Playback Theatre in Mumbai

Greetings from Chetna in Mumbai

I run a Playback Theatre group “Ghumakkad” in Mumbai, India. Sharing with you a performance held on 30th September.

Two years ago I was trained under Ben Rivers on Playback theatre (in Gujarat, India ).

We have been doing shows at various places, at juvenile rescue homes, for cancer patients, senior citizens, teachers, students , parents and more.

We also have been working with children and have trained around 75 children on basics of Playback theatre.

We have done two shows wherein we had adult and children Playbackers performing together!

A Playback Theatre performance at Leon’s World on the day of Dusherra ~ an Indian festival which celebrates the victory of Ram on Ravan ( good wins over the evil ).

Theme of the performance ~ “Fears, courage and conquering our fear.“

5 actors ~ 3 adults and 2 children
One musician and a conductor

We arrived at the venue one hour and twenty five minutes before the performance. It was a beautiful sight to watch men and women decorating the venue with marigold, mogra flowers, creating attractive rangoli [floor patterns] and putting posters of Ravan and Ram around the venue. The place hustled and bustled with children and adults.

Our venue was a beautiful mini- auditorium. We decorated the place with flowers and lights and colourful dupattas [shawls] and scarves! It lifted up the space and added to the festive spirit.

We started our voice warm up with Gayatri Mantra (an Indian sacred chant), rehearsed a few songs, practised our introductions and spent time in taking to each other.

Soon the audience started to arrive. Children of all ages came in with their parents (though we had specified age 9 and above). They got curious about what’s going to happen, and then a bit restless too as we were waiting for people to arrive! (It was a festive day, so people in India usually have a puja [prayer ritual] at their own homes too). The youngest one spoke honestly that he can only wait for ‘zero minutes’ for the performance to begin when I politely requested the audience that we would start in 5-6 minutes.

Our child Playbackers (with their own initiative) engaged the audience with music jamming. They spoke and interacted with the audience.

We began with a little warm up with the audience – two movement and musical songs. It got the audience laughing, moving and more connected.

We started our performance with a song (as a group we usually start with a song or a poetry piece) based on the theme.  In our opening introductions, each actor introduced themselves, narrating a short story on a fear they had / have or they could conquer it!  This created more connection and authenticity with the audience.  After the introduction of Playback Theatre and a sociometry round, we moved to short forms (feelings and shorter experiences).

We had feelings from children about how they were feeling so wonderful watching the performance, to how lucky they were to watch Playback Theatre. A girl of 8 years spoke how this performance was a surprise given to her by her mother and she was so glad to watch it.
A boy aged 11 spoke about how had fear of injury during football matches. He still has the fear, what if someone would hit him with the studs!

We performed – Fluid sculpts, transforming fluid sculpts and a Tableau and then moved on to long forms. The stories which came were:

A child aged 8 years spoke about the fear of injury while playing cricket. How he stayed out for two minutes in the play ground and thought to himself that he should not give up.  He continued to play even after the injury on that day!   He told his team mates – “Main hoon na, main sambhal loonga” (don’t worry , I will take care of it ) to a story of a woman who was scared of cats ( in our actor introductions, on of the actors , spoke about how and why she conquered he fear of dogs. This fear she overcame to gift her son a dog and how she conquered the fear (in some bits!) because of her kids.  Another story of a very small boy ( 5 years ) of how he felt scared of the swimming pool and the water.

This followed up by an adult storyteller who narrated how he felt scared of the water and eventually overcame his fear of swimming and water.

He said “embrace your fear, make friends with water. Water will accept you”! It resonated so much with the audience.

We closed the show with Echo form, followed up with everyone singing a song with us.

After the show we interacted with the audience.

A few sharings and observations:

– as a group we felt wonderful to perform with child Playbackers, yet again!  It is so beautiful to see and sense how children understand the reflective capacities of the stories

– an audience member, Roshmila, who is an emotion coach and a counsellor spoke about how healing the Playback process is! So wonderful to see how one had a creation fear (woman with a fear of cats) and how she overcame and has traversed the distance to conquer her fears. To watch this, it is healing!

– the coach and the counsellor also spoke about how we create too many boundaries between children and adults. Looking at this Playback performance, she realised how children and adults may have similar fears on some level. It was wonderful to speak about these fears with all present, children and adults!

– a sharing from our actor ( Viral) , how this space gave an opportunity for parents talk about their fears to their children, which they generally might not share or narrate .

– I felt the beauty of different age groups coming together and holding the space for each other.

What we could have done more of:

– Have had an intention to invite stories from all age groups, equally (as Roshmila suggested )

– more variety in musical instruments

It was a wonderful performance that left me with beautiful memories . We celebrated this by dancing an Indian Dhol [song] after the event!

Chetna Mehrotra