Playback Theatre’s History

Playback Theatre’s History

Posted by on Feb 7, 2011 in Blog | 1 comment

The first Playback Theatre company was founded in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas. Fox was a student of improvisational theatre, oral traditional storytelling, Jacob Moreno’s psychodrama method and the work of Paulo Freire. Salas was a trained musician and activist. Both had served as volunteers in developing countries: Fox as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, Salas with New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad in Malaysia.

The original Playback Theatre Company made its home in Dutchess and Ulster Counties of New York State, just north of New York City, USA. This group, while developing the basis of the Playback form, took it to schools, prisons, centers for the elderly, conferences, and festivals in an effort to encourage individuals from all walks of society to let their stories be heard. They also performed monthly for the public-at-large.

The Playback Theatre idea has inspired many people. As an immediate result of a teaching and performing tour by some of the members of the original Playback Theatre Company to Australasia in 1980, companies were founded in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth in Australia, and Wellington, New Zealand. All four companies still exist, and are now the oldest extant companies in the world.
Since that time the form has spread throughout North America and Europe, and Playback companies now exist on six continents. The International Playback Theatre Network was founded in 1990 to support Playback activity throughout the world. As of 2010, the IPTN has 100 company and 300 individual members from 40 countries.

International Playback conferences have taken place in Sydney, Australia (1992), in a village north of Helsinki, Finland (1993), Christchurch, New Zealand (1994), in Olympia, Washington USA (1995), Perth, Western Australia (1997), York, England (1999), Shizuoka, Japan (2003) and São Paulo, Brazil (2007). An international conference will take place in Frankfurt, Germany, in November 2011.

To meet the demand for training which this level of growth has created, in 1993 Jonathan Fox founded the ‘School of Playback Theatre to provide beginning, intermediate and advanced levels of training in Playback Theatre. The School was renamed the Centre for Playback Theatre in 2006, expanding its focus to worldwide development of Playback Theatre. Sarah Urech is now the executive director.

Other schools for training exist in Italy, Germany,, Japan, and São Paulo, Brazil, United Kingdom, Israel, Hungary, Hong Kong, and Sweden.

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