Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Playback Memphis

Playback Memphis is a Professional Improvisational Ensemble.

You heard me.

I'll admit that I was a little hesitant about going to see a Professional Improvisational Ensemble. It seemed a little...uh...hokey. After reading about the required audience participation element, Warren assured me that I'd be called on stage and forced to embarrass myself like I did the time I got hypnotized at the Looney Bin.

But my friend, Shannon, was insistent that we go together. (Neither of us thought our husbands or sons could be convinced to go.) After a drink at her house, we headed over to First Congo's basement. I hadn't been there since we used to hold our Roller Derby meetings there and was pleasantly surprised to see it completely transformed into a lovely, professional looking theater.

Shannon and I took our seats, chatted with some people we knew in the audience, and then waited for the show to start. There were nine performers, all dressed in black and barefoot. They started off with a routine where they each chose a pose or a motion and then told us a little about themselves. From there, Virginia Murphy, the "conductor" (and founder of the group), explained what was going to happen. She wanted audience members to share stories and so that we could then watch as 4 of the 8 performers re-enacted the story, one by one until they were all four performing together.

I was skeptical, but they were extremely successful in boiling each story down to its essence and projecting it back to us. The most amazing part were the stories from the audience members. They ranged from one woman's frustration with plastic bags at the grocery store to one woman's foray into teaching at the women's prison to another's newfound fear in her own neighborhood. It wasn't long before I was hoping Shannon wouldn't notice I had tears streaming down my face.

After a few of these performances, Virginia asked the audience to chat for a while and tell each other stories.

Then volunteers were asked to come on stage and tell longer stories for the performers to re-enact in more detail. I have to admit that this was my least favorite part of the night. I think Virginia might have been nervous--she made it hard for the story tellers to get a word in edge-wise between her non-stop questions. (I know she was trying to guide the story, but it made this part drag on a bit too long.) Regardless, the performers once again thrilled us with their interpretations. I especially enjoyed watching Joe Murphy in action. I've only seen him in his Music for Aardvarks role (which he also rocks). He brought some serious humor to the stage.

Next there were some duet improvisations based on audience input. Then the everything came full circle as all nine performers took the stage again and chose a movement and recapped a story we heard.

I have to say that I definitely left feeling like this Professional Improvisational Ensemble was really doing something powerful and important. And I wished that I would have dragged Warren and the kids along. (Don't worry, I will next time.) I can't say enough good things about Playback Memphis. I only hope that you won't just take my word for it. Go see for yourself!

Thanks to the talented Melissa Sweazy for letting me use some of her photos from the evening!

1 comment:

Shannon said...

just to clarify. i couldn't drag my hubby because i can't get him to go anywhere on a friday night. the man and the boy like their friday nights in with homemade pizza.

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