Playback Theatre is an original form of improvisational theater in which audience or group members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted on the spot. Whether in theaters, workshops, educational or clinical settings, Playback Theatre draws people closer as they see their common humanity.
Playback Theatre was founded in 1975 in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York by Jonathan Fox with Jo Salas and other members of the original Playback Theatre company. Since then, it has reached hundreds of settings and locations and is now practiced in over 60 countries. A support organization, the International Playback Theatre Network, provides connection and information for Playback practitioners on five continents.
A group of people in a room, a hall, or a theater face a row of actors sitting on boxes. On one side sits a musician with an array of instruments. On the other, an emcee, who waits next to an empty chair. This is for the “teller,” who will come from the audience to tell a personal story. Then, in a ritualized process, using mime, music and spoken scenes, the players will act out and honor each story. After one teller, another will come. In this way, the individuals in the audience will witness a theater of their own stories. Although performances often focus on a theme of interest or concern, the performers follow no narrative agenda, but bring their dramatic skills and their humanity to embodying on the stage the concerns and experiences of audience members. For performers, Playback Theatre provides an opportunity for creativity and connection by engaging in a high form of play.
Playback Theatre is used in a wide variety of settings. In addition to providing highly enjoyable theater, this approach promotes dialogue between different voices, since in the course of a Playback Theatre event many people have the opportunity to speak and see their stories embodied on the stage. The Playback Theatre process also promotes the definition of identity because the act of telling and seeing is often an integrating experience. We discover who we are by telling our stories. And as others bear witness and tell theirs in response, a deep and empathy-building conversation is created through our collective stories brought to the stage.
Centre recommended books by the Playback Theatre founders.
A link to books published about Playback Theatre.