Play it back

When Jonathan Fox created Playback Theater, a specific variety of dramatic improvisation, more than 25 years ago, he may not have known the impact his ideas would have. He now oversees a training facility in New Paltz, New York, but Playback Theater troupes have organized all over the world. Charlottesville's resident company, founded in 1995, calls itself Kitchen Sink, and they perform once a month at the McGuffey Art Center. You can catch their show there this weekend.

“Come join us for a unique evening of theater,” says Jennifer Peart, a long-time company member. If you decide to take Jennifer up on her invitation, here’s what you may experience: “Throughout the course of the performance, a conductor acts as MC to elicit material from audience members while the actors, interweaving theatrical tools of voice, gesture, music, lights, and cloth, dramatize the feelings and stories,” she explains.

So, the ensemble members ask the audience to tell stories and then they act the stories out. That’s the premise. Using these real-life moments makes Playback Theater different from most improvisational forms though. There is, perhaps, less emphasis on humor and more emphasis on staying true to the emotional qualities of the narratives.

"In this world we don't all get to tell our stories," adds Aila Juvonen, another company member. "Some of the stories that people tell during the improvisations are amazing. In our way— through art— we feel like we are helping people connect to each other. It isn't always an evening of comedy, but watching the stories be reinterpreted through the improvisations makes more of a defined community. You leave knowing someone a little better."

This month the ensemble will explore the theme Matters of the Heart. Join them, share your tale, hear someone else’s, watch the story unfold again scene by scene. You may leave knowing yourself a little better too.


Kitchen Sink Playback Theater performs Friday, February 22, at the McGuffey Art Center, Studio 2, 201 Second St. N.W. 8pm. Doors open at 7:30pm. $5-8. 295-0625.