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Honoring the Homeless Through Playback Theatre

By August 12, 2019 No Comments
Playback Cafe Actors

Playback Cafe at Miracle Hill Greenville Rescue Mission

The art of storytelling is powerful. It can build bridges and tear down walls and, sometimes, it can even bring healing. This is what the Applied Theatre Centre’s Playback Café strives for through their performances at Miracle Hill’s Greenville Rescue Mission. The actors and actresses of Playback Café specialize in reenacting the hardships guests at the Mission have experienced. They listen to the real life stories of men experiencing homelessness and then act out, or “play back” their stories.

“I think one of the biggest things that we’ve heard from the homeless community is that they feel invisible,” said Playback Café facilitator, Britney Preston. “So we want to give them a chance to be visible and hopefully, by seeing their own story acted out, we can connect with them and bring them some laughter and maybe even some healing.”

Britney Preston, Playback Cafe Facilitator

Guests sometimes share stories about the death of a loved one, drug addictions and battles with depression. But verbalizing these stories is just the first step. The true healing power comes through witnessing their own stories played back to them onstage. “We’ll have people come up to us afterwards in tears and say ‘Thank you for doing this. That really touched me.’ It is such a huge honor to be a part of that,” said Britney.

Healing Works Both Ways

The audience members are not the only ones who experience healing from the performance. India, one of the actresses, has experienced a newfound sense of belonging through Playback Café. Isolated from her family, she was trapped in a life of drugs, alcohol and prostitution. After being arrested for armed robbery, followed by the death of her oldest brother, she realized she needed help. Upon her release from prison, she transitioned to a local recovery center, where Applied Theatre Centre Executive Director Dale Savidge hosts a theater class for the residents. After witnessing India’s excitement in the theater class, Dale encouraged her to become a part of Playback Café, where she could help others struggling with the same things she had struggled with.

India believes acting is helping her own recovery.

“I really enjoy acting because it’s a way that I can step out of myself,” India said before her performance at the Mission. “After everything that I’ve gone through, acting in the Playback Café is a sort of healthy coping mechanism for me.”

Building Bridges for Relationship

As India and the rest of the group acted out a childhood story from one of the Mission’s guests, they had a united cause in mind. According to Britney, it goes beyond mere therapeutic healing. Another goal of their performances is to build relationships. “Through our performance of somebody’s life experience, another resident may see that and be able to say, ‘I had that same experience. Can I talk to you about it?’ Hopefully, through that, some relationships are started.”

Although guests at the Mission have the opportunity to experience healing by seeing their stories retold in a unique way, the ultimate healing comes from God, the author of our stories and the ultimate healer. He has the power to redeem our stories of pain and hardship through his free mercy and grace.

As the chapel began to empty at the end of a Playback Cafe performance at the Mission, Britney stepped off the stage to talk with one of the guests who had presented his story. Before the man left the room, they embraced, bowed their heads, and began to pray together.

“As a Christian, you just kind of have to go, ‘God, I’m going to honor these people as best I can as I play these stories back to them,’” Britney said with a smile. “That’s always the desire in the back of my mind. I want to give them some hope.”


Post submitted by Bates Whitaker, Communications Intern at Miracle Hill Ministries. Bates can be reached at jbw.angler@gmail.com