glyph 214: story, theatre, improvisation ... communication, understanding, reconciliation, empathy ... powerful way to develop relationships among people who have not known how to understand each other ... Jonathan Fox, Jo Salas


Playback Theatre

Playback builds empathy and connection between groups of people

Playback Theater is a form of improvisational theater in which the actors play back stories told by a member of the audience about events they have experienced. A "conductor" invites the storyteller to sit in a chair beside him or her at the side of the stage. Once the conductor has elicited the story from the teller, the actors immediately play back the teller's story, paying particular attention to accurately capturing the emotional impact of the events in the story.

Playback is used in performance, in community-building, in organizations and in therapy. It has been used to create reconciliation between holocaust victims and German soldiers and officials who served the Third Reich, among many other groups. Hudson River Playback Theater is currently delivering a series of Playback events in which recent immigrants from Mexico tell their stories to long-term residents of upstate New York.

Playback builds empathy and connection between groups of people. Stories can be humorous, touching, tragic. Watching one's own story or the story of your group also has the effect of putting the teller and their community into the position of an observer, seeing the experience described in their story from the third person. This distanced perspective fosters the potential for developing more flexibility in their interpretation of the event depicted.

Playback was created by Jonathan Fox and his wife, Jo Salas.

—Lara Ewing Himber

Explorers Foundation made an investment in the Centre for Playback Theatre, August 5, 2007, inspired by the wisdom of Jonathan Fox, a founder of Playback, and a participant in a small conference organized by Lara Ewing Himber, in Denver, Spring 2007. The experience of Playback may better fit people for a cosmopolitan world, a rare and precious habitat for explorers. This seems worth knowing more about. —Leif Smith, President, Explorers Foundation
entered before July 9, 2006; edited/updated December 23, 2019

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