Kindness Is Contagious

Every once in a while, I'll see a bumper sticker that encourages us to "practice random acts of kindness." It's a simple concept with big results. Think of the last time someone was kind to you in an unexpected way. Chances are it brought a smile to your face or touched your heart.

Through Nov. 13, we all have an opportunity to remember this simple yet profound concept during World Kindness Week. At 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 13, Tucson Playback Theatre celebrates World Kindness Day by performing Stories of Kindness at Zuzi's Theatre, 738 N. Fifth Ave. All seats are $10, available at the door, Antigone Books or by calling 490-8262. Visit tucsonplaybacktheatre.org for information.

The Playback Theatre movement began in 1975 in the Hudson Valley region of New York. It's now international, with groups in locations such as Australia, Uruguay and China. On Nov. 13, more than 70 Playback Theatre companies on six continents will enact true stories of kindness in 30-plus languages. Founded by Jonathan Fox, Playback companies perform improvisational theatre.

"Playback takes people's real-life true stories and re-enacts them on the spot," says Charles Schnarr, director of Tucson Playback Theatre. Schnarr has been a member of the troupe for five years and is in his second season as director. He also sits on the board of the International Playback Theatre Network.

At a performance, "I stand in the role of conductor and ask the audience a question," he says. "Speaking from the audience, the teller shares any story from their life. Performers enact this through sound and movement."

The only things on stage are four boxes for the performers to sit on. No props are used except colorful fabric "to bring out different characterizations or images. Performers wear black pants and different colored shirts." Each performer of the 10-member troupe shares the role of musician as well. Typical instruments used at a performance are saxophone, violin, drums and vocals. Performances usually run 90 minutes or two hours and are geared for the 12-and-older crowd.

Audience members stand to tell short stories, or are invited onstage to tell a larger story. "The conductor guides them through the telling by asking questions and listening," says Schnarr. "Once a teller finishes their story, the conductor might make a summary statement and then says, 'Let's watch.' The music begins, and the actors move to one side of the stage. One at a time, performers take their places and create the first scene. ... There's no rehearsal or planning. We just see it come to life."

Tucson Playback Theatre is in its ninth season and performs twice a month from September through March. Public shows are titled "community performances," with the troupe being open to whatever stories come up. During private performances, "specific settings invite a more focused theme," says Schnarr. The group has performed at various organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Canyon Ranch and CODAC Behavioral Health. With both public and private performances, the troupe sees and hears "all kinds of stories--some down-to-earth or profound moments of life."

On World Kindness Day, "we are inviting people to look at the theme of kindness," says Schnarr. "Notice where are the moments in our lives where kindness has been a factor, along with compassion and peace building. (This is) in contrast to the negative spin on our world that's in the media."

Tucson Playback Theatre is joining with other organizations to celebrate World Kindness Day. From 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., the Ben's Bells organization will be set up in the lobby of Zuzi. Ben's Bells seeks to "inspire, educate and motivate each other to realize the impact of intentional kindness ... ." The group makes clay bells and invites the community to join in, helping to spread kindness to all. For more on their story, visit bensbells.org.

With additional organizations such as the Brewster Center setting up tables in the lobby of Zuzi, Schnarr says he is excited to have the community partners on board. "Ben's Bells remind people to remember kindness in their community and focus on that. ... Our hope is to bring collective energy together with this event."

The energy at Tucson Playback Theatre performances has generated some amazing moments, says Schnarr. "There have been some very poignant stories. ... The beauty of Playback is that it honors everyone's story and invites people to be tellers.

"We try to bring back the pursuit of our lives as story. ... We don't have the oral tradition of sitting around the fire and telling our stories. ... We hope (the audience) sees the common humanity in it, the chance to notice that's a little bit of their story.

"We forget to notice our lives are rich and full of beautiful moments that can teach us about ourselves and invite a shared experience instead of a separation. We are making contact. People get a chance to be heard and hear other people's stories. There's a sense to remember that not all news is bad. Not all moments are challenging. We have moments of joy, transformation and celebration."