What is Playback Theatre?

Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational storytelling, based on deep listening to audience members’ personal stories.  Developed in the US in 1975, there are now hundreds of Playback Theatre companies in over 70 countries across the globe.  Playback has limitless applications, including helping people understand each other across differences and elevating the stories of people who are  less often heard in society. 


From Centre for Playback Theatre advanced conducting workshop 2011

What happens in a Playback Theatre show?

Let’s say you are attending your first Playback performance.  It might be in a a theater, but more likely you are in a community setting– a church basement, a hospice, or a university training room.

Four actors and a musician listen while the show’s facilitator interviews an audience member who volunteers to share an important moment from their life related to the show’s theme. After a brief conversation,  he facilitator says, “Let’s watch!” and you are amazed as the actors instantly dramatize the story, using music, movement, and dialogue.

By the end of the 90-minute performance, you have witnessed 4-12 stories enacted,.  Chances are, you have laughed, cried, had fresh insight about your life, and experienced surprising connection among your fellow audience members. The experience of Playback has made visible the common humanity that unites everyone in the room

Want to learn more?

Here are a few important resources, available from Tusitala Publishing:

Salas, J. (1996). Improvising real life: Personal story in playback theatre. New Paltz, NY: Tusitala.

Fox, J. (2003). Acts of service: Spontaneity, commitment, tradition in the nonscripted theatre. New Paltz, NY: Tusitala.

Fox, J. (2015). Beyond theatre: A playback theatre memoir. New Paltz, NY: Tusitala.

See the New York School of Playback Theatre for upcoming classes and events.

See the Centre for Playback Theatre for  articles, videos, workshops, and links to Affiliated Schools.

See the International Playback Theatre network for journals and upcoming conferences

And please consider joining Playback North America.