Playback Memphis brings stories to life in a safe space to unlock healing, transformation, and joy in a fun and therapeutic manner. It does that through a variety of performances, as well as team training and interactive workshops. The workshops are tailored to an organization’s specific needs with areas of focus that include team building, fostering collaboration and enhancing communication. The performances, meanwhile, depend on a diverse ensemble of professional actors. Diversity is intentional so that everyone in the audience sees individuals on stage they can relate to, in a safe space where stories come to life.
“In the beginning, I was clear that I wanted to build a diverse ensemble,” said Virginia Murphy, founder and executive director of Playback Memphis. “That was the most paramount thing for me. To be an ensemble whose mission is to create a safe space to bring stories to life, we need to be an ensemble that people in the audience can see people who look like them and whose voice represents the tenor of their voice. Our work is about building diversity by creating hospitable spaces that are an antidote to the polarization that is so rampant today.”
Founded in 2008, Playback Memphis is part of a longstanding international community of Playback theatre companies located in over 60 countries around the world. Playback Memphis’ oldest program Memphis Matters is their series of 6 public performances each year. The ticket sales from these shows, in turn, pay forward six Community Matters performances that are tailored to the work of chosen nonprofit organizations. The performances feature professional ensemble members who don’t follow a script, but rather “playback” true stories from audience members. Each performance varies but typically begins with an introduction to the personal sharing that’s encouraged. Ensemble members share personal stories to illuminate issues of community concern.
Other programs include Performing the Peace, which is designed to increase trust, build empathy and develop leadership for positive change among police officers and community members who have had contact with the criminal justice system. In the Frayser community, “Be the Peace!” is a program for fifth-grade students to spend one day a week learning Playback techniques to explore their own stories and strengthen social-emotional skills. And its newest program is a partnership with the Ace Awareness Foundation’s Universal Parenting Places where the Playback model is used to create healing experiences that also raise awareness about the adverse effects of early childhood traumatic experiences.
“It’s an art form, but more than that, it’s a healing, restorative practice,” Murphy said. “We believe when we see our stories come to life that it nourishes us, helps us see ourselves in one another. There’s a lot of wisdom in our stories.”
For more information on performances, how to get involved, hire Playback Memphis or to donate, visit playbackmemphis.org.
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