Wednesday, 4 March 2009

I've been playbacked

I always like my job, but some days, I like it more than others. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to have a day at York St John University's 3rd Enquiry-based Learning Symposium, and I'll be blogging the whole day properly on the blog at work. There was, however, a beadie moment in the day, which I decided to blog here for a number of reasons. a) I'm a sucker for reflecting ;o), b) I think the story will ring true for several bead makers out there, and c) because the students I'll be writing about are doing research into their work, and their work is good, so if I can help, I'd like to.

Here's what happened. 

One session in the afternoon was given by York St John's Playback Theatre. What's that, I hear you ask? Well, if the professionals will forgive me, my quick and dirty explanation is that it is a group of actors who act out stories from the audience - somebody relates an event, an emotion, an experience, and the actors will immediately re-interpret the story into a piece of theatre - not a three-act play, but a short scene, a frozen tableau (think statue), or similar. Why is this so cool? Well, when we talk to other people, we tell stories. Often, though, we only relate the experience itself, not the emotions attached to it. Whatever we relate to others will get interpreted, but in everyday talk, the listener's interpretation is often tacit, it doesn't get back to the teller (how many times have you spoken to somebody and referred their words or emotions back at them, to see whether you understood them right? It's the kind of thing counsellors do, but rarely happens down the pub!)

Did I mention there was a beadie point?

As the audience, we were asked to tell stories - first relating to the day we had, but later, about what we were planning for the week-end (see, beadie point just round the corner!) So I explained how, every week-end, I make beads. That I negotiated 'time off' from family commitments with my other half, that the moment I shut the garage door, the world stays outside, and that, for half a day, stress and responsibilities recede into the background as I light the torch. Bliss. The six students (four actors, one 'conductor' and one musician) acted this out in a 'living sculpt', each of the four actors entering the space as something in my story compelled them to act. The guitarist started playing, then the first person stepping forward made as if to shoo a toddler away, saying 'not now, Mummy's got a big torch', the second played the toddler being shooed away, not understanding. The third moved aside a little, made as if to light the torch, and said 'your thirty minutes of peace and relaxation start now'. And finally, the fourth stepped in, took a chair, placed it so her back was to the rest of the scene, and began swaying gently, hands up, lost in torching.

Can you see it? Okay. Imagine each actor repeating their actions, gestures, phrases, and you get the idea of a living sculpt. And for me, this is where the magic starts. I wanted to treat the whole group as my personal installation, moving around them, inspecting gestures, facial expressions, relations to each other. Because, by picking a bit of my story each, they had managed to interpret the struggle I face every week-end. I *want* to spend time with my family. While the bit involving my toddler wasn't accurate (he's safely squirrelled away with hubby while I torch), mentally, he's there. Mentally, there is guilt, even though I know he's well looked after. It's the week-end, family time, and I use this time to ... what? Be selfish? Maintain my sanity? Find a creative outlet locked up during the week? The second component was maybe the most poignant. 'Your thirty minutes of peace and relaxation start now' - yes, 'peace and relaxation' is scheduled into my week. Maybe not unusual, other people go to yoga classes. And yet, I know from the moment I light the torch, I'm on a count-down, there's only so much 'me-time' allotted in each week. The repetition of the living sculpt, hearing that sentence again and again, was reminiscent of the timer on my kiln ticking down - I rarely look at the watch when I torch, but, at the beginning, I'll check the timer on the kiln and work out when I have to go. If it says 5 hours at the beginning, and I get two hours, I'll have to turn the torch off when it gets to 3 hours, etc. Finally, the rare moments when I *do* manage to turn my back onto the world were acted out by the fourth actor, her chair turned away, happily lost. In those moments, I'm aware of time, but also aware that the time I have is plenty. Not the same as a full-time bead maker, but enough to lose myself, to create, to follow the glass and the flame.

See what I mean when I said how reflection works in a normal conversation? Through playback, I got the benefit of five people's interpretation of my story, as the music accompanying helped greatly to set the scene. In essence, I saw three versions of me. I have not necessarily learnt anything I wasn't aware of before, but I don't think I have ever consciously voiced these thoughts before. Thanks to the playback, the short story at the top has turned into the long reflection below - and the short story was all they had. It makes me wonder whether you could do playback in cycles - work with the audience to such an extent that the actors' interpretation gets voiced again as the narrator of the story reflects on it, then re-enacted, always following nuances. My garage isn't very big, but it might give shelter to my personal playback company? ;o) They look to be a good bunch to have around when a bit of reflection is in order :o))

In keeping with this blog post, not a whole bead today, just a detail of one, because details get lost too often.  :o)


  1. What a lovely post, Sabine. It sounds like an incredible experience. Beautiful photo too :) xox

  2. Beautifully written, Sabine - yep, I saw it!

  3. OMG Sabine, that struck a chord with me! I tend to over analyse my actions and other people's perception of them. To be able to take a snippet of your life "out" of yourself and see it interpreted by others must be fascinating!

  4. Wow what an experience, must have been strange watching other people acting out a snippet of your life!! Lovely beads by the way!!!! :0))

    Come visit my blog and collect your AWARD, honey!