In 1975, Playback Theatre was developed by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas and other members of the original company from the mid-Hudson Valley, New York (USA). Jonathan Fox was a student of improvisational theatre, oral traditional storytelling, Moreno’s psychodrama, and the work of Paulo Freire. Jo Salas was a trained musician and activist.
Fifteen years later, many early Playback pioneers worked to launch the International Playback Theatre Network to support Playback activity throughout the world. 1993, Jonathan Fox founded the School of Playback Theatre to provide beginning, intermediate and advanced levels of training in Playback Theatre. The School was renamed the Centre for Playback Theatre in 2006, expanding its focus to worldwide training and development of Playback Theatre.
Now there are hundreds of Playback Theatre companies in over 70 countries across the globe, as well as many regional Playback networks and schools. One of the joys of being a Playback Theatre practitioner is being part of this international community, diverse in so many ways yet all sharing the “language” of Playback Theatre.
New to Playback Theatre?
Here we imagine your first Playback performance, perhaps in a theater, but more likely in a church basement, a hospice, or university training room.
Six actors listen while one of them interviews the audience members about important moments from their lives. After each 1-5 minute story, the interviewer (called the “conductor”) says, “Let’s watch!” and the actors instantly dramatize the story, using music, movement, and dialogue that embody the heart of the story just told.
By the end of the 90-minute performance, you may 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 Playback?
Here are a few important resources:
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.
- Halley, S. & Fox, J. (2007). Playback Theatre. In Holman, P., Devane, T., and Cady, S. (Eds.) The Change Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
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.