Playback brings actual Salinas Stories to the stage.
Thursday, November 10, 2005
An audience member stands up and tells a personal story from her life. A group of actors standing on stage improvise it. Drama doesn’t get more spontaneous, immediate and simple than this. It’s Playback Theatre, a global theater movement based on the tenet that everybody’s story has value.
Director Lorenzo Aragon and the Salinas Stories Playback Theatre Ensemble will present the show this Sunday. Aragon, who has been involved with the Playback Theatre movement for 10 years, will be using the process to solicit material from the community for Salinas Stories, a work-in-progress.
“Salinas Stories was funded by the NEA with a grant to honor stories from the community,” Aragon says. “[Playback Theatre] is just one of the tools we’ll be using to harvest those stories.”
Aragon chose this Sunday because it marks a day of Global Playback for Kindness, an odd and unique melding of theater and social activism which has its roots in Charleston, South Carolina. This dreamy, optimistic event was born a few years ago when Playback actor Rafael Peter began to worry that people were losing hope. Concerned by the fact that he was only hearing depressing stories from the community, the South Carolina actor mobilized dozens of Playback Theaters across the globe to dramatize “tales of kindness or missed opportunities for kindness” on Nov. 13.
“This global event aligns two movements—Playback Theatre, with its hundreds of companies worldwide, and groups focused on promoting and celebrating actions based on kindness,” Peter writes. “The performances will remind us of what can happen when people behave kindly towards each other.”
“I was impressed by his ability to bring all of these Playback companies from all over the world together,” Aragon says. “As a young, emerging Playback company, we decided to join in. It was a good match with our Salinas Stories project.”
The original Playback Theatre was founded by Jonathan Fox in 1975 as part of the experimental theater movement of the time. Since then, Playback has spread all over the world, and is now practiced in many different countries, languages and contexts. It thrives in a variety of settings, existing as community theatre gatherings as well as a professional service to both the business and social sector.
Aragon was introduced to Playback Theatre a decade ago in Arizona when the company he was working for received a grant to do “unscripted theater in communities.”
He was drawn to the concept of Playback because “ostensibly, we are there to honor the audience’s lives. Jonathan Fox calls it an act of service,” Aragon explains.
Since his introduction to the concept, Aragon has directed Playback Theatre productions for corporate clients, homeless shelters, schools, organizations for the deaf, and correctional institutes in addition to its traditional use in theater.
“[The Western Stage] artistic director [Jon Patrick Selover] made it clear that he wanted the process of Salinas Stories to build community and bring it together,” Aragon says. “I felt the Global Playback for Kindness day was a perfect opportunity to start the process by hearing directly from the Salinas community.”
Kindness is not the first themed Playback Theatre event Aragon has directed. In Arizona, his Playback company performed “stories of escape” told by refugees from the Congo, and on one Valentines Day, they enacted stories of love from local communitymembers.
Salinas Stories will be in development throughout the new year. In addition to culling the public’s stories through Playback Theatre, Aragon says he will be drawing from many other sources and media, such as newspaper archives, personal writing, and even photographs.
Yet the vision guiding the project was born out of artistic director Jon Patrick Selover’s longstanding desire to create an oral history of the Salinas Valley. Selover envisions beginning the piece by culling stories from those who lived in Salinas between the Great Depression and World War II.
“We’re losing these voices,” says Selover. “They’re about to sink below the surface.”
With the help of director Aragon, Selover hopes to eventually invite local members of the “Greatest Generation” to the theater to share their first-person accounts of life in the Salinas Valley between these pivotal years. Aragon and Selover hope the Playback Theatre process will spark memories and stimulate dialogue and evolve a theatricalcompilation.
Yet, Selover says, the idea at this point is not to produce a play, but to create an ongoing process that will archive the oral history of Salinas. Selover does not want Salinas Stories to “end in a box,” but would rather see it continue to grow and morph into a whole series of projects celebrating Salinas’s rich heritage.
THE SALINAS STORIES PLAYBACK THEATRE ENSEMBLE INVITES THE PUBLIC TO SHARE STORIES IN CONCERT WITH WORLD KINDNESS DAY ON SUNDAY AT 7PM AT THE CABARET OLDTOWN THEATER, 215 LINCOLN AVE., SALINAS. DONATIONS FOR THE SALINAS STORIES PROJECT WILL BE ACCEPTED.