Playback Memphis’s Performing the Peace (PTP) is a 12-session workshop for Memphis Police officers and formerly incarcerated individuals who are part of the re-entry program LifeLine to Success. PTP uses playback theatre techniques to create space where participants are able to experience a high level of connectivity, communication, and empathy through the act of storytelling. Someone from the audience shares a personal story and then watches as a team of professional actors and musicians bring it to life, unlocking healing, transformation, and joy. Playback theatre is particularly effective at generating empathy between groups of people with a history of conflict and mistrust.
For the first four sessions of PTP, the police officers and ex-offenders meet separately to get to know each other and the playback method. They then come together to share their stories, and a dialogue grows across the rest of the sessions, allowing each side to see the human qualities in the other. As a result, lives are changed, friendships are forged and a community of kinship takes root.
Graduates of PTP are able to continue their connection to this community by joining the apprentice ensemble. Apprentices can go on to become paid Playback Memphis performers.
William, a LifeLine member who participated in the first PTP group several years ago, explains that he used to think he had nothing in common with police officers. After hearing some of them share stories similar to his own, he realized this was not the case. When Officer Cody honestly shared his life story with him, William was inspired and filled with respect for his new friend. Cody tells us that PTP transforms the relationships of participants, building bonds of trust and respect between them.
William shares with us how his experience with LifeLine and Playback has changed his life. He now realizes that feeling so much pain after the deaths of so many of his friends when he was younger caused him to close his heart. He stopped allowing himself to love people out of the fear of losing them. After the healing, transformative work of PTP, William now wants to be a part of people’s lives. He is working to teach playback methods to children in schools in his neighborhood and to provide other ways for them to heal after they experience violence in their lives. He is finishing an apprenticeship with Playback Memphis and is a beloved regular in the ensemble.
Our film ends with Officer Joy, another member of the first PTP group with William and Cody, summarizing what sharing stories taught them,“I think what we learned is that we’re not different. We’re all people, we’re all human, and it’s just a beautiful thing to see that.” We think it is too.