Marci McPhee Visits a 2006 Ethics Center Student Fellow at the School of Playback Theatre in New York

July 2006

Marci McPhee, who coordinates the Ethics Center Student Fellowship program, visited current Fellow Will Chalmus in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he is conducting an internship with the School of Playback Theatre. Playback teaches performers to improvisationally act out scenes from an individual's or a society's past, placing emphasis on story, ritual, and community.

To her surprise, Marci was asked to tell the first story to be acted out. She told the story of seeing Playback for the first time at Brandeis, when the group acted out Brandeis International Fellow Kim Berman's story of the Art Therapy Studio in South Africa burning down with one of the co-founder inside. Kim herself was the other co-founder.

"As you can imagine, Kim's emotions were quite raw," said Marci, recalling that day. "The Playback troupe acted it out, right there in Rapaporte. It was my first exposure to the power of Playback, to see this terrible tragedy in a different light as the story took shape on the stage."

When Marci's recollection was acted out, she chose a young woman from Singapore to play herself, and she asked Will to play Kim Berman. It was a challenge for these Playback students to tell this story within a story - "Playback does Playback" - with the performance folding back on itself as Will played Kim with power and sensitivity.

"Seeing that experience re-enacted by another Playback group including a Brandeis student, with someone else playing me watching it, transformed the experience again, adding layers and layers of meaning," said Marci.

As it happened, one of the actors and the conductor who were at that initial Playback performance at Brandeis were also in the audience during Marci's visit. They were able to add their memories of that powerful experience.

Will is learning a great deal, and he finishes his work at Playback on July 28. On July 31, he leaves for the second half of his internship: at Contact Inc. in Brisbane, Australia, working on using theater for social change.