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Arts in Service | Playback Theatre in Philippines

As students and aspiring artists of School of the Arts, we constantly question whether art has any greater purpose beyond aesthetics. Can art be a means of social change? Can art be used to serve the larger picture?

In June last year, as part of an overseas serve learning project, a group of theatre students along with Micheal Chang, artistic director of Tapestry Theatre (Singapore), travelled to a remote village called Tap Tap in Cebu, Philippines to conduct a 2-day playback theatre session. Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational theatre in which a group of audience share stories about their lives and watch them re-enacted by actors on the spot. The aim was to use Theatre as means to target issues on corporal punishment and other prevalent domestic issues in their community. The sessions focused specifically on teenagers and mothers.


The playback theatre actors and musician

Despite the language barrier between the locals and ourselves, we were able to overcome it using simple gestures, movements and sounds and minimize the use of English. Using theatre games, we created a safe and comfortable environment for teenagers and mothers to express themselves through theatre. With this space and opportunity given to them, they shared their personal stories and feelings towards corporal punishment. Memories and recollections of childhood experiences with corporal punishment, and for some young participants, of on-going every day abuse, were told.

Hearing these stories, the playback theatre group worked together to create images and scenes inspired by what was shared. Teenagers and mothers were moved and relieved by what they observed and upon seeing these images, they reflected on their experience and on how they want their home settings to change. Through sharing their stories, each teller gained a sense of relief having their story being heard and acknowledged. Many became emotional upon sharing their stories to us, but yet, many also shared that they felt empowered to be able to express their feelings.


A fluid sculpture – based on the experiences of a participant


An interesting observation made in the teenage group was that when asked what they felt about the punishment inflicted by their parents, no matter how harsh, they shared that they were apologetic and felt that their parents were always right in hitting. This is alarming, as this revealed that in this society, corporal punishment is perceived to be acceptable despite any circumstance. In addition to the relief achieved through sharing, Playback also has the ability to unravel and surface prevalent societal issues to be reflected on by its participants.

In the workshops, we also adopted an interventional approach where we suggested alternatives to corporal punishment through the workshops to teach parents how to deal with their children. This is not conventional in Playback but because the purpose to this workshop was also child advocacy, we felt an inclination to suggest healthy measures in dealing with children.


Some theatre games were played with the children at the start of the session to make it more comfortable for them (their features have been concealed to respect their privacy)


Being a theatre student, this experience was enlightening and gave me a fresh perspective of theatre and its purpose as an art form. Playback centralizes theatre on the audience and not the performer, which is very different from what we generally observe in commercial plays and indulgent theatre. It takes theatre to a whole different level whereby it is created to serve a community instead of mere self-gratification or for art sake. Taking this tool back to Singapore, this playback theatre group hopes to extend services to our local community. With our hectic lifestyles, perhaps such platforms are important to allow for people to share and learn from one another.



More here: https://www.facebook.com/gotongroyongsota




Text by: Tyen Fong
Edited by: Maria Chung




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