Our History

History of Playback Theatre

Playback Theatre was founded in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas in New Paltz, New York. Their first ensemble developed Playback Theatre over years of experimentation, influenced by psychodrama and traditional forms of oral storytelling. Although Playback Theatre often has a therapeutic impact, its primary focus is on building community through personal connections.

Playback Theatre is now spread around the world, with hundreds of companies spanning six continents in over 50 countries. Globally, Playback Theatre is often utilized to build understanding and empathy where conflict has driven people apart.

History of the Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble

In 1981, director Armand Volkas first learned about the improvisational theatre form of Playback Theatre. Shortly after, Armand met founding company member Christine Kalb and together they formed a performance ensemble in 1987. The ensemble began integrating Playback Theatre skills and techniques that Armand had learned through his connection with Jonathan Fox, and also used those techniques to create original theatre pieces. 

After meeting Jonathan Fox in New York, Armand invited him to the Bay Area to train with the improv group. In 1991, Armand’s company presented its inaugural playback performance at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Jonathan and Armand co-conducted the performance.

Over the years, Jonathan and Jo Salas have come to the Bay Area numerous times to train and collaborate with the Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble, and several members of the Ensemble have trained with Jonathan and Jo in New York.

The Living Arts Playback Theatre Ensemble has also invited trainers and Playback Theatre companies from around the world, including Australia, Japan, and England to work with us. We have also collaborated with other Playback Theatre groups based in the U.S., such as True Story Theatre from Boston, to exchange and expand our performance methods and techniques.


Notable Past Performances

  • Santa Rosa Kaiser Hospital honoring first responders to Sonoma County Fires
  • Come Out to Playback Theatre: Two evenings of personal stories of the LGBTQ community during SF Pride
  • Iraq Stories, Cracking the Mask: Seeing the Soul of Arab cultures
  • Facing the Mountain: Armenians & Turks share their stories
  • Overcoming Racism: Descendants of Slaves and Slave Owners
  • Holocaust Commemorations with Jews and Germans
  • Healing the Wounds of Bullying with Playback Theatre

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