By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP
When my very elderly mother-in-law died quietly in her sleep nearly six months ago, we searched for a way to honor and acknowledge her life without endangering our friends and family.
We settled on a short and simple service at a local funeral home, politely discouraging most friends from attending while planning an program in early January.
We engaged a local Playback Theatre troupe to present an online memorial performance and invited people to tell stories about Erma and her 96 years on this planet. And then we laughed, we cried, and we laughed and cried some more. With the help of the members of River Crossing Playback Theatre, we saw and heard our stories literally “played back” as we watched and listened to the complexities of one woman’s life.
Although my mother-in-law did not die as a victim of COVID-19, she certainly was affected by the pandemic, which severely limited visitors to her retirement home and prompted mandatory isolation in her little apartment while the masked dining employees delivered boxed meals to her door for many weeks.
That is just one part of my coronavirus story of the past year. It is just one of many, and I have many more to tell. So do you. And so do we all.
The fact is that stories about the pandemic and its impact have threaded a route through our hearts, minds and souls during the past year. Helping professionals of all stripes have contended with the coronavirus pandemic along with the fears, dangers, risks and struggles connected to this collective trauma – not only for their patients, clients and other people they work with, but also for themselves, their colleagues and their families.
That is why I, on behalf of my school, the Lancaster School of Psychodrama and Experiential Psychotherapies, have asked River Crossing Playback Theatre to present two online educational programs, which offer CE credits to those who want them and a performance of depth to anyone who wants healing from one of the most heart-wrenching – if not THE most heart-wrenching – eras of our collective history.
Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational storytelling that was founded in the 1970s by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas in the Hudson Valley of New York. Jonathan, a student of improvisational theater and oral traditional storytelling, took inspiration from the psychodrama of Dr. J.L. Moreno, and the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian philosopher and influencer in education, community development, community health and many other fields. Jonathan's wife Jo had roots as a musician and community activist. She has written about the origins of Playback and its forms in her book "Improvising Real Life."
Since then, it has become an important worldwide movement, with trained troupes springing up around the world. It's estimated that there are hundreds of Playback Theatre companies in more than 70 countries across the globe, as well as many regional Playback networks and schools. It's highly versatile in its approach: settings for performances can range from schools and universities to organizations and community groups. My professional association, the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama engages a Playback Theatre performance at its conference every year, always a well-attended event. It’s also common for troupes to perform for specific groups like hospice care workers, refugees and immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, among others.
Learn more about the Playback Theatre movement here.
Learn more about River Crossing Playback Theatre, based in Lancaster and York counties in Pennsylvania, here.
Learn about Joanne Walcerz, a helping professional and a member of River Crossing Playback Theatre, here.
Learn about work with the bereaved here.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is the founder of the Lancaster School of Psychodrama and Experiential Psychotherapies in Lancaster, Pa., which teaches transformational learning in a variety of experiential methods and practices, including psychodrama, sociometry, Family and Systemic Constellations, sand tray, group skills and more. Subscribe to her e-letter for professionals and get first notice of training events, Early Bird discounts, helpful links and inspiring and supportive info. You may subscribe here.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is an author, trainer and psychotherapist who promotes, practices and teaches experiential methods including psychodrama, Family and Systemic Constellations, sand tray, mindfulness and Tarot imagery.