The Playback Theatre Story

A group of people in a room, a hall, a theatre. They face a row of actors sitting on boxes. On one side sits a musician with an array of instruments. On the other, an emcee, who waits next to an empty chair. This is for the “teller,” who will come from the audience to tell a personal story. Then, in a ritualized process, using mime, music and spoken scenes, the players will act out the story. After one teller, another will come. In this way, the individuals in the audience will witness a theatre of their own stories.

Playback Theatre was founded in 1975 in the Mid-Hudson Valley in New York by Jonathan Fox with Jo Salas and other members of the original Playback Theatre company. Playback Theatre is used in educational, therapeutic, social change, and arts settings, either as performance, with a company of trained actors and a defined audience; or as a group event led by an individual, in which participants become actors as well as tellers for each other.  Playback Theatre companies now exist in many localities, usually calling themselves after their town, such as Melbourne Playback Theatre, or Köln Playback Theatre.

The International Playback Theatre Network was founded in 1990 to support Playback activity throughout the world. The IPTN has 100 company and 300 individual members from 50 countries. For links to many PT companies and other information about Playback, see the home page of the International Playback Theatre Network.

International Playback conferences have taken place in Sydney, Australia (1992), in a village north of Helsinki, Finland (1993), in Olympia, Washington (1995), Perth, Australia, (1997), York, England (1999) and Shizuoka, Japan (2003),  Sao Paulo, Brazil (2007). In 2011 the conference will take place in Frankfurt, Germany.

For information on training in playback theatre, click here for courses offered by the Centre for Playback Theatre and  here for links to affiliated training programs..

Books about Playback Theatre are published by Tusitala Publishing.