Personal Stories in Public Places

Essays on Playback Theatre by its Founders

by Jonathan Fox & Jo Salas


PERSONAL STORIES IN PUBLIC SPACES gathers together, for the first time in one place, key essays, articles, talks, and reminiscences by Playback Theatre’s founders. Covering a body of work that spans almost five decades and locations from war zones to great cities, this anthology takes the reader on a journey from the earliest days of Playback Theatre to the present day, and includes several essays written specifically for this collection.

“Playback Theatre is one of the most widely used forms of applied performance throughout the world. This book from its founders is a timely reminder of Playback’s practice and theory, highlighting both its social significance as a public storytelling method and its artistic importance in advancing the aesthetics of theatre for communities. The authors draw upon a lifetime as practitioners in an enormous range of contexts to demonstrate again and again the power of the story in helping each of us to make sense of our relationship to the world.”— Tim Prentki, Emeritus Professor of Theatre for Development at the University of Winchester, UK, and co-editor of the Applied Theatre Reader (Routledge).

320 pages
ISBN 978-1-7342250-0-6

Part 1: Growing Playback Theatre
1. A Changing Landscape
Surveying the cultural context of Playback’s emergence and developments since then (Jo Salas & Jonathan Fox, 2020)
2. Culture, Community, and Playback Theatre
An early description of Playback (Jo Salas, 1981)
3. Defining Theatre for the Nonscripted Domain
An overview of Playback in relation to nonscripted theatre traditions (Jonathan Fox, 1992)
4. What is “Good” Playback Theatre?
The role of aesthetics and social interaction in performance and assessment (Jo Salas, 1999)
5. A Ritual for Our Time
Ritual as a key component of Playback Theatre (Jonathan Fox, 1999)
6. The Wider World: Playback Theatre’s Scope and Responsibility
Envisioning a broader canvas for stories (Jo Salas, 2003)

Part 2: Exploring Ideas
7. Playback Theatre, Diversity, and the Two Economies
Playback in the gift and market economies, and the clash with diversity goals (Jo Salas, 2005)
8. What We Mean by “Dialogue” in Playback Theatre
Discussion of non-cognitive dialogue and listening (Jo Salas, 2006)
9. Searching for Beyond
Playback Theatre and transpersonal consciousness (Jonathan Fox, 2009)
10. Is Playback Female?
Looking at Playback in relation to traditional gender characteristics (Jo Salas, 2010)
11. Is There More?
Questioning concepts of work and play, amateur and professional (Jo Salas, 2010)
12. The Theory of Narrative Reticulation: A Brief Description.
A comprehensive theory about the nature of Playback Theatre’s impact (Jonathan Fox, 2018)
13. Telling Stories in Public
Playback Theatre in relation to storytelling performance forms (Jo Salas, 2020)
14. Citizen Actor
The artist as citizen and the ethical role of a Playback performer (Jonathan Fox, 2020)
15. Playback Theatre for a Planetary Crisis
Practical and philosophical considerations of Playback Theatre and climate crisis (Jo Salas, 2020)
16. Unexpected Resilience of the Participant Performance Model for Playback Theatre
The growing significance and usefulness of this model (Jonathan Fox, 2020)
17. Enacting Testimony: Trauma Stories in Playback Theatre
Using Playback with individual and collective trauma (Jo Salas, 2020)
18. The Listening Hour
A new worldwide project emerging in the pandemic (Jonathan Fox, 2020)

Part 3: Stories from the Field
19. Burundi Journal
A personal account of introducing Playback Theatre in Burundi (Jonathan Fox, 2003)
20. Immigrant Stories in the Hudson Valley.
Discussion of a project that brought Playback to a marginalized community (Jo Salas, 2008)
21. Playback Theatre in Burundi: Can Theatre Transcend the Gap?
Further reflection on the Burundi project and the limitations of Playback in international peacebuilding (Jonathan Fox, 2009)
22. Stories in the Moment: Playback Theatre for Building Community and Justice
Participant performance projects with school bullying in the US and victims of war in Afghanistan (Jo Salas, 2011)
23. Stories by Firelight
Personal observation of a performance in a Palestinian village (Jo Salas, 2013)
24. Garland of Flowers
Returning to Nepal after 48 years (Jonathan Fox, 2017)
Appendix: Code of Ethics
About the Authors

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