Playback Theatre was developed by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas and other members of the original Playback Theatre company in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York in 1975. 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.

In 1990, the International Playback Theatre Network was launched to support Playback activity throughout the world. In 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. Hundreds of Playback companies perform in over 60 countries.

From The Centre for Playback Theatre advanced conducting workshop in 2011 (used with permission)

A picture of the work

Imagine your first Playback performance: perhaps in a theater, but more likely you are 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.

A few publications about Playback

  • 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.
  • International Playback Theatre Network Journal.
  • Salas, J. (1996). Improvising real life: Personal story in playback theatre. New Paltz, NY: Tusitala.

See the Centre for Playback Theatre for many more articles, videos, and upcoming training workshops.

See the International Playback Theatre network for current and past journals, and upcoming conferences.