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Center for the Living Arts

(510) 595-5500


Playback Theatre

Playback Theatre Ensemble

The Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble is an interactive, improvisational theatre company that enacts personal stories. Playback Theatre is an improvisational form whereby personal stories told by audience members are transformed into theater pieces. For over 30 years, the ensemble has created performances and workshops that transform, empower, and validate the human experience. Our Playback Ensemble is one of several Playback companies worldwide, affiliated through an International Playback Theatre Association.

What is Playback Theatre?

The Living Playback Theatre is an original form of improvisational theatre in which audience members tell stories from their lives, and watch them enacted on the spot by a company of trained actors and musicians. In our playback theatre performances, a “conductor” awakens a range of perspectives and ideas from audience members. Our Ensemble then brings the audience’s stories to life in a way that is honoring, illuminating and transformative. Sometimes a story becomes myth, sometimes a realistic enactment; some stories are tragic, others are funny or illuminating. Playback Theatre affirms the importance and dignity of personal experience, enables people to view their lives in new ways, and draws people closer as they see their common humanity.

History of Playback Theatre

Playback Theatre was founded in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas in New Paltz, NY. Their initial troupe developed Playback Theatre over years of experimentation, influenced by psychodrama, a form of drama therapy, and traditional forms of oral storytelling. Although Playback Theatre often has therapeutic effect, its focus is on building community rather than healing individuals, and on empathy combined with artistry. Playback Theatre has since spread around the world, with hundreds of companies on six continents and in over 50 countries. Globally, Playback is often used to build understanding where conflict has driven people apart.

Our History

The Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble was created in 1986 under the direction of psychotherapist and drama therapist Armand Volkas. Our Ensemble, in collaboration with The Healing the Wounds of History Project, has received international acclaim for its work in bringing groups in conflict together such as Germans and Jews; Palestinians and Israelis; Japanese, Chinese and Koreans on their legacy of WWII and Armenians and Turks.