About Playback Theatre

Red Sage Stories (Boston)
Red Sage Stories (Boston)

Take a free, one-hour Intro to Playback class

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. 

Playback Theatre:

  • 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.

How a Playback Theatre performance works

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.

Here are a few easy online 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)
  • Join an online open rehearsal of Playback Theatre Northwest, the last Tues. of each month, 4pm ET.  Contact:  haroldplaybacktnw@gmail.com, 206-200-0185
  • Sign up for a 4-session online class in Playback basics. Contact: noa.leibu@story-lane.com


Please contact us if you know of other options we should add here. 


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


  • 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. 


Social media

about how Playback Theatre works and where it came from? Enjoy this free, 11-page booklet on “Behind the magic of Playback Theatre.”

Read the download by clicking here.

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.