Tag Archives: Playback Theatre

Where Have All the (Young) Men Gone?

The Challenge of Men doing Playback Theatre in North America:
A Workshop Case Study

By Chris Fitz, for the 2014 Centre for Playback Theatre Leadership Course. Quote with citation.

I didn’t know what exhausted me emotionally until that moment…I realized that the experience of being a soldier, with unlimited license for excess, excessive violence, excessive sex, was a blueprint for self-destruction. Because then I began to wake up to the idea that manhood, as passed on to me by my father, my scoutmaster, my gym instructor, my army sergeant, that vision of manhood was a blueprint for self-destruction and a lie, and that was a burden that I was no longer able to carry.

Utah Phillips, “The Violence Within” (1992)

Ned playing it back at Cafe Garth March 2014 


Where are the men?  This essay began with a practical and timely question.  The Playback Theatre company I founded in South Central Pennsylvania seven years ago is now finally thriving and growing with nine committed core members.  But apart from the musician and me, the rest were women.  Our troupe wasn’t alone in this dynamic.  Without a comprehensive survey, the majority of volunteer Playback Theatre troupes I know in North America seem to share this challenge.  Like Pete Seeger did after the US-Korean War in 1955, I find myself lamenting, “where have all the young men gone?”

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Laughing to Live: what a few comedians can teach us

Chris at Play in River Side Stories and Playback Theatre - 2013

Seriously funny? Sometimes I’m confused too. Photo credit: Remi Crist

By Chris Fitz

The recent death of one of the funniest Americans of our time, Robin Williams, spurred me to release these words into the wild.  For my capstone course in Playback Theatre this year, I confronted a Creative Project of my choosing that was supposed to be “out of my comfort zone.”

So when you enjoy improvisation, what could be possibly out of your comfort zone? How about scripted theatre?  No, better:  how about scripted comedy?  The idea hit a funny bone that jerked me into saying, “yes” before I knew what I was getting into.

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Going to Deeper Waters in 2014

For the second year, River Crossing Playback Theatre begins its season at Cafe Garth in Columbia, PA. This year though, we have a slate of public performances that touch on some key timely cultural issues.

Cintra and Colleen play a "Pair", two feelings in tension

Cintra and Colleen play a “Pair”, two feelings in tension

When i started exploring embodied improvisation seriously in 2004, it was to do exactly this–tackle the toughest questions and social strife in our world. As one of the discipline’s founders responded when i asked why we didn’t spend more energy teaching the whole world Playback Theatre, “well, yes, everyone can do Playback Theatre, but it’s hard to do well.”

I admit, in the beginning, i was impatient to tackle the toughest work. I got into interactive performing arts originally to work on “important” crises: bridging racism, transforming conflict, and healing from violence and trauma. You could call it, moth-to-flame syndrome. Or ambition. In the first story of the first Playback performance I conducted, a woman told a story about how her husband’s grandmother had been murdered and she’d found a measure of redemption in the most unlikely place–a movie theatre. While the freshly trained ensemble played it admirably, key pieces were missing, especially from my conducting. A respected performing artist in the audience, who’d experience the tragic loss of a family member, later shared with me that he was disappointed and didn’t see how such an art could hold this kind of trauma in a public space.

Ten years later, i continue to gain sobriety about the challenges we face when we apply improvisational forms to a community experiencing myriad potentially traumatic personal histories. On the other hand, i see how it works, how traumatic histories get re-written, re-arranged and re-formed into empowered stories. But whether i liked it or not, the collective training of our ensemble determined how far we could sustainably venture into such fast-moving waters.  And for much of our beginnings, River Crossing did not have a critical mass of continuous, highly trained players.  Not until recently.

Now River Crossing Playback has four conductors in six core troupe members, all with 2+ years of training. River Crossing Playback is stepping out or back into its native territory–the bridging of vital community gaps. Sure, we’ll still be funny…i hope. And sure, we will play whatever story is right for the moment. But our themes, playful in 2013, now venture into deeper–perhaps faster moving–waters.  Perhaps. Because while i still feel the gravity of these bigger issues, i’ve also been changed by the subtleties of this craft. I’ve come to realize that even seemingly benign stories about seemingly uncontroversial issues can hold a hidden potential for enlightening their teller–and the audience. Story by story, we find ourselves becoming more whole, present, alive. As a result, I’ve become more patient with our troupe’s progression toward “hard stories,” because the journey with all its “little” stories has already been profound.

So here’s our dip into the faster waters of 2014:

  • Saturday, March 15: Living Whole, Body & Soul, an exploration of our health and health care
  • Saturday, May 17: Crowds: the Ins and Outs, delving into the dynamics that allow for bullying and isolation
  • Saturday, September 20: Technology: Connected & Dis-Connected, exploring how relationships and community are affected by the online world
  • Saturday, November 15: Overstuffed, What is Enough? on drawing healthy boundaries in our culture of consumption

I hope you can join us for these performances. Lend your voice in what is becoming a community dialogue of concerned fellow river crossers–those willing to step outside their comfort-group and engage in an active telling of community in Central Pennsylvania.

The ensemble performs in “River Side Stories” on four Saturdays in 2014 at Cafe Garth, 22 South Second Street in historic Columbia, PA. A diverse Open Mic hour opens at 6 pm, and the Playback Theatre performance begins at 7 pm. $7 suggested donation at the door.

Click here for directions.


Learn more about Playback Theatre here…