The PlaybackNR Workbook

Guidelines for Mastering Narrative Reticulation

by Jonathan Fox

This 16-page booklet includes Jonathan’s essay on the theory of Narrative Reticulation, a deepened understanding of Playback Theatre’s process and impact. The essay describes how a Playback Theatre event builds a network of stories, meanings, and connections; how this process benefits audiences and communities; and how practitioners can make their work more effective by understanding and mastering elements that strengthen narrative reticulation.

The workbook also includes exercises for PT companies to explore together, along with some of Jonathan’s favorite quotes from theatre and philosophy.

Please note: this essay on narrative reticulation (without the exercises and quotations) is also published in Personal Stories in Public Spaces: Essays on Playback Theatre by Its Founders

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 NonscriptedTheatre and the co-editor of Gathering Voices: Essays on Playback Theatre.

16 pages
ISBN 978-0-9889857-8-0

The PlaybackNR Workbook consists of exercises, commentary by Jonathan Fox, some of his favorite quotations, and his essay on the theory of narrative reticulation. Quoted below is the start of the essay.

Narrative Reticulation: an explanatory theory for playback theatre

The purpose of this paper is to provide a short explanation of the theory of narrative reticulation (NR). The theory is still in construction, and aspects may still be revised. In order to keep the paper brief, I will for the most part omit examples (please provide illustrations from your own experience). The theory of narrative reticulation, conceived as a comprehensive theory for playback theatre, describes the dynamic balance of four attributes–story, atmosphere, spontaneity, and guidance—allowing a flow of interconnected stories.
The word “reticulation” comes from biology and can be used to describe the veins of a leaf or the lines of the palm. In our context the name evokes the interrelationship of the personal stories told by a community group in playback theatre. Narrative reticulation constitutes a spontaneous, face-to-face mode of communication that stands in contrast to reason-based, planned approaches. It is a tool for assessing effectiveness in playback theatre work, and it may also explain a general approach to reducing social alienation in modern life. The four attributes do not exist in hierarchy, but I will begin with story.

We all know what a story is, whether it is a “true story,” a “newspaper story,” a “short story” in a magazine, a novel, or an actual lie, as in, “a likely story.” However, the kind of story we ask for in playback theatre is different from all of these everyday uses of the word. We seek a personal true experience articulated on the spot. This kind of story appears within a spectrum of conscious awareness, bounded by an obscure unknowing at one extreme (“I have no story”) and a stubborn rigidity on the other (“I need seven characters and three scenes in my story.”) We are hoping that the teller’s story will emerge from a zone of discoverable truth that lies within this spectrum.


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