For a few weeks, Eastern Mennonite University’s playback theatre troupe envisioned their next storytelling event at the Wild Goose Festival as revolving around the festival’s theme: Blessed are the peacemakers.
Fitting, especially, for Inside Out, which hails from an institutional home with Anabaptist peace-oriented values.
Then, a quick connection with the act to follow – pastor Doug Pagitt, author of “Flipped” – resulted in a thematic “flip” of their own for this weekend’s performance in Hot Springs, North Carolina. No matter for this experienced group of actors, who rely on their quick thinking, improvisational and artistic skills, and a deep intuitive confidence in each other to spontaneously re-enact stories offered by volunteers in the audience.
Wild Goose, here we come!
A conversation in common
Always seeking new spaces and places to build community through storytelling and theater, Inside Out heads south to camp out and join the fun at the Wild Goose Festival beginning Thursday, July 9. That leaves plenty of time to catch, and enjoy, the vibe for this well-rounded group of EMU faculty, alumni, and graduate and undergraduate students.
The festival “is a place where artists, activists, thought leaders and seekers gather in both joyous and serious conversations about living into social justice,” says Inside Out co-founder Roger Foster. “We are so excited to be part of that conversation.”
Billed as a celebration of justice, spirituality, music and the arts, Wild Goose’s myriad of speakers, poets, musicians and performance artists “invite respectful – but fearless – conversation and action for the common good,” according the website.
“Wild Goose seems the perfect place to find folks who share our pursuit of community and justice,” adds co-founder Heidi Winters Vogel. “These are EMU values too!”
Connecting communities in story
Inside Out takes the stage on the last night, at 5 p.m., Saturday, July 11, in the Performance Café. The hour-long “performance” begins with fun, simple audience interactions, followed by an invitation to audience members to share a real story from their lives. The actors then provide an unscripted improvisation of the story.
“The playing back provides the storyteller a chance to witness their own story from the outside, discover new meanings and be affirmed by the community response,” says Vogel. “We are all connected, teller, performers and audience. We all witness the transformation together.”
Stories and their tellers are honored in a safe space “formed with respect and dignity,” Foster says.
In a happy coincidence, Inside Out provides what Vogel calls the “warm-up act” for Pagitt. She and her husband, David, worked with Pagitt when he was the youth pastor at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. The couple produced dramas for Wooddale’s popular weekly youth events, and also produced and directed a nationwide tour of “Living on the Edge,” a youth-oriented and youth-performed musical.
After Inside Out’s storytelling event, Pagitt takes the stage to talk about concepts from his new book, “Flipped.”
“His book challenges assumptions and knowledge of God, looking to Jesus’ teachings for what we may have missed,” Vogel said. “Before he speaks, we’ll ask the audience to share moments when we were upended, when our lives changed forever. What we share and learn together in ‘playing back’ those experiences will help us be ready to explore Doug’s message.”
Since its founding in 2011, Inside Out has worked on and off campus to promote storytelling and playback theatre as a movement toward social change and personal transformation. Actors have a range of backgrounds, from theatre arts and music to conflict transformation, and many have also been through EMU’s Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program.