Happy New Year 2020!
Dear Playbackers and friends of Playback Theatre, as well as anyone else who happens to read this letter,
a new year in the Gregorian calendar has begun. Often, it means new beginnings, promises for the new year, setting goals and fresh energy to face the challenges and gifts the new year presents. It is also a good time to reflect. What happened last year? What can we learn from it so that we can maybe do better this year?
For me, the year 2019 was full of learning. IPTN had a big project in Cuba, bringing international trainers there with the aim to make the Playback Theatre scene there more self-sufficient. It is hard to travel from Cuba, so we travelled there and spent meaningful days with the Cuban playbaqueros. As one of the results, the Cuban community chose a new regional representative, Susana Gil Padron, and three people are going to attend the CPT Leadership in Mexico. It was a lot of work with sweat and tears, meaningful moments and laughter. The journey was filled with surprises, but we could face them, learn and adapt to them. The biggest learning from that project for me was to not take anything for granted, to look beyond what is said, and do the right thing even if it feels heavy or hard.
The year ended on the other side of the world, in India. The IPTN Conference 2019 was held in Christ University, Bangalore, hosted by the Playback Theatre group The Actor’s Collective, with the theme Celebrating Diversity. Diversity was present in different forms – in cultures, hierarchies, structures, how we celebrate individuals and approache practicalities. During the conference there were struggles and successes, both from the organisers as well as the participants. Diversity opened up many opportunities of learning for the community - the community that was present at the conference as well as the bigger community who was following the happenings on social media.
The conference started with an opening ceremony that awakened many feelings, by inviting only men – and only one woman - to the stage to open the conference. Women, who played a central role of bringing Playback Theatre to India, like Christina and Sister Claire, could also have been there, but were not. This created much disturbance both in the conference and also outside. My Facebook feed was full of comments about the conference, both from people participating, but also people who were not part of the conference, condemning and judging what was going on there. The organisers reacted to the uproar in the social media and the conference took action to celebrate diversity in a more thoughtful way. Both during as well as at the ending ceremony of the conference, diversity was more present, or at least more visible on the stage.
After the conference, another chapter began with the discussion of who was and who was not allowed to participate in the conference, what price range is exclusive and what inclusive, how a conference should be organised, what mistakes were done and who was responsible. Many of the discussions were initiated by people who could not participate in the conference because of different reasons. I did understand the big need to be there, to feel like belonging, to share the experience with others. Sadly, I saw very few messages thanking the organisers and volunteers for their hard work and trying their best to accommodate the needs of people from all over the world, for the people who worked to have grants to participate like Gerry Orkin, or for The Actors Collective as well as Christian and Brian, who put an enormous amount of work into making the conference a reality. It was a huge effort and made with good intentions, and it was a rewarding experience for the participants. I hope we can carry what we learned from the conference into the future conferences and make them even better. And by “we” I mean all of us in the Playback Theatre community.
I also would like to clarify a couple things regarding the IPTN conferences and the selection process. IPTN does not host conferences but consults the organisers during the process. Board members volunteer to be in the consulting role, and no volunteering board member is left out. IPTN selects the conference hosts based on applications sent to IPTN. The conference is organized by the group who applies for the conference, not by the whole national Playback Theatre community. The local groups organize their cooperation themselves. IPTN offers their consultation and support during the whole organizing process.
Organizing a conference requires a joint effort from the whole community, and good will towards the ones who are working hard to make conferences happen. I hope that when the next organisers are selected, they can enjoy the support of our community. I hope that they are open to suggestions and ideas, and the community can also be constructive. We need to be critical and able to analyse the processes, but we also need to understand what kind of communication is uplifting and what is demotivating. Do our comments help the organisers to grow or do they just make them feel bad about the work they have done? Do we suggest new ways of doing or just criticise the ways it is done? It is the biggest event in the Playback Theatre world and therefore there are many expectations towards it. At the same time it is an event hosted by volunteers, not with the aim to profit but just give playbackers all over the world a chance to connect and share their ideas. It is a tricky combination. Maybe being aware of this can help us communicate also respectfully, even when we disagree with what is happening.
The board of the International Playback Theatre Network consists of volunteers who want to put their time and energy to helping the practitioners of this form connect internationally as well as practice Playback Theatre around the world. No one is paid, and the tasks in the board are handed out by volunteering for them, and each board member does them on their free time. It is not a position of power, but we are at service to the community. We hope that our work creates more chances to connect and has a good effect on the community as well as Playback Theatre. Each board creates their own way of working, has their own projects and there are challenges with continuity. With the current board, we try to help our successors with their jobs by recording our work and tasks. We also are trying to make the tasks of the regional representatives clearer, as well a clarify and update our mission to match the needs of today. I hope we succeed at least in some of our goals - with your help we just might.
I know I have received many lessons in 2019, and I hope I have learnt something that I can put to good use in 2020. I hope to remain open to people and ideas, as well as have the wisdom to see what road to follow and what advice to listen to.
I also hope that I get the chance to meet many of you next year. If you come to the EPTG gathering in Bulgaria, there is a chance.
A happy and meaningful new year to you all!