Dear playbackers and friends of Playback Theatre as well as everyone else,
I greet you from Vienna, Austria. It is my first summer for 25 years outside my own country, Finland, and not having my regular social circles around me has given me plenty of opportunity and time to think and reflect.
It has been a while since my last letter and there is a reason. I did not want to write until I have something to say, something that I find important to share. I had beautiful experiences in the Mediterranean as well as the Hungarian gathering, but I did not find a theme I could write about. Trump and Putin met in my home country and the meeting created lots of discussion about what should and should not be, and even that did not inspire my writing. Maybe all of these still had some influence on me when writing this letter.
This time I want to speak about diversity – the theme of the Indian gathering.
Funnily enough, I got the incentive to write about this watching stand-up comedy. Brilliant Hannah Gadsby has a show on Netflix where she, rather than concentrating on making jokes or self-deprecating humor, shares her story and insight about humanity. She does it very well and I recommend watching her Netflix special to anyone who has the chance. At the end of her performance she says: “I want my story heard. Because, ironically, I believe Picasso (she shares quite a few pointers about him earlier on) was right. I believe we could paint a better world if we learned how to see it from all perspectives, as many perspectives as we possibly could. Because diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing.”
She touched me deeply with her performance. She reminded me of the need to learn from everyone’s story. She also reminded me what drew me to Playback Theatre. I was in awe of human stories. I was fascinated with diversity and felt privileged to hear so many different stories, and not only hear, but actually live them on stage. Playback Theatre is a gentle teacher, and it teaches about diversity. It teaches the point of view of the storyteller, and adds layers to the story that might not have seen before. It can add a mythological perspective, connecting the story to the non-dying stories of humankind. It can add a symbolic perspective, helping to see the dynamics of the story more clearly.
It can add a societal perspective to see how common the story is in these times, connecting the story to our era. In the center is still the idea that although each story is part of everybody’s story, each story is special and deserves to be heard.
I quote Hannah Gadsby again: “We think it’s more important to be right than it is to appeal to the humanity of people we disagree with.” It is very often that I find myself in this trap, too. I concentrate on making arguments for my point of view. I do not concentrate on seeing the human being behind the opposing view.
Playback Theatre has helped me with this, but has not made me immune. How do we handle the stories of people who or whose values we disagree with? How can we see the good in people who share an immoral story? Everybody has their story how they became them. That, I think, is good to keep in mind. And as Playback Theatre artists, we have tools. We have tools not only to understand, but also to give perspectives. Let us keep exploring this way of sharing, this way of telling stories and let’s make sure the stories are heard and seen, understood and accepted as they are. Because, as we already know: Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher.
I hope to see you in India in December 2019, where we will be celebrating diversity.