What are the influences and origins of playback theatre?

The original Playback Theatre Company came together in 1975, with Jonathan Fox as its director. This was in upstate New York and was part of the experimental theatre explorations of the 1970s which were looking for ways of reaching out to its audience, bringing theatre closer to the everyday reality of the community, and breaking away from the scripted literary tradition of theatre.

Jonathan Fox was much affected by his experiences some years earlier in Nepal where he witnessed ritual and theatre deeply embedded into the rhythms of community life. Playback Theatre also draws inspiration from the oral tradition of storytelling, where people gather together to hear and share the old stories – the world of myths and legends and folktales.

Another important influence in the development of Playback Theatre has been the Psychodrama of J L Moreno. While there are differences in form and practice, there are many shared values in Playback Theatre and psychodrama. Moreno’s articulation of spontaneity and the release of creative energy is a major inspiration. Authenticity in the spontaneous moment underlies Playback Theatre practice.

Another shared value is in Moreno’s inclusiveness – it mattered to him that every individual could feel they had a place within the collective. Playback Theatre creates a ritual space where any story – however ordinary, extraordinary, hidden or difficult – might be told. And where each person’s uniqueness is honoured and affirmed while at the same time building and strengthening our connections to each other as a community of people.

Since 1975, Playback Theatre has spread across the world with companies and practitioners in over 26 countries. 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.

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