By Terry Weber
The WordPlayers’ Playback Troupe held an event the other night. It was September 11, 2017, sixteen years after that fateful 9/11 in 2001. It was an opportunity to share stories. It was a time of actively remembering, so as to never forget. It was, at least for some of those present, a chance to heal. Stories from the audience were solicited. The actors and musicians interpreted the essence of those stories through improvisational Playback forms. It was definitely a case of “you had to be there,” but the atmosphere changed in the room. The small community there – about 40 of us – came together in a unique way through recognition, new understanding, sadness, confusion, tears, affirmation, and even a few laughs. The weight of that heavy day 16 years ago will probably never be completely lifted – nor should it be, I suppose – but after sharing the stories of others, there is a new way to move forward.
The relationship between art and the health/wholeness of the person is well known. It is even being scientifically documented through organizations like The Foundation for Art & Healing. See their introductory video here: https://artandhealing.org/can-art-be-medicine/. Edward Hirsch, a trustee of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, says, “There’s never been a culture without art. There’s never been a culture without poetry. There’s never been a culture without music. They must be delivering something to us that we really need for our psyches.”
The WordPlayers has adopted a kind of credo for our workspace. It is borrowed and slightly adapted from the one developed by Prof. Dan Buck at Lee University. It reads, in part, “We believe that glorifying God through our art requires diligent care of our bodies, minds, and souls.” The line implies that we do our best to stay healthy, but we all know that healing will sometimes be necessary. When those times are upon us, the exercise of our art can actually be the means through which we heal.
Healing is also necessary on the cultural level. We believe that our Black History play – something The WordPlayers has offered to schools, community colleges, and churches for over a decade – serves that purpose (among others). The stories of Sojourner Truth, the American Civil Rights movement, and the Underground Railroad are important to bringing reconciliation to any racial tensions still present in East Tennessee.
As a theatre artist, I do not view myself primarily as a healer. My art form has as much, if not more, to do with transcendence of self, education, deeper understanding of the human condition, revelation of Truth, and just plain entertainment. Yet, maybe that is what we need, both as performers and audience members. Perhaps all of these working together, bring about healing which will last.