Creating a Culture of Care
A Reflective Report on the 7th International Playback Theatre Camp, Dyuni, Bulgaria, 20th - 26th August 2018
Introduction to the Camp
"The International Playback Camp is a laboratory, a melting and meeting pot of curious and open people of the world" Karin Gisler
"I am excited every year to be there, and I can't wait to meet all with all the challenges included, as we are people. This is one of the most important playback meetings I belong to" Shirley Legum
The International Playback Camp was first organised by Anastasia Vorobyeva in 2012. It has been held in Crimea, in Serbia, and in 2017 and 2018, in Bulgaria. Every year the Camp becomes more international - at the very beginning about 80% of the participants were from Russia, but in 2017 playbackers from 14 countries attended, and this year 16 countries were represented.
Each year the work is built around a particular theme, and this year it was "Culture of Care". Playback Camp is becoming a place for deepening practice and for learning more about how our world is structured, from a perspective of multicultural experience. This helps us to make Playback Theatre a real tool for social action. It is, for many who attend, a transformative personal experience.
"Living together for the week as a family, jumping in a swimming pool fully dressed after the workshops, the freedom swim in the night sea under the stars, singing together, researching, exploring the social dimension, facing not easy topics that are so important for bringing change (racism, homophobia, sexism, patriarchy); learning how to start the conversation with the words ' what do YOU need?' And to apply all of this in PT to make the world a better place. It’s different from conferences, when something happens there about social injustice or multicultural conflicts, we usually don’t have time to dive into this and learn more. But Camp is a place for it. It’s a microcosm of our world we can learn from in a safe environment. The multicultural context of it is very precious." Anastasia Vorobyeva
Workshops and programme
The Camp programme offered a variety of experiential learning activities including master classes by internationally acclaimed teachers as follows:
Where do we come from? - Anastasia Vorobyeva
Care-full feedback in Playback - Karin Gisler
The Ninja Singer - Steve Nash
The Social Dimension in playback theatre - Sarah Urech
Our boundaries: how to care - Olga Sanachina
How do I take care of myself as a playback actor? Shirley Legum
In addition Tarryn Elizabeth Lee from South Africa facilitated a workshop (Playful presence and care) as a special guest.
There were two workshops every day (except for one day of relaxation), and in the evening, activities included performances from the trainers and the participants. All activities were conducted in two languages, English and Russian, with the help of a team of translators, aided by the participants themselves.
The opening and closing ceremonies were sensitively designed to be attentive to the group process and to also be playful and creative. Roses are significant in Bulgaria, culturally and economically, and it was delightfully fitting and meaningful that we began our week with showers of rose petals and ended it by planting a new rose bush in the garden of the hotel.
"From my point of view, a few aspects give this event a unique flavour: the opportunity to delve deep for a full week in a consistent, medium-size group of 60 people, the vacation and family atmosphere, and the wholehearted playfulness of this community spanning ages 8 to 70. This year we came from 16 countries, spanning five continents" Sarah Urech
An emergent curriculum
Several discussion groups emerged over the course of the week. For example, Anastasia Vorobyeva's workshop explored how a nation's history influences the current Culture of Care, and how understanding this can build a bridge to the future we want. This led to conversations about minorities and excluded groups people want to work with, often because of a personal connection with that community or issue, for example: disability, bullying, survivors of sexual abuse. Participants shared knowledge and understanding of these topics, learning how things work in different countries, and collecting ideas for growth, development and possible performances. Time was given to present the work of these small groups using Playback and related forms. It was very impressive and thought provoking.
"I was delighted by the level of artistry and creativity in all of the performances, including the work in small groups. There was very little of the usual technical debate about how to do this or that form. Instead there was a genuine readiness to be spontaneous, to accept offers, and to go with the flow" Steve Nash
Throughout the week, participants were encouraged to organise informal gatherings at mealtimes, to discuss certain issues and think about how to address them respectfully in PT. One example was a lunch dedicated to supporting the LGBTQI2+ community which revealed how wildly varied queer issues are in our various countries—from needing basic legal protection and human rights, to new consciousness on gender identity, such as shifting the expression of gender pronouns. The importance of listening was emphasised, and being aware of how we can make a stand for social and political rights in PT, but at the same time making sure that we do not pressurise the teller, for example towards coming out.
Another example was a breakfast discussing how white people can work to end racism, a subject that is vitally important throughout the world and influenced by the particular historical and present day contexts in each region and culture. Developing an awareness of the level of unearned privilege white people have is the first step and it can be a painful one. But constructive dialogue allows us to wade through the pain and messiness that comes from living in this unjust world. Small steps were taken simply by listening to each other’s experiences, honouring divergent realities, and learning from these exchanges.
Play and community
The Camp's organisers always devote a lot of attention to the social side of the gathering, making sure that there is time to meet old friends, time to make new friends and enjoy each other's company in the pool, the sun, the sea, and the natural surroundings. This year we had a Cultural Party in the evening after the opening ceremony, where participants from each country presented rituals of care from their culture, and brought something to share, with a marketplace of different flags, tastes and souvenirs. We had so much fun!
