The diversity of contexts and audiences

The flexibility of the Playback form permits a high degree of sensitivity to the needs of specific groups. A group in the Northern Territories of Australia performed to Aboriginal communities as part of a programme to enhance self-esteem and recovery from substance abuse. An audience of Swiss engineers and accountants shared stories through Playback Theatre about organisational re-structuring; an audience of Post Office workers in Washington DC were facing redundancy. In Sydney, Playback Theatre was part of a wedding celebration. In London, it was performed at a Remembrance Evening. In Alaska, schoolchildren used Playback Theatre to deal with their grief over the death of a fellow student. Hong Kong teenagers told stories of examination pressures.

Playback Theatre is also used in therapeutic contexts, as an additional tool for psychotherapists in their group work. In Chicago, a group of schizophrenics, outpatients at a psychiatric unit, met regularly to do Playback Theatre for each other, and told stories of coping with everyday life. In Japan, a Playback group performed for mentally handicapped people and their friends and family every month.

As well as these special contexts, Playback Theatre is performed to the general public at theatres and art centres all over the world. You could be at a performance in Tokyo, Helsinki, San Francisco, or Christchurch, suddenly moved to tell a story that you had long forgotten, but was reminded of by the previous story. It has been said that Playback is a theatre of neighbours. You may have come into the theatre as a stranger, but almost certainly by the end of the evening, you will feel a sense of aliveness and ease in talking to the people around you.

One could say that Playback Theatre is a form of healing, even sacred, theatre which creates an opportunity for the divine to enter in to an experience shared by a gathering of people. However one conceives this, it is nevertheless grounded in everyday life and stories, where the spontaneous enactment of personal experience builds connection between people by honouring the dignity, drama and universality of their stories.

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