What is Playback Theatre?

Unique in it’s style and deeply embedded in the traditional roots of storytelling in groups, Playback Theatre is community theatre at its very best aiming to enable people to recognise and make connections with other human experiences.

This is how a performance unfolds. The ‘Conductor’ engages the audience in a brief welcoming discussion and then encourages audience members (if they wish) to tell moments or stories from their lives. She extends this interactive process to include the actors and musicians, and then the story-tellers – and the audience – watch their experiences re-created instantly in front of them. Some stories lend themselves more to be played back through voice, some through movement and some through a combination of both. No two stories told will ever be the same and therefore the re-creations are all unique to each story teller. And sometimes a common thread will emerge, running through many of the stories in a performance. There is no rehearsal, no script and not a prop in sight! Just colourful pieces of cloth and various musical instruments that are used to complement the stories where appropriate.

Playback Theatre can enhance conferences, birthday parties, weddings – and even funerals where the lives of loved ones can be celebrated. All performances are packed with moments of high energy and laughter, but also with moments of gentleness and self-awareness.

The versatility of Playback Theatre has enabled Random Acts to honour the stories of Aids sufferers, to provide East End street gangs with a mode of conflict resolution and to help offenders serving life sentences to process their personal journeys. Watching their realities mirrored back live, the story-teller – and the audience – are offered the opportunity for reflection and transformation.

Playback Theatre is in essence performance theatre that brings people together to explore and discover their human commonalities. As well as providing the emotional journeys of spontaneous entertainment, it can bring the surprise of personal discovery and change. Come along to a performance, maybe sit in the story teller’s chair, and see for yourself!

Read a description of a public performance by a member of the audience here