"This year influenced on me a lot. We explore different aspects of the theme. We touched on an ecological level and I changed my everyday behaviour with garbage. I got this from a funny presentation of German delegation - about their practice of culture of care in their country. Because we try to create a link between different events of the camp and create a collage about the topic of the camp" Olga Sanachina
Everyone is allocated a 'Secret Friend' which means there is a constant stream of gifts and treats being shared, such as being serenaded or given a massage. The “Wall of Care” was a beautiful feature—a large board in the dining area containing small envelopes for each camp participant, where we could leave each other caring messages and little gifts.
Another typical camp component is the “relaxing evening”. This is a natural expression of care where volunteers design and conduct an evening of relaxing and activities. Guided and nurtured by a loving team, the rest of us deeply enjoyed a sound healing while communing with the night sky (and resident donkeys), receiving massages, and participating in a fire ritual of release.
"One of my favourite activities was singing and playing music together—late into the night, by the pool or at the dining tables under beautiful old trees. The sounds of songs in various languages—sung together or offered by one or two voices, a cappella or accompanied by guitars and drums—will stay with me for a long time to come" Sarah Urech
And of course, on the final night before the ceremonial closing of the Camp, there is always a very enthusiastic celebration party that runs late into the night (and for some it lasts all night!). Hotel Gamartarta provided a perfect setting, with great surroundings, good food, friendly staff, including Vanya, a joyful and loving staff member who has become an honorary playbacker, and excellent facilities. The organisers did very well to find this location.
With care can come challenge
Towards the end of our week together, at the end of the session where work on social issues was presented, three of our fellow participants took time to perform a thoughtful and courageous piece of theatre around some of their experiences of the Camp as black people. This was difficult and challenging for everyone involved. But it was also vitally important and in the days that followed it to some extent shifted the nature of the dialogue and discourse between us, giving us all much to reflect on.
"It was critically important that we were confronted in this way. However upsetting it was, I'm glad that our colleagues felt safe enough take the opportunity to challenge the rest of us, and speak out about racism, and the injustices they see and experience, both in the world at large, and in our own Playback communities. For me it would have been worse if they felt this way but did not feel they could express it" Steve Nash
In the paragraphs below, Sarah Urech shares her own personal reflections of some of the difficulties of dealing with the complex issues at this year's Playback Camp:
"Our theme, ‘Culture of Care’ was inspired by the work of the Omega Women’s Leadership Center in New York State where I work every day. It gave us the chance to explore how we care for others, and ourselves and to notice when and how we fall short. We also looked at social systems that many times are not designed to centre and value care.
My workshop focused on the social dimension in playback theatre—particularly relevant when we come together from a variety of geographical locations and languages, economic circumstances, races and ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations—as well as professional backgrounds, family situations, political views, and much more. We looked at issues of power—how 'power over', or domination, is antithetical to 'power with', or a culture of care, cooperation, and collaboration, and also how playback is centred in those values. Not surprisingly, a theme that emerged was patriarchy—a global system of domination that disempowers women and in the process harms people of all genders. Related forms of oppression, including racism, economic inequality, and homophobia also came up. My experience teaching on this subject was humbling and a source of growth—I found it a big challenge despite my dedication to deepening my own awareness about social issues and in particular racism and sexism. I have reflected on the group conversations, the themes and cultural contexts of the stories people told, and the power of our collective aspiration, filled with imperfection, to create a culture of care. I remain moved by the generosity and resilience with which people showed up even when things got difficult." Sarah Urech
Some final thoughts
"I am very proud to be a trainer in this project and to see its development through the years, in terms of professional growth, in learning skills, and in learning how to belong to a community. I see that being together demands a responsibility from all of us, and a deep openness to understanding that all of us are about to meet different cultures and personalities. It is always challenging how to open a dialogue that keeps people included and not feel blamed. We are as trainer team deeply focused on this issue and invite all participants to be ready for it too. One of our main goals is to explore how can we be together through this amazing playback theatre" Shirley Legum
"If people from different countries and cultures meet there is always also the trap of misunderstandings and mistakes within our mutual interaction. To enable conversation beyond our personal and cultural boundaries, to overcome prejudices, to be open and keep building bridges - this is what the camp is about. It is an ongoing learning and opening up process for me as an individual as well for us as camp-organism" Karin Gisler
" I know that the strong power of the camp is our multicultural meeting. At the end I feel the power of peace-building that we create together" Olga Sanachina
Written by this year's training team: Anastasya Vorobyeva (Russia), Olga Sanachina (Russia), Shirley Legum (Israel), Sarah Urech (USA), Karin Gisler (Switzerland) and Steve Nash (UK)
Thanks to Haju Artus and Tanya Green for the photos.
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