Bellingen Playback Theatre has been a constant in our community for 30 years, notching up 229 performances. To celebrate this feat Bellingen Playback Theatre are holding a celebratory event on Saturday 23rd November at the Bellingen Memorial Hall.
We had a chat with two of Bellingen Playback Theatre’s stalwarts- Persia Wildwood and Christel Wecker about the origins of the art and the significance of the art-form to our local community.
How important is it to have local improvised theatre in a community like ours?
Bellingen Playback Theatre serves our community by reflecting our collective stories, building community and connections. Different voices can be heard and our community gets to know itself. Not everyone tells a story but we recognise our shared human experience in the stories of others.
Playback Theatre derives from the ancient tradition of oral storytelling, vital for the health and well-being of all communities. It is an interactive form of improvisational theatre in which audience members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot.
What are the origins of this art form?
Playback Theatre was founded in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas in upstate New York. Since this time it has spread around the globe and Playback companies now exist on six continents. Playback Theatre is used in a range of contexts including public performances, community arts, social dialogue, peace building, conflict resolution, education, change management and celebrations.
As communities change and issues affecting these communities change over time, do you see these 229 performances as an historical timeline for our community?
Yes. The stories told at a Playback Theatre performance are personal stories of members of the audience. However, these stories naturally reflect what is going on in the community and in the wider society at any given time.
Equally, the stories stay the same because we are human beings and we all experience the archetypal themes of birth, death, relationships to family, friends, work, health, creativity, community and the natural world around us. Our inner and our outer lives and seasons of growth are all sources for the stories enacted at a Playback Theatre performance.
How have the stories changed over the past 30 years?
In 1989 Bellingen was home to many new settlers and the stories reflected experiences of creating new communities, learning many new skills and the blending of quite different values and lifestyles. And it was nearly impossible to get a really good cup of coffee. That has all changed. There have been several waves of new people and they bring different stories. One definite emerging theme is the recognition that we are living on Gumbaynggirr Land. Also women’s voices have become stronger and concerns about the environment have definitely grown over the years. Our community is much more aware of the need to change how we relate to our planet earth.
Keeping a volunteer theater group alive for 30 years is an extraordinary feat. What has been the secret to your longevity?
There are a few secrets. One is our love and passion for the creative artform of PB and it’s service to our community. Positive feedback from audiences affirms the value of this magical, surprising and at times very funny artform. At each performance both actors and audience step into the mystery and the thrill of the unknown. There is excitement and aliveness in that.
Also, through our weekly rehearsals telling our own stories we have grown a deep sense of trust and connection with each other and the ebbing and flowing of the group process provides ongoing learning and development for us all. It can be quite a ride. Our group is open to work with our edges, patterns, vulnerabilities, for personal and group transformation. There is power in that for us all.
Our Company has enjoyed the blend of long term membership with the refreshing input of new members. We’ve invested in lots of professional theatre skills development and we have had inspiring leadership from company elders.