The BMTP drama therapy program has been utilizing an interactive style of drama called “playback theater.” In this art form, a small group of actors and musicians listen to stories told by audience members and then re-enact these stories on the spot. The actors may play the stories back literally, metaphorically, or, they may spotlight only the emotional essence of these moments.
About four months ago, a group of BMTP staff members formed the Open Door Playback company and have been meeting once a week during lunch to rehearse. Because playback is built around listening and honoring a person’s story, one of the aims of this company is to offer people who have typically not had a voice a place to be heard. Tellers are mirrored and validated. Audience members hear universal truths and discover commonalties with each other. They also begin to develop sympathy, empathy, and a sense of compassion. All of these things have great therapeutic value, especially for people who have historically had difficulty in these areas.
Open Door Playback has invited patient groups to tell their stories and be part of the playback process. In each open workshop or performance offered, the audience has responded positively by becoming “tellers” and offering their stories to the group, applauding spontaneously to the enactments, and remaining attentive to the stage during these short performances.
Company members have also remarked about playback’s effect on their lives and work. Members say they have seen their level of spontaneity increase and that they are more aware of maintaining a balance between instinct and intellect. These skills, cultivated in playback, cross over nicely to the world of the therapist.
While still relatively new to NTHS, this is not the first time BMTP has seen playback theater. In the spring of 2005, a group of actors comprised of patients and two drama therapy staff also rehearsed and offered several shows for patients and staff. It was as equally well received then, but the group, named “Images,” dissolved as company members began discharging from the hospital. With the exception of one staff person, all of the original members have left the hospital.