What Is Playback Theatre?

You arrive. Sit down. A hush covers the audience. Actors entering ceremoniously. A musician and a conductor too. S/he welcomes you, asking a question: “How has your day been?” After a pause, you raise your hand hesitantly: “My morning started very oddly,” you begin and continue briefly explaining. Before you know it, your story is recast by the actors in quick movements, rhythmic sounds and snippets of story, creating a curiously lively sculpture of your experience. You can’t help but smile. They got it.

That’s Playback Theatre.  At least, that’s how it begins.  More people respond to the questions.  The ensemble recreates each answer in a chorus of playful bodies.  Eventually audience members tell longer, more involved stories.  As listeners, we are all part of them.  The stories speak to each other, one grieving a lost dream, another celebrating a dream.  By the end, you feel satisfied, amazed, perhaps even a little disturbed, but appreciative.  This is your community.

You can see a glimpse of one powerful story in one performance of Playback Theatre here:

Playback Theatre is an original form of improvisational theatre developed nearly 40 years ago by Jonathan Fox in New York.  In a performance, audience members tell stories and watch them played back on the spot. Playback is performed in five continents, dozens of languages and more than 70 companies just in cross North America.  In Playback Theatre stories take a new life on stage as an audience becomes connected in a community dialogue that is both uniquely personal and powerfully universal. Playback Theatre performances and workshops can be a catalyst for new personal insights and group connections in a variety of public and group venues.

Playback Theatre is not just witty entertainment and heartfelt storytelling, it’s the activation of our common empathy.  Across cultures and languages, it can bring people together – strangers, colleagues or families – like very few other forms of arts or social exchange.  What makes Playback Theatre unique:

  • It’s exciting and fun – the energy of improvisational theatre adds suspense, playfulness and surprise to gatherings;
  • It’s powerful – participants are often deeply affected watching their own stories played back  – and moved by seeing others’ stories enacted live;
  • It respects your boundaries – people share responses and tell stories only when they’re ready – and in a format which respects every story and each teller;
  • It can be a performance with a trained ensemble or a workshop with untrained participants – adults or children, whether 5 or 500 people (ideally 15-150);
  • It is a perfect launch point for more pointed group discussion of common issues or goals when coordinated with the Playback conductor and a group’s leaders and facilitators;
  • It goes beyond “issues,” disarming us from pre-conceptions we have about each other and the questions raised.

River Crossing Playback can bring this magical art form to a venue near you.  Contact Chris at (717) 382-8292 or rivercrossing@jubileearts.net.

River Crossing Playback is a company partner of the Centre for Playback Theatre.  Learn more about Playback Theatre and the training it entails, click here.

Learn more about the 70+ Playback Theatre companies in the Playback North America network.