Guest Blogger Mimi Norwood on the Power of Playback Theatre

18 May

MimiBom dia! My name is Mikhaella Norwood and I have just recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Spanish. I have had the honor of serving as a facilitator in the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) for the entirety of my senior year: my first semester I was part of PCAP’s first workshop at Catholic Social Services for the re-entry group, re-entry meaning people who were formerly incarcerated; second semester, I lead a workshop for participants at the Forensic Psychology Center, also a new workshop. When I heard about Brazil, I was mainly excited about studying abroad for the first time as the way to close my collegiate career. Now, I am realizing that I am here to gain much more.

For my first week here in Florianópolis, Brazil, I offer this haiku:

Your story is not

the only one that matters.

Here, we become small.


Today, there was a theatre festival held at the local university (UDESC) here in Florianópolis. During the last workshop that I was involved in, we learned about a particular kind of theatre called Playback Theatre. In Playback Theatre, the facilitator acts as an interviewer to someone from the audience who will tell a short personal story. When they finish, the actors then proceed with improvisational acting to recreate the personal story. In the end, it is important that the person who has given their personal story feels respected and appreciated for their transparency.

One of the Brazilians told a heart-wrenching story: he sadly experienced his brother being killed by a stray bullet. Although the actors were nervous to replay such a personal scene, it had to be done. In the first iteration of the scene, a translation mistake was made and the wrong brother was killed. This called for the facilitator and the storyteller to ask the actors to replay the scene involving the correct individuals. At this point few things could have been more uncomfortable in that moment, but in the end we all got through it, and it proved to be my biggest learning curve in the power of theatre and humility.

This is the power that theatre can have; we went back to a moment in this boy’s life where he was quite possibly at his weakest point, and through theatre, he was able to have power over which actor would play him, and have the actors replay the scene the correct way. This process was certainly uncomfortable for me, but in seeing how therapeutic the moment was for him, I learned a lesson in humility: my discomfort did not really matter. I was glad that the facilitator did not allow us to prematurely end the scene due to our discomfort and our mistakes. We all had to dwell in the discomfort; much in the same way that that precious boy has to forever dwell in the discomfort of losing his brother. By finishing it out the way that it was supposed to be, we were able to give honor to his story and ultimately the life and loss of his brother.

Before this gentle teen courageously shared his story, unbeknownst to even myself, my thoughts about whose voice/language is important, was somewhat unjust. Since I could not understand their language, I could not understand their stories, so somehow unconsciously, that translated into me believing that they maybe did not have a story to tell. Through the experience of that workshop, my eyes have been opened to the clear truth that we all have a story to tell, and whether that story be told in Portuguese, English, or otherwise, it still matters just as much. We are not as different as we think. As Americans, we are not as big and important as we think. The world is so much bigger than just my country and my state. My language is not the only one that is spoken and my voice is not the only one to carry an important message. My story is not the only one that matters. Here, in a country outside of my own, my world, and I along with it, have become small; and that is not so bad.


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