Personal Stories in Public Spaces

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

JONATHAN FOX was artistic director of the original Playback Theatre company from its inception in 1975. From 1993 until 2010 he was director of the Centre for Playback Theatre in New York. He earned a BA from Harvard University in English, where he studied the oral tradition under Albert Lord; an MA in political science from Victoria University in New Zealand, studying under a Fulbright scholarship; and in 2008 a D. Phil. h.c. from the University of Kassel in Germany for his artistic and scholarly contribution to theatre. He is also a Trainer, Educator, and Practitioner of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. Jonathan is the author of Acts of Service: Spontaneity, Commitment, Tradition in the Nonscripted Theatre; Beyond Theatre: A Playback Theatre Memoir; and The Playback NR Workbook. He also edited The Essential Moreno: Writings on Spontaneity, Psychodrama and Group Method; and co-edited Gathering Voices: Essays on Playback Theatre. Since 1980 he has been teaching Playback Theatre in a variety of settings around the world.

JO SALAS is the cofounder of Playback Theatre and the founder of Hudson River Playback Theatre. She graduated from Victoria Uni­versity in Wellington, New Zealand with a BA in English literature, and from New York University with an MA in music therapy. Jo has taught Playback Theatre workshops in 27 countries and was a key­note speaker at the academic symposiums on Playback Theatre held at the University of Kassel, Germany, and Arizona State University.

Jo’s publications on Playback Theatre include numerous articles, contributions to anthologies, a TEDx talk “Everyone has a story,” and the books Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre, now published in ten languages and a 20th anniversary edition, and Do My Story, Sing My Song: Music Therapy and Playback Theatre with Troubled Children. She co-edited the bilingual publication Half of My Heart/La Mitad de Mi Corazón: True Stories Told by Immigrants. She has also published short stories and a novel, Dancing with Diana. A second novel, In the Shadow of the Mountain, will be published in 2023.


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