro to Playback.

40th birthday party of creativity therapist Stephanie Hurst.

She asks me if I’ll join in and do some Playback.

Me: But I’ve never done it before. Don’t know what to do. Haven’t even seen it.

She: That’s OK. Just ask the other actors what to do. You’ll be great.

 

Many gulps of champagne and several minutes later I find myself performing to a crowd of a couple of hundred partygoers.

I am asked to play an 8 year old girl pretending to be a gypsy fortune teller for her siblings.

I absolutely love it.

I am transported. Immersed. It’s a breeze. A stroll in the park. It’s many mixed metaphors.

The amazing thing is that I’m not nervous. Not really. Shy little Sally who practically fainted at school musicals and whose knees went to blancmange even as an adult in a 700-voice massed choir.

It’s not just the champers. It’s something about the focus on the story and the teller of the story.

On the play, ritual and community aspects rather than the self-conscious-everyone’s-looking-at-me-and-judging-me-better-get-it-right aspect.

 

 

1997

I am assisting Peter Hall to run Drama Action Centre in Sydney.

I love Playback.

I am passionate about it.

However, the only opportunities to actually do Playback are: a) once a year at the DAC summer school or b) get up the courage and skills to audition for the awe-inspiring Sydney Playback Theatre Company.

In my administrator role, I am organising a soiree. I create and send out invitations:

‘Can’t act your way out of a paper bag? Why not try.’

PaperBag PlayBack is born.

Beyond the soiree, I’m looking for a group of people to do Playback for and with each other. We might perform, but that’s not the heart of the matter.

It’s more about sharing stories, being affirmed, playing creatively and nurturing community.

 

Paper is a field of potential.

 

 

2001

Several days after September 11th horror in US. Paper Bag Playback celebrates its 4th birthday.

Lamely.

We have a lucky dip. I win a small coloured notepad.

There are stories of shock, lostness and anger.

 

Paper is fragile.

 

 

Paper Bag Playback seems to be falling apart. Again. We’ve had a very up and down life so far.

Who are we?

Where are we going?

There are conflicts between people with a performing skills emphasis and people with a therapeutic or well-being emphasis. Uncertainty. Is the group a safe place to be? Are we even going to do any Playback in any given 3 hour session?

I reach a point where I realise I must let go of attachment to the group’s existence.

Let it go.

It probably won’t survive.

 

Paper is for wrapping up.

 

 

2005

We are performing fairly regularly.

We perform for a broadminded Jewish organisation.

They love us.

We love them.

There are rich stories of migration, family, identity. There are tears and laughter.

I feel (as in my very beginnings with Playback) as if I’m in the right place at the right time. In the flow. Aligned. As if the two communities – Jewish and Playback – were made for each other and speak the same language.

I am on such a high afterwards, I very unusually lose my bag. (not made of paper, incidentally).

Later a troupe member reminds me that I played a role in a story in the show where I lost a significant ring. Wooh! This speaks to me of the power of Playback to affect us – not only as audience members, but also as performers.

My bag is found in a troupe member’s car boot.

The storytelling woman’s ring is found on a footpath in Bondi.

 

Paper is for creating life.

 

 

2006

In rehearsal, we are exploring the Playback form called Wise Being.

Several people cluster together and become one organism. The idea is to accept and amplify any offer made by any other part of the organism – otherwise known as a person.

 

A troupe member asks our gangly, pulsing, breathing-and-moving-as-one Wise Being the question,

‘Who is Paper Bag Playback?’

 

Primevally, blobbily, a succession of sounds, words and gestures emerge –

otherwise known as an answer.

Grizzling. Howling. Creaking.

‘Grrrrooooaan’, utters the Being. Slow movement upwards.

‘Gggrrrroooan.’

‘Uuuuup.’

‘Grrrroan. Uuup.’

‘Groan Up’, slurps the Being.

I am watching and laughing.

Perfect! Yes. We have Grown Up. And yes. It has been painful.

 

Paper is organic.

 

 

March 2007

It’s our 10th year.

Phenomenal!

We are performing for a film for an intriguing and worthy project.

A stinking hot day. A stinking hot warehouse. Stinking hot film lights.

The actors wear black knitted gloves and balaclavas.

Don’t ask! It’s what’s required for this project.

Only eyes and mouths are showing.

We are not being paid. We have no idea if the footage will be used. We know that even if it is used, the performers will be unrecognisable – Balaclavas Anonymous.

This is not an activity for prima donnas.

 

Paper is flexible.

 

I am overcome by a surge of love and admiration for the performers.

For this fine troupe.

I am blown away by the dedication and commitment of each troupe member to what Jonathan Fox, chief originator of Playback Theatre, calls an ‘Act of Service’.

These fine, talented, bright, compassionate people could be spending their weekend doing anything - gliding through a cool pool, perhaps.

They – we – choose to be here.

 

Paper is strong.

 

August 2007

We emerge from another muddy patch.

Guess how we get through?

Guided by our mentor, Rea Dennis, we reconnect with each other.

We share what’s going on in our hearts. In our lives.

Stories.

We let ourselves just be together.

Strong, vulnerable, open-hearted.

A return to the core of us.

After all, it’s our work.

Celebrating the transformative power of sharing stories.

 

Paper simply is.

 

 

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