Troupe lives to tell stories onstage

By Randi Eichenbaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006

It is hard to ignore hearing about the gigantic paychecks the Hollywood elite bring home for their more-than-likely mediocre films. It can make one think that the art of acting has been lost and that becoming a movie star is just a get-rich scheme. There are some still left, however, who have not lost their souls to raking in the dough and want to use their craft to touch, inspire and serve.

Playback Theatre was created approximately 30 years ago in New York as a service form of theatre. Volunteer actors, many of whom work in helping professions (like social workers) invite their audiences to share stories from their own lives, which will then be performed onstage by the actors for the rest of the audience as well as the storyteller. Playback Theatre now has troupes all over the world, including right here in Tucson.

"It is entertainment, but it is also community building," said Lynette Bullard, who has been a member of the Tucson Playback Theatre group for eight years.

Bullard says the group gets the opportunity to perform for all sorts of different venues such as teens-at-risk conferences, Planned Parenthood conventions and Canyon Ranch. It also has shows that are open to the community.

Charles Schnarr, the creative and managing director of the Tucson troupe will also act as the conductor for this weekend's show.

"My role as a conductor is to be the emcee of the performance and invite people to share stories of their lives," Schnarr said. "It's neat because you can just have a conversation with the audience."

Because nothing is prepared beforehand, Schnarr will open up with general questions for the audience to respond to.

"For a regular community performance, we might want to ask, 'what's a moment from your week?' or 'I've been thinking about this lately,' and get people's perspective on that," Schnarr said. "We are open to any kind of story, everyday experience or something more tragic. Just everyday life can be touching."

Bullard said people might not be apt to share at first, but once one person cracks, the stories just keep coming.

"You might start to think, 'are we going to get a story?' But we always get a story, always," Bullard said. "Because we all have a story. It gets us thinking, 'Oh, that happened to me.'"

Once the stories are performed onstage, the audience member is then asked to retell his or her story.

"We are not being therapists at all, but we are listening for what is important in the story," Bullard said. "(The storytellers) see things in their story that might not have been seen before."

If just thinking about having to get onstage in front of people gives you the willies, don't fret; you won't have to.

"Every now and then we get someone who thinks, 'I got to go up onstage and act out my story,' but it's not about that. People just have to share," Bullard said.

Schnarr, who started with Playback Theatre in Philadelphia, is impressed by the group in Tucson, which he has belonged to for five years.

"One thing I would say is extraordinary about our group is the level of commitment," Schnarr said.

Bullard sings the same tune about the troupe.

"We have been very fortunate to have an active and vibrant group," she said.

Come check out Tucson Playback Theatre Saturday from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at Zuzi's Theatre, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online at At 6:30 p.m., anyone is invited to make bells with Ben's Bells, a non-profit organization that promotes kindness in the community through making crafty bells. This will also be the first performance to have an American Sign Language interpreter present.