Real-life dramas

The troupe of Playback Theater spontaneously acts out incidents from audience members' lives.

playback theater 88.224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
playback theater 88.224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Do you ever wish for a life worthy of its own stage play and musical score? Well, even if you don't, the traveling ensemble of the Playback Theater in Tel Aviv will act out scenes from your past as if they are the stuff of art. Last month, for example, at a "Playback Theater Playlife" performance at the cozy Simta Theater in Jaffa, a man in the audience related how his St. Bernard once won a dog show despite having had a messy, smelly "accident" hours before. The actors, all dressed in black and using only colorful fabrics as props, spontaneously dramatized the event, with a red-headed actress starring as the dog. A pianist heightened the humor with a playful, improvised score. But Playback Theater usually specializes in more serious life turns - courtships, break-ups or family tensions - and as members of the audience share and watch meaningful, personal life struggles on stage, they learn more about themselves and others. This week, "Playback Playlife" will be performing in Tel Aviv on themes related to Family Day and International Women's Day. "When actors listen and play out a story, the teller feels listened to, acknowledged and honored. It's very therapeutic. There is a catharsis," says Aviva Apel, manager of Playback Theater. She is also what is called a "conductor" of "Playlife" performances, since the traditional director has no role in such interactive work. As "conductor," she chooses people from the audience and gets them to open up. The entertainment value and depth of the stories, however, depend on how interesting the chosen audience members are. But Apel repeats: "We not an entertainment troupe. If people are just looking for fun, that's not our agenda." In a more serious vignette, another woman from the audience related how the FBI forcefully took her and her daughter off a plane in New York to interrogate them after the attacks of September 11. "It took me back," said the teller of the performance. But these public "Playlife" performances occur only about twice a month. The major work of Playback takes place in municipalities, schools, private institutions, communities and medical centers as an interactive alternative to formal lectures on sensitive topics. Hi-tech companies and other corporations hire Playback to open lines of communication among employees, to help them adapt to change, to improve customer service, to express concerns, and to create a sense of community. "It gives people new ways of looking at things and ideas," says Nurit Shoshan, director of marketing and herself a Playback actress and conductor. Sometimes they perform at life celebrations such as birthdays or bar mitzvas, to imbue important family milestones with meaning; it's "entertainment with an added value," says Apel. The concept of this alternative theater originated in New York in 1975, when Jonathan Fox and his wife were looking for ways in which theater could have more of a social impact. Since then, Playback has grown into a worldwide organization with affiliates in over 30 countries. Apel, who worked as a professional actress in Israeli theater before getting involved with Playback, imported the concept to Tel Aviv in 1991. Currently, the Tel Aviv ensemble consists of eight actors and two musicians, and they require a different set of skills than traditional actors - they are good improvisers, team players, non-judgmental listeners and, in a certain sense, altruists. The ensemble will be performing for the public on themes related to Family Day and International Women's day at the Simta Theater in Jaffa on February 25, 9 p.m. and at Beit Tammi in Tel Aviv on March 2 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets, call (054) 428-7449 or (054) 595-8433.