Playback Theatre

    Playback Theatre was created by Jonathan Fox and the Original Playback Theatre Company in New York, in 1975.  Playback is an original form of improvisation in which audience members tell stories from their lives and watch them enacted (“played back”) on the spot.

    Whether in theatres, workshops, educational or clinical settings, playback performances help people share their common humanity, modeling a process that can transform how people relate to each other. When a story is told and then enacted spontaneously, a deep bond of understanding is established between the storyteller and the audience. The feeling often shared by audience members is that the teller’s story is their story too. When people join together in sharing their stories and watching the re-enactments, a profound shift occurs in their willingness to focus on commonalities rather than judgments of otherness.

    Playback Theatre aims to create a welcoming space where every voice and any story - however ordinary, extraordinary, hidden or difficult - might be heard and told.  It is a place where each person's uniqueness is honoured while at the same time building and strengthening our connections to each other as a community of people.

    Since 1975, Playback Theatre troupes have been created in over 20 countries around the world, encompassing many different languages, cultural contexts, and political and social dynamics.  It thrives in a variety of settings, existing as community theatre gatherings as well as a professional service to both the business and social sector.

    Visit the International Playback Theatre Network to see where Playback ensembles are serving their communities around the globe, and for articles about Playback Theatre.



Playback theatre has been remarkably successful in promoting understanding and attitudes of compassion in many challenging arenas. Performances have been used to help middle school students understand why bullying of others is not to be tolerated. Playback troupes have made a huge impact bridging cultural gaps between Palestinians and Israelis, between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, between Maoris and whites in New Zealand, and between upper castes and “untouchables” in India. The human face of suffering has been shared and more deeply understood through performances in Germany with concentration camp survivors, and in New York City with survivors of the World Trade Center attacks. In prisons throughout the world, playback has drawn out the stories of inmates, and provided major boosts in rehabilitation and forgiveness. In Botswana and other African countries, playback has been used to help people with little education understand the threat of AIDS and what they can do to avoid the epidemic.