An insiders view of Winter Magic…

July 13, 2017

Katoomba’s Winter Magic Festival last month marked the 2017 Winter Solstice and celebrated the coming of longer days ahead.

Playback Theatre Sydney was fortunate to be asked to perform at the gorgeous light-filled Katoomba Cultural Centre, and our ensemble member, Paula Novotna, recounts how this wonderful show unfolded.

What happened at our Winter Magic Festival Show…

The show began with an introduction, of us and our wonderful Auslan interpreter, who very skilfully worked with the actors, audience and conductor simultaneously – incredible!

Our first Teller told a story of how he had accidentally let an innocent backyard burn-off turn into a raging bushfire decades ago in Armidale. I felt this story could have inflamed our audience given that hundreds of people [in the Blue Mountains] had lost their homes to bushfires only four short years ago – and the conductor acknowledged how courageous the teller was to tell his story in this particular crowd.

Playback was able to hold the place of these polarities, and maintain a space of safety and respect. All of the sharp ranges of lived experience were present in all of us (the performers and audience), especially those who’d faced bushfires. I felt the power of presence and deep listening – and I felt acutely aware of how this story would be igniting people’s memories of their own encounters with fire threat.

I took the role of the Police to express what was moving through me as a need for consequence. In the Teller’s story, he said that his friends hadn’t dobbed him in. In the role of the Police, I asked the audience for information about the arsonist, and they yelled and pointed to the Teller in contrast to the actors on stage who were shaking their heads and protecting the Teller, true to the [friends in the] story. Again, Playback was able to hold the tensions of this moment, and remain open to the many contradictions that were emerging in the re-enactment.

For me it felt that the Playback storytelling form was able to encompass all the energy, emotion and charge of the collective, and be the crucible for honouring the meeting and merging of the multiple contradictions in that moment.

As an improvising ensemble we were quick to pick-up one another’s offers. And I felt there was deep listening and support between the actors and musician.

In the second story I relished being cast as the Greek grandmother. I have Slavic heritage, and was able to slip into the scarf and well-toiled hands of my ancestors and find the voice of the story’s Yahyah (grandmother). I was able to mourn the loss of fallen mangos and wail with worry. Great fun.

After this story we were running out of time, and the conductor referred to the end of the performance drawing near, when a young audience member got up from his seat, marched determinedly towards the Teller’s chair, and started to tell his story. His father then came on stage too to assist us in understanding what his story was about – a love story of Disney proportions. Thankfully one of the actors knew the relevant Disney theme song, so we were able to play his story back with full song and scene!

One of our actors started a rhythmic pulse by tapping her hand over her heart, and soon the whole troupe was in chorus, and the audience joined in: one gesture, one rhythm, many resounds. Individual hands and hearts joining to form the beating of the collective heart. We all kept holding the heartbeat – it was thrilling.

Judging from the pure glee on the Teller’s face we’d gone straight to the heart of his story. And as I looked out into the audience I saw more than a handful of people wiping tears from their eyes. Heartfelt human connectedness.

Playback was able to weave a roomful of strangers into one larger web of heartfulness. And I feel deeply grateful to have been able to be one heart beating amongst so many. It really was pure winter magic.




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