Work out Your Empathy Muscles with Playback Theater

Some members of the Living Arts Playback Theater Ensemble
Some members of the Living Arts Playback Theater Ensemble

Allison (Go Girls! co-founder) is a member of the Living Arts Playback Theater Ensemble.  Playback theater is “is an improvisational form whereby personal stories told by audience members are transformed into theater pieces.”  I consider Allison and the rest of her company members to be master empathizers as they are constantly doing the hard work of listening deeply to other people’s stories and, using a variety of theater forms, telling their audiences “We hear you. We hear you so well that we even hear what you are not saying.  We hear you.  We understand you.  And we are creating this space so that you can all better understand each other.”

Building more empathetic communities is the number one strategy for eliminating societal issues such as bullying.  I define empathy as the ability to recognize, understand, and relate to the humanity in each other.  When I can truly empathize with you, I cannot possibly wish you harm.  When you truly empathize with me, you understand that, although we may not share the same histories and experiences, we share the same emotions.  We both understand fear and joy and anger and awe.  If we can connect through our emotional experience, we can wish each other well and build healthy relationships.

The good news is that empathy is a muscle that can be trained and exercised and strengthened.  Why not take a tip from the master empathizers and build your empathy muscle using some Playback Theater?

  1. For an example of Playback Theater in action, refer back to our “Throw your Mistakes in the Tower of Oops” post where we feature a video of playback in action.
  2. Allison & Tesla Face OffConnect with your daughter when you can make the time and space for deep listening and deep sharing.
  3. Ask her to share about the best thing that happened to her that day, a mistake she made or about any problem that happened.
  4. Play back her story exactly as she shared it- don’t add any solutions, advice or interpretations.
  5. Be sure to playback the feelings of her story.  Playing back the feelings is more important than playing back the exact details of the story.   If you are not sure about her feelings, ask about them before you do the playback.
  6. When acting out the story, make her laugh by taking on all the different characters in her story, using props and being dramatic.  Be authentic and play back her feelings with care.
  7. If you feel too uncomfortable acting her story out, try another art form:
    1. PLAYBACK with WATERCOLOR or any art supplies you are drawn to (pastels, sharpies, glitter, collage, metallic pens, paint or charcoal pencils
    2. PLAYBACK with MUSIC improvising a song on the spot about her story or playing your favorite instrument while speaking your interpretation of her story
    3. PLAYBACK with WRITING by putting her story into a poem or “once upon a time” story that write out after listening to her, then read back
    4. PLAYBACK with MEDIA by illustrating her story in a comic, animation or graphics using on-line software
    5. PLAYBACK with DANCE by improvising movement that honors her story- be sure to use your whole body (including face) to really show the feelings and each moment she went throughYou are showing her what a great listener you can be without judgment and teaching her that her stories are important
  8. By playing back her story, you are showing her what a great listener you can be without judgment and teaching her that her stories are important.
  9. Make sure to give her a turn to play back a story of yours!  Remember, you are both giving your empathy muscle a work out.  Before you share a story, remember:
    1. Tell a story on the same theme she’s going to share (favorite part of day, mistake you made or problem)
    2. Share something that actually happened and be open about what your feelings were
    3. Choose a story that is a good fit for her to hear developmentally and won’t be too much for her to process
    4. By sharing in this way, you are modeling how to be vulnerable and trusting her to see you as a person.  This builds empathy and trust.

This post is #14 of 25 Tips to Teach Your Daughter to Respect Herself, Command Respect, and Respect Others.  Wanna make sure you get all 25 Tips for Bullying Awareness Month?  CLICK HERE and we’ll send ‘em right to your email!

For more incredible Go Girls! resources for helping your girl stay safe, happy, and healthy in her relationships, check out Kidpower and get your copy of Starring Celia.