Musician’s Muse

When the playback of the story has ended, as part of our ritual, the actors drop everything, go to neutral, and look at the teller. This is to acknowledge that what just took place on stage is our gift to you. But, for some reason, this beautiful ritual does not include the musician.

While the conductor turns to acknowledge the teller, and the actors are standing facing the teller, the musician remains seated behind a table, keyboard, drum, or other instrument. I don’t know why or how the end-of-story ritual evolved this way but remaining seated and invisible while the actors get the applause is what we musicians do. Or maybe it’s just the tradition of live theater: the music and musicians are heard but not necessarily seen.

I feel strongly about the musician being a part of the ending ritual because I have seen so many superb Playback performances with amazing musicians who end up looking like the Cinderella or Cinderfella on stage; one who did as much work as everyone else to offer a complete experience, but stayed hidden behind the ‘hearth’ because the musical contribution isn’t as attention-getting as what the actors are doing.

Here’s my perspective. The playback of the story might not have had the same emotional impact if there was no music. The music adds a secret ingredient that may go unrecognized but not unheard.

The music enhances the emotional beats of the story. The music helps to move things along. The music underscores an important moment. The sounds create atmosphere. Then, because the musician remains seated during the look-at-the-teller moment, it’s as if he or she wasn’t an integral part of what just happened on stage – and that’s simply not true.

I propose that all musicians and music table actors begin to practice standing up when the playback has finished and look at the teller along with the actors. You don’t have to go out onto the stage.

Just stand where you are and, along with your fellow actors, look at the teller then sit back down. I encourage directors, conductors and fellow actors to remind the musician to stand – and give the musician a sight line to the Teller – after each story – until it becomes natural and automatic. Practice, practice, practice.

Note to musicians: This is not about getting accolades or recognition (which is entirely earned and deserved). It’s about completing the playback ritual by silently saying to the teller, “The music was my part of our gift to you.” Everyone on stage has worked together as a team, doing their specific job as conductor, actor or musician, to offer the gift of Playback to the tellers of the stories and the audience.

It’s so easy to let others take the credit. But I challenge my fellow musicians to lose that way of thinking and remember that you are an actor on stage too. If you don’t stand with everyone else it’s as if you’re saying, “What I did doesn’t matter as much as what the actors and conductor did.” Really?

Maybe having musicians remain seated is too entrenched in our Playback culture. But, just like I’ve been trying for over 20 years to get people to use C’mas (instead of x-mas) as the abbreviation for Christmas, I will keep encouraging musicians in our Playback community to stand and face the Teller at the end of each scene. The interesting thing is that my director, Christopher Ellinger, and fellow actors are open to and support having the musician do this, but no one (including me) remembers to do it yet with any consistency. However, I did conduct a show recently and remembered to remind the actors to stand from behind the music table. Seeing everyone on stage standing together to look at and honour the teller is a truly beautiful and sacred moment.

Tonia Pinheiro lives near Boston MA and has been a member of True Story Theater since 2003. Tonia (tone-ya) is a diverse and dynamic improvisational actor, singer, and sound healer and is the founder of Wake Up! Works and ISEEU Theater. She’s committed to social change and social healing by engaging and empowering people through Playback and other creative expressions to shift the world’s operating para- digm from fear to love. Contact:


  • Amanda Brown : Thank you Tonia. This is a good point and I will start including our musicians in this beautiful ritual.
  • 10 Apr 2015

( Please login to leave your comment )