The Birth of Red Threads of Peace
Red Threads Playback of Peace was conceived about 7 years ago from my need to practice playback. After several international playback workshops I realized, it doesn’t matter how many workshops I do, if I don’t practice I won’t learn it. My favourite playback saying is: “Playback is easy to learn, difficult to master.” After 7 years I sure can say that again!
I was, and still am, quite disconnected from the arts community in Winnipeg. Fortunately, I had worked at the Gas Station Arts Centre doing a program for high risk youth. I also had met Sue Proctor through Artists in Healthcare Manitoba. Sue pointed me towards Rose Condo and Loc Lu at MTYP and Loc connected me with Bequie Lake. Lucky lucky lucky for playback in Winnipeg…what amazingly welcoming and gifted people they are!
Our starting idea was a leadership model of training community people in Playback Theatre to use in their programs with our possible mentorship along with performances. I named us Red Threads of Peace from the many cultural myths and legends of connection between people destined to meet. It is the invisible thread of heart to heart connection. In playback, the red thread is the thread of emerging theme which runs through a performance.
We formed a working group under the wings of Nick Kowalchuk and the Gas Station Arts Centre. Our group had representation of artists, therapists, local and international social justice activists and planners. This coming together of like minds resulted in The Red Threads of Peace Playback Project. Without the unwavering leadership and support of co-founders Bequie and Loc; and the stability of Nick and the Gas Station Theatre, I doubt if Red Threads would have evolved to the extent it has.
To create a catalyst to form a Red Threads troupe we offered a training with international Playback trainer Sarah Halley funded by the Winnipeg Foundation. The training was promoted to artists, therapists and social justice activists.
Following the training we gathered every 2 or 3 or 4 weeks, depending on our availability to do playback. Bequie named these gatherings “playdates.” It reflected our sense of joy in self expression and the play-filled approach we brought to our learning the art of playback. For a couple of years our playdates had 2 to 10 people attending, until finally, Jennifer Pilgrim said, “let’s meet every week.” We did and it began to stabilize our troupe. Since then we have hosted Armand Volkas and Sheila Donio, both international trainers, as well as numerous local theatre artists to deepen our playback toolbox. Thanks again to funding from the Winnipeg Foundation.
In the beginning years, Bequie and I did all the workshops and playdates. Playback Theatre was enthusiastically embraced by Jean Tinling at Mosaic Family Resource Network where we did a series of workshops with newcomers and indigenous youth. We saw clearly the power of playback to build community. On seeing his story played back by a newcomer woman, I loved watching an exuberant indigenous youth say: “she knows exactly how I feel.”
We have continued doing workshops and performances with the generous support of grants from Winnipeg Foundation, Assiniboine Credit Union, Manitoba Community Services Council, Winnipeg Arts Council, Manitoba Government programs of LIFT and Healthy Together Now. The generous support from the Gas Station Arts Center, Manitoba Theatre for Young People and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish provided our playdate space. This funding and support gave workshops and performances to many places like Selkirk Mental Health Centre, Villa Cabrini Seniors Residence, Studio Central, Rainbow Resource Centre, Mosaic Family Resource Network, Pathways to Reconcilitation Conference, Canadian Museum for Human Rights as well as numerous peace building, human rights and education initiatives.
Red Threads has always nurtured a collaborative group-mind approach in our playdates. After seven years, our troupe rotates playdate leadership and facilitators with seasoned playback artists like Bequie Lake, Thomas Novak, Robin Shugart, Elena Anciro, Dawn Lavand, Brad Leitch, and Tanissa Martindalle. The diversity, honesty and humor our troupe brings lightness and warmth to trainings and performances. It is so gratifying to leave a workshop or performance with the audience feeling happier and more energized than when we entered.
We are very excited that filmmaker and playback artist, Brad Leitch is capturing the impact of playback on our lives and our audiences in a documentary sponsored by the Montreal International Conference Committee. A heart felt tribute to our experiences is anticipated.
Over our time together, my role has primarily been as a conductor. It fills me with peace, confidence and joy knowing I can trust our troupe to enter a story with compassion, honesty and artistic sensitivity. We may not always “get it right” however the sincerity and respect of our actors for the teller is always palpable. As an actor, we have created a space where I feel both the safety to risk and the joy of play.
I found Red Threads to have playback playmates. What I have found is acceptance, artistic and personal connection, social justice commitment and congeniality on a foundation of empathy and playfulness.
What a find!
- Dana Rungay, Founder of Red Threads of Peace Playback