• Patrick McAndrew

Playing Real Life

I recently completed an intensive week-long training with Village Playback Theatre, a well-established and reputable Playback Theatre company here in New York City.  “What is Playback Theatre?” some of you may ask.  Well, according to Jo Salas, co-creator of Playback Theatre and author of the amazing book Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre, Playback Theatre is “an original form of theatrical improvisation in which people tell real events from their lives then watch them enacted on the spot.”

Salas says that Playback Theatre is: artistic, healing, community-building, and visionary.  She states that we need stories for “emotional health” and “a sense of place in the world.”  Stories are presented in various forms and in both literal and abstract ways.  Salas quotes, “Playback Theatre’s earthy simplicity and directness make it readily accessible to almost anyone.”  It truly is a universal art form, with Playback Theatre companies located throughout the entire world.

My training experience with Village Playback Theatre was nothing short of amazing.  Randy Mulder, the artistic director of the company, led the intensive and paved the pathway for all the graduates in the program.  He hits home the four elements for a successful playback performer, those being creativity, spontaneity, presence, and compassion.  In addition to these four elements, there is heavy emphasis on liminality: a fluid and evolutionary space that we find ourselves in during transitional moments in our lives.

I knew with The Low Tech Trek I had to talk about my experience with Village Playback Theatre because of how essential these skillsets are in today’s age.  “Creativity?  Oh, why I’m creative!  Compassion?  Sure, I can be nice!”  These terms are often thrown around, but we never take the time to analyze them within ourselves.  While we consistently compare ourselves to others through the use of social media, such actions make it difficult to create our own spontaneous and creative ideas.  We are rarely present in a world where we can access Google in an instant.  Have you ever told a story to a friend to see said friend take out their phone and scroll away?

They are not fully there.  They are not fully present.  And compassion gets tossed aside increasingly often as there is more of a focus on selfish desires rather than striving towards the betterment of the world at large.

These elements of Playback Theatre are crucial in the information age.  I believe these elements are innately human skills.  But in a world in which technology is becoming more prevalent and controls more of what we do, and therefore controls our behavior, it is important to be aware of these skills that are absolutely necessary for human survival.

If you are interested in Playback Theatre, I highly recommend reading Jo Salas’ book, Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre.  And check out Village Playback Theatre!  I can guarantee you won’t regret it.  E-mail me at contact@thelowtechtrek.com if you have questions.

What are your thoughts?  Are these soft skills really necessary to focus on or is our attention better focused elsewhere?  Do we need to find a balance?  Comment below!

Your friend,


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