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About teaching Playback Theatre online

We are way past the half of 2021. When the year began, I decided to start teaching my playback theatre introductory course online and it has been a very interesting ride. I taught this course before, in presential mode while life before lockdown, and it didn’t occur to me doing it online. The awkwardness of being dispersed through different homes with a screen as our only nexus held me back. Playback Theatre is about being connected in the same space looking, talking, and listening to each other. Creating a bubble that makes us lean into our peers, building a community and safe space. My respect for the art form is such that I thought that everybody introduced to playback theatre should have the best experience, in its pure form, and I thought that doing it online didn’t meet that standard. I was wrong… kinda.

The decision to get into it didn’t come on my own. Last year, like most of the PT community, I was performing PT online and I talked about it to the improv community, especially to my friends on ISL (Improv as a Second Language). They wanted to know more about it and my initial answer was filled with sorrow. Too bad they couldn’t experience it properly! Even so, they offered me the platform to deliver a 150 minutes session. “What the hell…” I thought, and I did it. We tackled a theoretical crash course about how PT started, the ritual, the forms, etc, and we still had time to try some exercises with fluids and pairs. When it ended, they were delighted. That’s when it hit me. It worked, it was possible introducing people to PT. Of course, the outcome might be different but, overall it works.

Students discovering the possibilities of online PT

Time to plan a full introductory course! What could go wrong?? To talk about this I’ve invited an old-time friend, please give a warm welcome to…

❤️ The Impostor Syndrome ❤️

Impostor Syndrome: Thank you for having me!

Me: Well, you always show up anyway.

IS: Oh, you’re so funny! Aren’t you though? Anyway, you know why I’m here, right?

Me (trying to hide my intentions): No…

IS: You’re so cute when you try to lie to me. ❤️ Seriously though, I’ve heard you are going to facilitate a playback theatre introductory online course.

Me: Maybe…

IS: Aaaw, that’s so you! Trying to do things you’re not good enough to do.

Me: Hey! that’s rude!

IS: So, online, uh? It’s going to be available everywhere. Have you thought about that? So many experienced facilitators and trainers are going to look at your course and say “Who’s this guy?”

Me: Well, I might not have this kind of projection… but…

IS: But I mean, are you like an official and accredited by the CPT facilitator? There’s a lot of people investing much more time and money to get where you are trying to shortcut to.

Me: Excuse me? Shortcut? I have an applied theatre master’s degree. And don’t forget about my several years of experience in playback theatre practice.

IS: Well yeah, but when it comes to playback theatre, there are like top-notch and certified teachers and schools.

Me: And that’s why I’ll share the BASICS from MY experience and research.

IS: And what if you fail? Also, you are doing it in English. Are you good enough to communicate?

Me: I don’t know… maybe…

IS: Ah! You are starting to doubt and crumble. But it’s ok, I’m just trying to protect you from failure.

Me: Do you think I just have to let the idea go?

IS: Of course, one day you’ll be ready.

Me: And when that day comes, will you try to convince me otherwise?

IS: Oh, darling, you know I will.

Me: So what difference would it make if I do it now?

IS: These days are stressful enough, trust me.

Me: Why should I trust you?

IS: I told you. I’m trying to protect you because I love you.

Me: That’s not love. You are trying to stall me.

IS: To keep you safe.

Me: There’s no gain in staying safe.

IS: There’s no pain either…

Me: You know what, just…shut up. I’m doing this.

IS: Ugh! Fine! Do whatever you want. But I’m going to be in the back of your head ready to release the biggest “I told you so!” you’ve ever heard.

Me: Fine!

IS: Fine!

Me: Good!

IS: Good!

Me: Well… don’t just stay there! You can go!

IS: Gee! Ok, ok… I’m going! (IS leaves making a silent V sign pointing at its eyes as it leaves. Gesture stating “I’m watching you”)

And it left. I was free to do my will and become an online playback theatre facilitator! But I still could feel that annoying sensation every step of the way when the registrations weren’t coming, before each class, when I got stuck trying to explain something in English and the words didn’t flow, when suddenly only a couple of people showed for a deepening session… I had to struggle a lot. From every struggle comes a reward, though, beginning with the discovery of the possibilities that online playback could offer. Sometimes I had to get creative translating certain forms, sometimes I was surprised by happily accidental offers the group came up with. The insight of the newly born into playback can be amazing.

Great composition by Marie de Waal (hand), Kate Bell (face), and Vanessa Anton (heart)

I had the privilege to introduce PT to several people from different backgrounds and countries, being improv the most common ground among them. I was quite happy with their insights after every edition of the course ended. After every productive session, I felt a boost of self-worthiness. I didn’t feel like that always, though. Sometimes I had to assess the group the best I could trying to find a balance between the on-stage version of playback theatre and its online counterpart. Turns out some rather the course being focus on the latest while others wanted to know more about the real deal. So, yeah, there were times where I finished a session asking myself if I was doing something wrong.

Overall, despite the self-doubt and undermining I submitted myself into sometimes, I am happy I took the challenge and pushed through it. I’ve met lovely people on the way, I feel that I’ve grown as a facilitator, and that makes me want to try again in the future even without lockdown going on. I have to come with peace with considering myself an experienced playback theatre practitioner and facilitator. It’s not ego, it’s acknowledging the fact that I have a level of experience enough to be able to spread playback theatre whenever I have the chance. I’m ready to tackle the goddamm impostor syndrome down if it shows again.

Also, I’m up for any presential intensive in London or nearby if I have the chance. Let’s see what the next term brings.

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