The year that put everything in perspective

Whew. What a year it was! So many things have happened, have been put into motion, and are still ongoing. It feels almost overwhelming to write a President’s Letter now, trying to comment on what is going on in the world, how it relates to Playback Theatre, and to share IPTN news. Let’s give it a shot.

COVID-19. Our lives around the world have changed, maybe permanently to some degree. No one knows exactly what the future has in store for us. The vaccinations are spread, but timelines are unclear. The effects on the economy are still being calculated (without certainty of when it will be over!), and people have been living life from their homes. Millions have died around the world. Governments have reacted differently to the outbreak, some with success in containing while others are struggling. Borders have been closed and many have been isolated from friends and family. Sometimes the special lockdown situation has even been politically used to further the governing party’s agenda. Sometimes bad governing (not going to make examples here, these people get enough attention as is) has led to change of the people in power. And, in the face of a heartbreaking disaster, there have been some positives, too. Pollution has gone down, populations of different animal and plant species are reviving, and global warming has slowed down – a bit. However, recent statistics say this is not THE solution and it is rising again. The scientific community, and maybe the whole global community, is more interconnected than ever, trying to work for a cure together – not only in terms of the disease, but all the consequences of it. These are but a few of the phenomena that the corona outbreak has brought to our everyday lives. Life looks vastly different than it did a year ago. And maybe it will forever. The question is what we learn from these times and how we carry that into the future?

Playback Theatre is also going through transformation. There are guides to Online Playback Theatre, one by Gerry Orkin and Nir Raz, and another by Playback North America – and maybe others that I have not heard of yet!  Countless international performances have been on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Listening Hour emerged and has served as a new platform to share stories. With our duo (JFK Playback Duo), we did a streamed performance for an open audience with pre-recorded stories and live chat interviews, using movie genres and a professional camera crew to bring stories closer to the audience. New Playback forms and approaches are emerging. The podcast series from Noa Leibu with very interesting themes in Playback Theatre (check it out: //www.listennotes.com/fa/podcasts/playback-theatre-talks-noa-leibu-45SuYtBc9qk/) has become one a prominent platform to exchange thoughts about Playback Theatre.

Also, there was an online preconference for the postponed European Playback Theatre Gathering – which was great! There were even people who are not Playbackers and found it on their own! How can we apply these creative new approaches once we are performing before live audiences again? How do our explorations with the camera contribute to Playback Theatre? What does it mean in terms of Narrative Reticulation? And, how do we maintain our connectivity when we do not have to do Online Playback Theatre anymore? The Un-Conference of PNA gave also new ideas how to make a Playback Theatre conference.

Racism and structural oppression became even more apparent after a policeman killed George Floyd. Consequently, activists engaged around the world with riots and protests. Some began questioning the role of police in society. The question of allyship has also risen. How can I be a good ally to people living under oppressive conditions? What should I do? What should I not do? Is being passive and silently supporting even an option, or does that mean I choose “the other side”? A big question is also how to address people from “the other side” if we truly aim for change. How can I influence other people to see people as equal and deserving equal rights? What should I do when I hear hate speech, and how do I convince someone that what they are doing could be wrong? These are difficult questions, and sometimes actions that are clearly moral might not achieve their intended results. I have personally been challenged to become more aware of my privileges, and hopefully it will help me become more aware of how I can use my position to increase empathy and equality.  I am a white, cis straight man from a Nordic country, and arguably belong to one of the most privileged groups in the whole world. What does it mean in this regard? How can I use my privilege to help those in need? How can I disband my privilege and be a good ally? I am often still lost, but I am also privileged to have friends who point me to articles, movies, documentaries and other material (sometimes even personal answers!) that inform me about ways to become a better ally.

How can Playback Theatre be a resilient human rights ally in these unique times? What power does sharing stories, understanding and playing them back have? For whom should we give performances? What is required of a performance that has the roots of change (next EPTG theme)? I hope the conversation continues and spreads in our lively, world-wide community!

With the global roots of change spreading, IPTN is also going through changes. As you can see, we have a new website (you are here). While updating the website, we also updated our whole membership system – IPTN practitioner status is history now! The reason is simple: we are not a school that gives certificates or “statuses” but a network providing a means of connecting and networking. Therefore, in the future, we will just have members, group members, and school members. We want to renew even more! We have two new wonderful Editors for IPTN Journal, Steve and Radhika. We are looking for new regional representatives and new board members. If you are interested in joining our lively and international community in any of these roles, please apply! We are interested!

Let us stay as sane and healthy as possible under these special circumstances and help others to do so as well. Much love to you all!

Kind regards,

Jori Linnamäki
IPTN President