"Patterns in a world in slippage": playback theatre as professional development in three primary healthcare centres in Aotearoa New Zealand

Day, Fe
Devere, Heather
Seedhouse, David
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis is an account of praxis: it examines Playback conceptually, and portrays a programme of practical work exploring the experience of workplace audiences of five Playback Theatre performances, delivered from 2002-2005. The aim of the performances was to assist multi-disciplinary teams of staff in community health centres in Auckland New Zealand to communicate and work together with more understanding of each other. The thesis describes Playback as a way not only to elicit complex narratives which allow for diverse points of view to be expressed, but also as an aesthetic reworking of these narratives using action, music, dance, gesture and speech, in ways which have been influenced by 20th century avant-garde forms such as surrealism, dada, collage, jazz and poetry. Unlike some forms of theatre, Playback calls on elements of ritual and group method, in that it relies on audience members taking an active part in the performance by contributing narratives from their own lives. The thesis interrogates the notion of audience in theatre, using the words audience, spectator, spectactor, participant, public and polis, and specifically investigates two moments of the theatre as polis, in the French and Russian revolutions, when the potential of theatre to engage with the widest cross-section of the nation led to influential experiments and innovations in theatrical practice, each of which influenced the succeeding century. Some Playback discourse and practice is found to contain simplistic, even nostalgic, concepts of personal narrative, and the potential for performers’ interpretations in Playback to reinscribe social privilege is noted. In spite of its simple structure, Playback demands extremely complex skills from all the performers, not only the facilitator. In addition, the complex setting of the practical work encompasses both local NZ health initiatives and developments in global health. The work in each Healthcare Centre is described in a complete chapter: each containing details of the Centre and the Playback, seen through the findings of the patient focus groups, through comments made in interviews by the staff and through the researcher’s observation and experience. In all three Centres, existential and emancipatory metanarratives surfaced in the performances and in interviews. Professionalism was seen as meaning different things: at Ngākau it was a measure by which people were found to be unsatisfactory; at Oranga, it referred to applying the lessons of the Playback to one’s own practice; while at Pātaka, professionalism was evident in narratives of self care, dedication and seeking clarification and support from peers. While the study revealed limitations of Playback, it also pointed to some unique contributions this form of improvisational theatre can make to a programme of staff or group development. In particular, Playback can open up spaces, people and topics, for non-dogmatic, pluralistic, embodied thinking and reflection, leading people to more nuanced understandings of themselves and each other, and can even affect attitudes and behaviours.

Narrative , Audience , Playback theatre , Staff development , Radical hermeneutics , Primary healthcare
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