Laughter and tears filled the W.D. Powell Theatre Thursday evening as stories of love and loss were shared by audience members and then acted out on stage.
“Playback Memphis is coming to teach us to learn to listen richly and deeply to the stories of pain and traumatic loss in the lives of real people,” said Terry Blakley, professor of social work.
The free event was a collaboration between Union University Theatre and the Department of Social Work. They brought Playback Memphis to Union after having received the Lyceum Grant.
Early in the evening, both lighthearted and deeper stories were shared by audience members who raised their hands to speak.
One woman described how she was excited to pass her Spanish test. Another spoke about how she balanced being a student, a mother and a participant in a wedding.
Actors mimed carrying heavy weights as another shouted out, “I’m superwoman.”
Players worked in unison to show the excitement of having a close circle of friends at Union and getting a letter in the mail, but also worked to show the grief of a woman whose son, her “best buddy,” died in a homicide.
During the last part of the night, Virginia Murphy, artistic and managing director of the company, invited a few people to sit in the “teller’s chair” and tell longer stories of their loved ones. Tellers then selected actors to play both themselves and their loved one.
Members of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority shared stories of their love for Olivia Greenlee, who died in February. They described how she loved to sing and make strawberry cookies, and how their sisterhood has grown closer together and supported one another through their loss.
Then the players acted out friendship, strawberry cookies and love. Tears streamed down one player’s face as she depicted a Zeta clinging close to a sister.
Treaven Mitchell, who lives near Jackson, came forward with his younger brother Gabe to describe their father Troy as someone with a wonderful laugh who spent time with his children and supported their passions. Troy died in a 2009 homicide. Mitchell also spoke of how he wished his father could meet his daughter Trinity.
The players depicted Mitchell playing skateboard with encouragement from his father, then showed father and sons going to the movies.
Later, the actor who played Troy stood in the back of the stage and looked on as another player cradled his arms as if holding a baby.
Troy was present in Trinity too, the actors said.
Afterward, Mitchell said he had never thought of his father being present in his daughter.
“I did not expect everything that I saw,” Mitchell said. “Everything they did, portraying the story, was spot on and really emotional. I feel like it actually helped with a lot of stress of daily life that I’ve been dealing with. … It just really helps the heart.”
Murphy thanked every participant for sharing their stories.
In a workshop held earlier that day, Murphy described the art of Playback Memphis. There are Playback companies in more than 60 countries, she said.
A drama therapist with more than 15 years of experience in education and counseling psychology, Murphy said she knows that seeing memories of loved ones played out on stage is restorative.
“We’re very intentional and aware that this is deep and big work,” Murphy said. “…When someone shares it is such a gift.”