Playback Theatre was originated in New Paltz, NY in 1975 by Jonathan Fox with a group of creative citizens. The original Playback Theatre company collaborated, experimented, and grew with Jonathan’s idea for a form of theatre based on audience members’ stories. When the original company disbanded, Judy Swallow founded Community Playback Theatre (1985). Jo Salas, also of the original group, similarly founded Hudson River Playback Theatre. Both companies currently perform in the Mid-Hudson Valley.
Today Playback is being studied and practiced all over the world. There are Playback companies in at least fifty countries.
In Playback Theatre, personal life experiences, as told by audience members, are played back improvisationally on stage. It is the tradition of Playback to honor the offering of each teller by presenting their story with respect and creativity. The drama can be serious, fanciful, or comical, depending on the nature of the story being shared. For instance, Community Playback has performed stories as varied as that of a wild whitewater rafting experience, a couple purchasing their first mattress, and a man who swam a freezing river to escape from an oppressive dictatorship.
In common with dramatic forms practiced from earliest times, Playback Theatre in performance can be deeply moving and healing, evoking cathartic excitement or cleansing laughter. At the end of a show, both audience and actors have had an experience of connecting as a community.
Photo credits: Cait Brewster