Playback Conductor Workshop

In this section, Bakó Tihamér carefully sets out his recent work toward developing and supporting the role of the Conductor. His piece brings together over 10 years work within the Hungarian context. Organised in three sections, the article initial reports on the structure and progress of conductor workshops for those new to conducting, but familiar to playback. In the second section, he follows this up with a discussion on the place of supervision within a playback progressive learning framework, and in the final section he turns his attention to the demands of building a Playback Theatre Company.

In the spring of 2009 I decided to set up a conductor workshop for my students who have performed as actors and sought to become playmasters or at least to try their hands at the role. The idea was to arrange a retreat from the world more or less once every 3 months in some beautiful natural environment so as to have an opportunity to discuss the role of the conductor and shape it in the framework of a workshop. The cooperative work was planned to take place in three sections.

In the first section I had two goals in mind. First of all I wished to offer each participant occasion to focus on their conduct- ing with respect to group leadership and the feedback received. During those weekends I planned to contemplate topics both highly relevant for the participants and also closely connected to conducting. The second section was planned to allow for conducting in a real environment. Anyone would be allowed to host a workshop in their own setting, possibly even to conduct a performance during this time and in that place. The first day of the workshop would include joint work and an evening performance. The next day would be assigned to analysis of the event and feedback on the conducting. The third section would be assigned to watching the playmasters conduct in their own environment and followed by feedback during the workshop.

Conductor Workshop—the First steps
To start the conductors’ workshop we retreated for two days to a countryside mansion. In the first round each participant, individually, walked in the garden to think about their own philosophy of conducting. This was followed by a joint discussion mutually reflecting on our ideas.

After a collective warmup we set up the space of playback theatre. A stage was built with the conductor, the musicians and the actors. An auditorium was assigned with audience. We did some playback theatre so that we can analyse the actual conductor’s performance. Each of us took turns as conductors, musicians, actors, storytellers and spectators.

The ritual feedback went like this:
Having completed the interview and the story played back by the actors, the conductor bid farewell to the storyteller. In the interpretation phase that followed the conductor shared his reflections on:
What happened and why?
What could have been done differently?

After the conductor’s reflection the teller gave feedback on the impression left by the conductor. This was followed by feedback from the musicians and the actors focusing on the conductor’s performance, communication with the musicians, interpretation of the story for the actors etc. Then came a personal feedback to the conductor with respect to style, communication with the storyteller, with the actors and spectators, identifying and working out the focus of the story etc. This was then the process of the conductor workshop where each participant had an opportunity for individual conducting.

In the first phase several issues came up concerning the conducting and participants’ perceptions centering around the following points:
— Conductor’s interview
— Style of conducting
— Dramaturgy – who writes the dramaturgy of the story — Supervision
— Unexpected situations and reactions

Conductor Workshop—Second stage
In the second stage participants of the conductor workshop were offered an opportunity to host the group in their own environment. According to the plan they had the chance to “introduce” playback in an area of their preference. The rite of the weekend was as follows:
First day:

workshop activities until 16 o’clock.
From 1700 preparations for the playback performance;

1900 the start of the performance;
2100 the play ends.

One example
Veronika hosted us in her home. She arranged the event on her own. She requested that someone else should be the conductor and Tibor volunteered for the role. The performance took place on the stage of the culture house of a small village. There were 25 people in the audience. None of them had been to a playback theatre performance before. This necessitated some socialization i.e. introduction to the essence of playback theatre. The performance was part of the cultural day of the small community. It followed the opening of an exhibition and the event continued with a classical music concert. The programs strongly interacted and exciting cooperation evolved between the three groups. On the second day of the workshop we reflected on the previous night’s playback performance focusing on socialization, communication with audience and storyteller, elaboration of the story, interpreting it for the actors, the rhythm of the play etc. Besides team tasks the conductor workshop also fulfilled a mission by taking playback theatre to places where it had never been seen before, thereby allowing the organizer to generate interest towards this genre of theatre. Meanwhile the con- ductor, freed from organizational tasks, could concentrate on the role and prepare for it during the workshop. It allowed for develop- ing the conductor’s role in a real yet safe environment.

Conductor Workshop—The Third steps
According to the original plan the participants were required to attend the performance of one companion acting as conductor. The next day’s workshop was assigned to the analysis of the conductor’s work, with respect to pre-given criteria (communication, rites, etc). Unfortunately this could not take place for everyone in the whole group. Even so, I considered this section a vital part of the pro- cess which was not to be omitted. That’s why I personally looked up each participant of the group who had conducted and we as- signed some time to hold a “workshop” between the two of us.

During the encounter devoted to the analysis I asked the conductor to reflect on the process first. The analysis was done with respect to several aspects of the conducting. Eventually I joined in. In the final section of the conductor workshop this occasion developed into a real shared work of elaboration.

Supervision Techniques in the Playback Theatre
Supervision seems to me one of the most effective of processes and I am inclined to use it both as a psychoanalist and as a psychodrama trainer. Besides, I often use supervision techniques as a university professor and in psychodrama training. Also, the experience I have compiled in these four decisive areas of training strongly interact. Supervision combines psychoanalytic depth with psychodrama’s emphasis on action, the focus on personal experience in education, with the creativity of playback theatre. Below I describe some techniques used in playback training, as well as in further education and personal development. Due to space limitations I will describe only four methods I often use.

Supervision Feedback, Live Video
Supervision feedback is one of my most frequently applied approaches. It goes like this: I receive request for supervision of the conductor’s role. There are two possibilities: the contract either concerns two persons when feedback is received by the conductor alone, or it involves the entire company with special focus on the conductor’s performance.

In both cases I see one or more playback performances conducted by the person under supervision. Whenever possible, this is also recorded. Next time we’ll watch the recording and analyse the conductor’s role from several aspects such as contact with the audience, the company, and the tellers. The rhythm of the play including warmup, going into depth, closure. The rites of the evening such as tuning in, spectator encounters, interview with the teller, the tableau etc. The conductor performing as director and dramaturg.

I carry out this analysis on the basis of the playback performance I have seen before the actual supervision starts. I pick the parts of the recording to be replayed. When the analysis is done with the company, the situation is „put on stage” and we dissect it as a live video. When done individually, we use such tools as stones or other objects. The analysis not only concerns the mistakes but also reinforces what was safely done and points that were well received. Furthermore, during the analysis we don’t stop at the level of bad feelings, as we create opportunity for different, novel options. Supervision with the entire company offers real opportunity for creative development, especially when done over several sessions.

Let me illustrate this form of supervision with an example taken from a two-day training course in another country. It included one- day training with preparation for the playback, the show itself (recorded for my analysis the next day), as well as the training based on it and the closure.

Let me enlarge on one aspect. On one occasion the conductor mentioned that she had failed to harmonize with a storyteller whom she felt somehow alien to her. Heléne could not see the reason. Watching the recording was of little help so I applied the method of ’live video’. The supervisee puts her experience ’on stage’ scrutinizing the details to