As part of our first birthday celebrations, we asked community members to submit a piece about Harrisonburg – it’s past, present, and future. This is part four in the series.
Heather Joffe, Inside Out Playback Theatre Troupe
“I’m feeling like it’s too much,” the woman said with a sigh. She told us she already had more than 20 students in her class for English Language Learners and would be getting three more, new immigrants, this week. “How can I help them all?” she asked. “I identified with her story,” said a younger woman who shared that she grew up in Harrisonburg after moving here from Southeast Asia as a child and was now studying at Massanutten Technical Institute and hoping to become a teacher herself. “In my country, dogs weren’t pets – they were street dogs or work dogs,” the soft-spoken poet said, before sharing a story of learning to scoop a pet’s poop with his new housemates when he moved to Harrisonburg, leaving fellow audience members gasping with laughter.
After we played back the story a man told us of when his father died, the stranger sitting next to him shared her fear that we, the actors, wouldn’t be able to capture such an important story, and her relief when we did. So, on the spot we also played back her fear and relief, using movement, sound and voice to show the audience her emotions – as we’d played back all the other stories that we heard that evening. I’m a member of the Inside Out Playback Theatre troupe. We’ve played back stories the stories of audience members of Harrisonburg high school English Language Learners from dozens of countries, Rockingham County 5th graders, Gemeinschaft residents transitioning to life outside of prison, church reading groups grappling with white privilege, and managers grappling with (and delighting in) service leadership.
For me the stories our audiences tell, like the snippets I’ve shared here, reflect the reasons I love living in Harrisonburg, a place where we’re trying to listen to each other’s stories and work on the challenges of living up to the name of our Friendly City.