How do you get people to listen, really listen, to one another? That's a question Virginia Murphy enjoys tackling with the work of her theater company, Playback Memphis. The troupe combines improvisation, storytelling, and community dialogue to build a better Memphis.
This Saturday at 7 p.m., you can be part of the show as the group performs "An Evening of Stories About the Delights and Difficulties of Family." The program takes place at TheatreSouth, 1000 South Cooper, in the basement of First Congregational Church. Admission: $15/adults, $12/students & seniors, $5/kids 10 and under. The show is ideal for people ages 8 to 80.
The show is a fund-raiser for the troupe's trip to Washington, D.C. this fall. They are one of just six companies that have been invited to perform in the Playback Theatre Festival in October. Murphy's troupe will join 75 other Playback theatre companies from across North America.
So how does your company work? I start by telling a story, usually something that's happened in my day to start the conversation. We then give a prompt and ask people in the audience to share one of their stories. Troupe members follow that by "playing back" the story using improv and movement.
Dealing with family as a topic is interesting because we're all in different stages of life. And we don't always play well together. In families we tend to judge each other and do things that trigger behaviors in each other. So it can be rough terrain trying to understand one another. But talking about things does help. This show has has given me new awareness of my father and helped me to see him more empathetically. The show also gives voice to different issues, like what it means to deal with an aging parent, for example.
When you talk about building a better Memphis, what do you mean? It's about building the beloved community that Dr. King talked about; our work is inspired by King's vision to build a beloved community. It's about diversity and inclusivity and deeply listening to and better understanding of one another. I think Playback helps people become better listeners and broadens people's perspectives of another person's experience.
You use your troupe to work within our community. What types of groups do you work with? I've done intergenerational work at Maria Montessori, but it's also been healing for people who've dealt with crisis and trauma, so we work with the Victims to Victory program (for individuals who've lost loved ones to homicide). We've also done work with Catholic Charities and we're currently doing an anti-bullying workshop with students at Memphis KIPP Collegiate Middle School.
Your stories seem to highlight our humanity by showing the ways in which people respond to life's challenges. It draws people in by using humor, which is a great connector. But it's not afraid to go to deep places. So to me, it touches the core parts of what it is that makes us human.