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Imagine sharing a personal story of yours, then having it acted out on stage to an audience by actors.
It may seem a bit intimidating, but it could also be entertaining and therapeutic at the same time.
Improv theatre company Bonfire Theatre does this using playback theatre and traditional storytelling to celebrate real-life stories to enable the transformation of people’s attitudes towards one another.
Working with corporates, in schools and in communities, it gives people a platform to tell their stories, whether they are ordinary or bizarre.
Directed by clinical psychologist and drama therapist Heather Schiff, the company boasts a diverse group of performers made up of music therapists, drama therapists, musicians and actors trained to act out just about any emotion of a story presented to them.
The company hosts events twice a year for public participation and the show is an interactive and improvised theatre experience where audience members are invited to tell their real-life stories.
The focus is on reconciliation, breaking down racial divides, and people are able to have a healing and transforming experience.
The show starts with warm-up exercises with Schiff, who plays the conductor. Members of the audience are prepped to share their stories about.
Whoever indicates interest first is chosen.
As conductor the show, Schiff helps that person to tell the story that both reflects their truth and contributes to the theme of the session.
“There’s a special storyteller’s chair and I ask the participants specific questions so that they can bring out their story.
“The actors will then act out what they heard in a variety of interactive, improvised theatre pieces,” says Schiff.
The stories are performed using a range of theatrical techniques and this dynamic visual experience has a powerful effect on its audience towards developing understanding and mutual respect.
“It doesn’t matter what your story is about as long as it’s true. It’s to show that you are worthy and your story is worthy enough to be turned into a story.
“We’re honouring their stories. If we know each other’s stories, we won’t hate each other,” says Schiff.
The participant as well as the audience is offered visual reflection of what has been told during the performance.
This is Bonfire’s seventh anniversary and this year’s showcase is a celebration of that.
“We have had close to 1 000 stories over the past seven years. Once we had a woman from the Eastern Cape, who had moved to Cape Town, who shared that she felt she was right back in the apartheid era and felt alienated by the city.
“That night the audience members formed a line and re-welcomed her back to Cape Town. She said when that happened, that was her turning point.”
With the name Bonfire Theatre, Schiff explains: “With all technology of phones and television all around us, we’ve forgotten to just sit around a fire and share our stories.”
• Take part in the Bonfire Theatre project this Thursday and Friday at the Magnet Theatre. Tickets costs R60.