Beyond Theatre

A Playback Theatre Memoir

by Jonathan Fox

Beyond Theatre tells originator Jonathan Fox ’s personal story of the background and evolution of playback theatre, with chapters about his childhood in New York City and formative experiences as a young man in Nepal and New Zealand. He describes the emergence of the playback theatre vision, and how playback grew from its beginnings with the original company to its current worldwide presence. It is a story of struggle as well as discovery—as he tried to find acceptance and support for a theatre transcending familiar categories—and ends with a tribute to stories and the people who tell them.

Jonathan Fox is the founder, with Jo Salas, of playback theatre. He is a Harvard graduate and Fulbright scholar, and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Kassel in Germany. He is the author of Acts of Service: Spontaneity, Commitment, Tradition in the Nonscripted Theatre and the co-editor of Gathering Voices: Essays on Playback Theatre.

167 pages
ISBN 978-0-9889857-5-9



1. Upbringing
2. Calling
3. Discovery
4. Psychodrama Connection
5. The Young Company
6. Performance
7. Struggles
8. Reaching for the World
9. School I
10. Workshop
11. School II
12. East, South, West
13. Handful of Cherries


Early in 1974, thirty-one years old, the director of a theatre company that performed so rarely as to be virtually unknown even in our own community, with a young family to support and no regular means of doing it, I wondered what was to become of me. I had a passion for theatre, but a decidedly strange form of it that cherished freedom from scripts, playfulness, and interaction with the audience.

Wandering aimlessly down the main street of New London, Connecticut, one day, a street crowned by a bright sky sloping steeply to the blue waters of a river, I stumbled into a coffee shop and upon the crystallizing idea I sought. In my mind’s eye I looked down at a row of actors, as if from above. They were sitting upstage, facing the audience with full attention. The audience, a small group, was in turn regarding at the actors. The light, the ambience, was warm and inviting. Between actors and audience lay a wooden stage. It was not raised. I knew that the actors were part of the same small community as the audience. They were waiting for someone to tell a story, which they would then act out on the spot.

The crux of the idea consisted of the nature of the story. It would be a personal story. Something real, not made up. The audience would be interested because the teller might well be a neighbor and the story about a subject that mattered to them, too.

In my vision there was no offstage. Every moment was always visible, as in Japanese traditional theatre. Despite the intimacy of the space, the domain of the audience was distinct from the stage. An audience member would have to come onto the edge of the stage to become the narrator.


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