Know your nonprofits: Playback Memphis

For local nonprofit Playback Memphis, the theater is an interactive space. Their imaginative show lies at the intersection of art, community and transformation in the city, often offering teachable moments for the audience.
Bringing stories to life in a safe space to unlock healing, transformation and joy is what Playback Memphis is all about. They bring stories to the stage in nontraditional manner. Unlike your standard theatre experience, Playback is based on audience engagement coupled with improvisation by the actors. 
“Playback is an innovative and unique art form,” said Virginia Murphy, Founder and Executive Director of Playback Memphis. “Since 2009, Playback theatre has been creating space for people to experience a high level of connectivity, communication and empathy through the act of storytelling.”
Stories shared may be funny or serious, but Murphy says they always reflect the dynamic, complex and unique experience of living in Memphis and the Mid-South. And, each performance is wholly unique.
“A Playback Memphis performance is a unique collaboration—someone from the audience shares a personal story or moment and then watches as a team of professional actors and musicians bring it to life on the spot using movement, music, metaphor and spoken improvisation,” explained Murphy. “The experience is lively and nourishing, reminding us that what binds us together in our humanity is far greater than what divides us.”
In addition to their entertainment value, these performances offer teachable moments for social change. The company has several collaborations already underway. Playback offers a school-based anti-bullying program called Be the Peace!, and Memphis Matters invites the public to reflect on both what is rich and wonderful in our community, as well as what is complex and challenging. Another program seeking to create social change is Performing the Peace, which Murphy describes as a train-the-trainer model that brings police and individuals who have been incarcerated together in a safe and open setting in which the participants examine and explore the barriers and the solutions to positive community-police relations. Currently this program is being performed in collaboration with Lifeline to Success.
Murphy added, “Beyond this communal growth, individuals from both groups who complete this training have the opportunity to continue training with the Playback Memphis Professional Ensemble and become members of our Apprentice Ensemble and citizen artists in their own right.”
Playback Memphis’ newest endeavor places them in partnership with the Shelby County Universal Parenting Places, an organization where parents can receive professional counseling, information and emotional support for family-related issues or concerns.
Another noteworthy aspect of Playback Memphis is that for each public performance, the proceeds are used to bring their productions to a partnering local nonprofit organization.
“We operate on an ‘attend one and we give one’ format,” said Murphy. “Community partners are announced before each show. By attending, the public has a chance to pay it forward.”
Playback Memphis offers an average of three to five performances or workshops per month. The public performances, Memphis Matters, are held at Theatre South, located inside First Congregational Church, and Community Memphis Matters are performed at a variety of locations, based on their community partners.
Interested in supporting Playback Memphis? See a list of available volunteer opportunities at Volunteer Memphis
The next Memphis Matters performance will be held Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Theatre South at First Congregational Church.

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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