I often used to wonder what made people laugh in the re-enactments of stories in Playback. Especially when nothing directly funny was done, no gags or intended comic humour expressed, but nevertheless laughter often accompanies playback performances. (So does wonder, empathy suspense and a range of other emotions for that matter, but I am just looking at the laughter for now) I have been in Sydney Playback theatre for 22 years and I have come to realise that people gain immense joy from seeing the performers attempt the impossible.
Tellers often provide, complex and emotive experiences for the actors and musician to portray and on the face of it, the task probably seems insurmountable. How will those performers recreate that story or that moment with no rehearsal; a few bits of material; and some boxes? Then we go to work bravely confident that we have heard all that the teller has communicated, listening to each-other, accepting offers, being creative; responding and reflecting to what we heard and the enjoyment soon begins.
I don’t think people laugh because we are funny guys but because of a range of other reasons. Sometimes the portrayal is so real, people laugh at its accuracy, like a kind of catharsis; sometimes the use of a particular metaphor is both spot on and ingenious, or an actor’s embodiment of some aspect was both surprising and relevant and people laugh in amazement of it all. They laugh in recognition of similar experiences and emotions in their own life, or the occasional absurdity of the situations we sometimes find ourselves in. Sometimes the story carries its own humour. People laugh at t sheer brilliance of seeing the playbackers instantaneously create a performance from what the teller just said. After a show I often hear people say things like ‘How did they think to do that!’ or ‘Yes it really was just like that!’
People are amazed that the performers manage to put something together that is entertaining; exciting; good theatre and relevant, with no rehearsal at all. I love being involved in peoples stories and bathing in the joy of seeing them re-enacted. I love feeling the emotions that are brought up in the portrayals and I love seeing the audience come along on the ride with us. We all take a kind of time travelling roller-coaster ride back into someone else’s past experience, and to be honest it’s kind of a blast. (-Max Finlayson -Playbacker since 1988)