Let us Play it back !

You might have heard about Play back singer but have you heard of Playback Theater ? A theater art which requires no prior practice and preparation ! It is completely on the spot performance. On seeing the first performance as part of my first training session in play back theater, it felt stunning. How can one perform so impromptu ?!?!

So firstly, how does play back theater work ? There is a audience, a group of a minimum of 5 performers and a conductor. The audience can be children, adults, senior citizens. They have a vital role to play. They share their stories and life experiences which becomes the script for the performers. The conductor engages the audience, questions them on their life experiences or their thoughts/views on various subjects. Based on the responses of the audience the play backers perform ! Simple but a very powerful concept!


Playback has three main kinds of performances. The first one are called fluids. Fluids depicts our various emotional responses to a particular situation/subject. For instance the conductor of the performance might ask the audience about what they feel about the successfully running movie – PK or what was the most embarrassing moment of their childhood: Different people may share different responses. Based on the different responses each play-backer chooses to act out any particular response/emotion. It is a lot of fun to watch especially when it is something that you have shared.

Secondly, we have conflicts. We might face conflicts in our day to day lives. Should I get out of bed today or take the day off and enjoy some good sleep in the winter morning ? Or something on a more serious note such as choosing a particular college to study or workplace to join. To perform a conflict the conductor first asks any member of the audience to share any of their pressing conflicts in life. The actors pair themselves up and perform each part of the conflict. So one actor might perform getting out of bed as the best course of action while his/her pair would perform sleeping away on a Monday morning and thereby getting late for an important meeting at workplace.

Finally we have the story performance. A member from the audience is called to join the conductor on stage. He/she introduces oneself and shares any incident from life. This could be a happy incident or a sad one. It could have been a major turning point in their life! After sharing the incident the conductor asks the storyteller to choose the main characters from the actors. And then the performance begins! The actors know the flow of the incidents and each actor depending on the character/ object they present performs each narrated part of the incident based on his/her imagination of the same. In most of our performances the storyteller would agree that the situation looked pretty much the way we depicted.

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So coming back to the first question of how can a performance be impromptu ? It is possible. Through regular practice and training sessions the playbackers learn to think on the spot and be very creative. You could be jumping or rolling on the ground! And the audience not only enjoys a lively performance but may get to share a very suppressed emotion through their responses! So do you have a story to share which you would like us to play it back ?


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