The Ex-President’s Letter

It is over. Letting go of my role as the President would be easy, I thought. No more responsibilities to carry, no more long, unpaid hours, and a looming freedom. The moment I clicked “Leave Meeting” on zoom, I bursted out in tears, not really understanding my own emotional reaction. Tears of relief, tears of sadness of not attending the meetings and seeing my wonderful board, tears of letting go of a position where I felt like I was connected to the whole Playback Theatre community, tears of joy and – I guess, although it is hard to admit – tears of letting go of a position of power, too. Would I be remembered after I don’t have that position anymore? Would people still come to my workshops? Who am I in the Playback community if I am not the President? Am I this selfish that I have these thoughts?

I guess I was. And I guess it is alright. Letting go is a big part of life, maybe the most important skill, and I have also heard that we practice letting go all our lives until the ultimate letting go. I spent 6,5 years on the IPTN Board, from which 4 years as the President. In that position I learned about how the Playback Theatre world was structured, how different cultures and Playback cultures we have around the world, and I could travel and do Playback Theatre with hundreds of people around the world. I had huge experiences, heard stories that I never could have, and had the privilege of learning so much about the world, as well as myself. Everyone I met was a mirror if I had enough consciousness to be present and learn. I hope I did, and I hope I could be a mirror, too.

At the same gathering where I became President, EPTG in Budapest, the most important story of my life begun, too. I met my wife, and after 4 years of the most intense, fantastic journey together, including Playback Theatre, inventing our own form of duo work, our duo is becoming a trio. That made me decide that in order to be there for my child, I need to let go of my other “parental duties”, and let go of IPTN so that it can be led in a way that it deserves. I will be welcoming a wonder to the world, and my life will be changed forever in ways that are still hard for me to understand and imagine, but I am looking forward to it more than anything ever.

A friend asked me to write some “words of wisdom” in my final letter to the Playback Theatre community. What have I learned in this position which has a unique outlook on the whole community? What advice would I give to people? I gave this some thought, and I can share what I learnt and what I found important. Whether you will find it wise, that you can decide for yourself. These are the lessons I take from my journey, going through numerous gatherings and having now experienced Playback Theatre from a different perspective than before. These are not rules or guidelines to go by, just thoughts around my journey in the most international community I have ever been part of as well as Playback Theatre in general.

When you don’t know, ask. We have a tendency to interpret each other, and it of course is an essential skill in Playback Theatre. If you can remain open to the idea that there might be more to the truth of someone else than what you feel about it, you can build a more open and honest connection, and you respect the other one’s truth much more, which also helps them respect yours. Don’t assume you know how the other person thinks or is just because they are fellow playbackers.

Remember to question yourself. We have strong opinions, but that’s what they ultimately are – opinions. What works for you in your culture, does not mean a universal truth. It is nice to share, but competing about what is the best performance, the best way of doing a fluid sculpture, the best forms – it just leads nowhere and does not really help anyone. Treasure what you find works the best for you, and explore it further – and if you are enthusiastic enough, share what you learn.

Be curious. Be curious about different approaches rather than trying to decide what is the best. Explore and find out what works for you. Be also curious about yourself, and explore your life and limitations. The more you understand yourself, the better chance you have to understand the storyteller and set apart what is their story and your story.

Remember to question authorities. We have lots of teachers in Playback Theatre, and many of them have a huge amount of well-deserved respect. However, just because they think something should be done a certain way, does not mean they are always right. We are learning all together and co-creating the Playback Theatre culture as well as its future. If something “has always worked”, it does not mean there are no other ways. Reflect, respect, but also question – and find your connection to whatever you are learning. Many of my most important lessons in Playback Theatre have come through critical students that have questioned something I have done.

Respect everyone’s right to their own way of doing Playback Theatre. Elitism can be nasty, and even if people have different approaches and preferences, everyone has the right to enjoy Playback Theatre. If people are doing Playback Theatre in a way that is hurtful, of course that is something that should be discussed and addressed. But just because someone is having aesthetics that are not to your liking, it does not mean they should not do Playback Theatre. We have many reasons and many approaches to it, and as long as it is not hurtful, it has a place in the Playback World.

Be respectful to everyone’s experience and own your actions. You are not me, and I am not you. If someone is hurt because of something that does not seem like a big deal to you, it still might be that to them, and that should be respected. You don’t have to love everyone, but respect is the base of all good co-operation and communities that are healthy. If you want to “own” your actions, ask and do research, do not decide what is good for others.

Know your boundaries and be open about them.  We have different ways of being with people, touching, loving, creating connections. In an international community there is no given way of being. If you share what your boundaries are, it is easier to be respectful to them. We are all learning together, as a community, but learning can only happen when we share our truth.

These might not have been world-changing words of wisdom, but they do not need to be. They are lessons I have learnt over and over again, and many of them I still need to work on with myself. We have a unique form of sharing stories and trying to understand as well as mirror them, and we have a unique international community where this intention should not be forgotten. I hope the world will be more connected in the future and that we can do our part in bringing more understanding and hopefully love and empathy to it. I wish you all well – stay healthy and safe in these unique times!

To my successor, dear Nastia: best of luck and have an amazing journey! Be humble and learn, grow, be your wonderful self and enjoy the ride.

With much love,

The Ex-President
Jori Linnamäki


The Panda is out of the building