Using Playback Theatre in the Frontline of Hong Kong’s Protest for Democracy by Larry Ng (Encounter Playback Theatre, Hong Kong)

“Giving space to ourselves could be something important for us to move forward.” It is the belief that motivated us, Encounter, to bring Playback Theatre to the protest site on 9th, 16th, 23rd of Oct 2014. Although the protest did not end well after nearly 80 days of struggle, it’s our honor to take our act of service to the frontline of our protest for a real democracy.

In a period of time when actions and situations are moving too fast ahead of us and when experiences are so rich, it was lucky that we grasped a short moment to create a small space to honor and treasure our personal experiences in such a critical historical conjuncture.

The phenomenon of “red thread” stood out and acquired special meanings: In the first time, the red thread of the stories was more about unexpected “connection/disconnection” (with strangers, companion, family members, etc) in this social movement, as well as a wide range of strong feelings in response to it, while in the second time, the red thread was more about “a self-questioning of one’s own position/contribution in front of certain obstacles/oppositional forces” (e.g. a stranger from another side, the government, protestors with different opinions about action, family members and colleagues against this movement outside the protest site, etc). During the third time, there were many stories about “a change from political indifference to civil engagement”, including some stories about “how I myself went through this change” and “how I tried to make someone changed”; it was more like tracing back to the beginning point, or say, the origin, to recharge the spirit, to remind/consolidate the original intention for going even further forward, although at that stage the protest got stuck in front of the government’s strong stance.

To a certain extent, it seemed that the shift of focus also reflected a change of phase in this movement of protest.

Maybe what we did cannot directly move the protest/progress forward very much, but as a social movement by a large number of spontaneous individuals with no great dependence in charismatic leader, it is still meaningful and important to open up a space to share and listen individuals’ stories and allow the tellers to watch their own story in which he/she is the protagonist and allow his/her unique contribution/experience to be seen by the audience. It is a space to honor each individual’s unique contribution/experience.

Every time when I see that there is a happy surprise on the teller’s face after they watched their own story enacted, I can feel the magic of Playback Theatre through which the teller realizes him/herself as a “protagonist” of his/her life as well as our social epic—-a fact we often overlooked or forgotten.