About Playback Theatre
Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational storytelling, based on deep listening to audience members’ personal stories. It is mostly practiced by experienced, ongoing Playback troupes. Performances often involve 6+ performers– plus 6-12 volunteers from the audience who spontaneously share moments from their lives.
Developed in 1975, there are dozens of Playback companies in the U.S and Canada and hundreds in over 70 countries across the globe, offering performances in person and online. In addition to public performances, Playback Theatre is used in countless ways in schools, businesses, health care and social service institutions, government and community organizations.
- helps people understand each other across differences
- elevates the stories of people who are less often heard in society
- enables groups to better mange change
- brings people together to celebrate or mourn
- and much more.
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, the facilitator says, “Let’s watch!” and 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.
If you are drawn to study Playback Theatre seriously, and especially if you might like to form or join a performing ensemble, below are ways to get the necessary training.
Get Playback training
- Playback schools around the world: see links to 16+ Schools of Playback Theatre affiliated with the Centre for Playback Theatre.
- New York School of Playback Theatre: offers Playback training for all levels, online and in person.
- Books by the founders: Order seminal books by two of the founders of Playback Theatre, Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas.
- How-to guides: You can download guides on Playback North America’s website, including The Playback Toolkit, a detailed primer to guide you through the artistic, company, and business skills of developing a performing Playback troupe.
- The Playback Journal: Searchable archives of 30 years of articles from the International Playback Theatre Network’s journal.
Here are a few online drop-in options:
- PNA’s monthly “Intro to Playback Theatre” sessions.
- Drop-in Playback classes, Wed. eve ET and Thurs. noon ET, hosted by True Story Theater (Boston)
- “Show and Tell” play sessions, Wed. and Sun. 1pm ET, especially for age 55+. Contact FirewoodBirchbark [at] gmail [dot] com for the Zoom link
Please contact us if you know of other options we should add here.
Curious about how Playback Theatre works and where it came from? Enjoy this free, 11-page booklet on “Behind the magic of Playback Theatre.”
On this playlist you can browse brief promo videos from several Playback companies, showing how Playback Theatre works. We welcome suggestions of other clips to add to this playlist. Remember, everything you see is unplanned, including the storytellers.
For a quicker overview, see the slideshow at the bottom of this page.