Better Together, Part Two: Participants’ Commentaries on a Year-Long Project

Here is Part Two of participants’ commentaries following the one-year, recently completed Better Together project. Part One was published on Playback Theatre Reflects two weeks ago. The third and final part will appear later in February.

During the project, eleven Playback practitioners from eleven countries met online twice a month for a year. Each person then wrote about what happened in this extraordinary experience, from their individual point of view. The participants’ statements and articles (including two that were co-authored) provide a fascinating composite portrait of a sustained experiment that was clearly profound for all concerned–with implications that go beyond those who were directly involved.

The writing has been lightly edited for clarity, first by Emily Conolan and then myself, preserving the voice and English usage of these diverse writers. For most, English is their second or third language. Some use American spellings, others British.

Better Together, Part Two: Participants’ Commentaries on a Year-Long Project 


Is That Still Playback? Sheila Donio 

“If this was my dream over the course of one year: Cheraé Halley

Simple Questions and Complicated Answers: Michael Cheng

My Journey with Better Together: Marat Mairovich

“Evolution” of a white playbacker – how I created separation: Ági Orbán

Contributors’ biographies

Is That Still Playback?
Sheila Donio, Brazil

Right on the orientation day of this project, while the facilitators of the process were introducing the forms we were going to use in our Playback practice, I felt the first shock of the discomfort of being part of this process. Who can determine which forms developed around the world can still fit the art form called Playback Theatre? How have the forms evolved to the online realm? Where is the line between what is still Playback and what is something else? What to do when there is no agreement about what is or is not Playback Theatre?

As the online forms were being introduced in that first meeting, we moved from original-based forms, to forms I got used to in the past couple of years, then to forms I had never heard of. It is true that my atypical brain needs a moment to adjust to improvising over a foundation that doesn’t feel strong enough to me. But in the back of my mind I heard: “Why would we do this or that form?” “Is that Playback?” Some of those forms were full of logistical details and steps. It was very hard for me to internalize any of that without time to embody and practice it. But even before trying that, I felt I needed to understand the purpose of each of the forms being chosen and presented. I did not find, nor did I create, the opportunity for such a discussion.

In the sessions that followed, every time a form I felt uncomfortable with was called, I made sure I was not onstage. After a couple of months, I learned that I was not the only one uncomfortable (as I am not the only one writing about it now). That made me feel a bit better, although the sense that I was disrupting a process well cared for and planned by others is still present and disturbing me.

But what can be considered a Playback Theatre form?

After 20 years studying Playback, I understand that part of its guidelines is to reenact something that really happened in someone’s life, which is spontaneously volunteered by them during a Playback event. The different forms are there to help structure that, while moving the arc of the event forward, in a way that people feel as safe and as comfortable to share as possible. And balancing art, ritual, and social interaction is of the essence. But do we really do that? Expanding Playback around the world, and adapting it to the online format, do we still do that? What if a form does not represent what really happened to someone, but beautifully shows a metaphor of someone’s interpretation of what that could be? What if you are asked to join this marvelous art form that brings out poetry and creativity, and it comes to a beautiful result, but does not relate to Playback as you know it? What would you do? Would you feel comfortable performing? Would you want to share a story? Would I want to share a story in such a space?

When I joined this project, I was so concerned about how to represent my country in a legitimate way, that I forgot how challenging it could and would be to do Playback Theatre with people from ten other corners of the world, who have taken different paths in their Playback journey to get here. Where can we all meet? Which Playback language can we all speak? One of the first challenges I faced was the one thing I had thought we all had in common: Playback Theatre.

“If this was my dream” over the course of one year
Cherae Halley, South Africa


Part 1: An opening statement  

I have always found a great thrill as a playback actor, performing Playback Theatre with people from different parts of the world. This is because people play differently and people have different cultural understandings and practices of theatre and performance. I particularly like the challenge it brings to the actor. This interest was initiated during my leadership training in Québec where performances were scheduled as part of our training for the surrounding communities. We came together from different countries, having only a week of training and both teams made aesthetic magic in these local performances. I have continued doing so in various ways, performing in ensembles made up of different practitioners, especially when our performance world expanded online. Therefore coming into this project, Better Together, I had no performance anxiety or feelings around difference in understanding the forms.

One of the items in our orientation session was going through the forms they ( the organising team, made up of Will Chalmus, Nina Garbuzova and Marat Mairovich), selected as forms the Better Together group will make use of for our year together. This task would prove to not be as simple as perhaps the organising team imagined it to be. There was first, the idea of a three person pair…something that I had never come across before. Then, the introduction of forms “monologue” and “if this was my dream” that were brought into the long form frame as forms that can be used in the same way scenes/stories are. And lastly, the first attempt at “if this was my dream” confused many in the room. There was clearly not enough time for us to fully grasp these forms, as a collective new to each other and still in learning.

Suddenly, there it was – the anxiety. I recall asking Marat the question “when is this form called by the conductor? What kind of story does the conductor hear when choosing to invite this form?” and I recall not being satisfied with the answer I received. So, week after week the anxiety made a special appearance. Something I had not felt before when working with an international group. Why? Recalling my reflections on these challenges in the first four sessions, I wrote the following under what I found challenging:

Remembering the different ways the forms are done on this platform.
The forms in general – I have anxiety around them.
Performing the episodes and the long stories. I am not sure why really.
I know I need to sit with these forms, I feel like because they are not forms I use every day, I hit a blank when the better together sessions happen. So I must make a reminder to myself to go over the forms each week.
The “if it was my dream” form. I am still confused by it. It isn’t any criticism, I am genuinely confused by the intention of the form and when it is best used, for what kind of story? So when it was called out – I still thought “Oh God…I’m so glad I am not one of the actors right now”. (I am) struggling to find a way to honour a story if this is called out while I am acting.

There was clearly a block for me in understanding, a gap in the learning process. And over the course of the project, I battled with this form. I rejected it. I would offer to be an actor right at the beginning of our sessions so as to never be in long form and have the conductor call out this form. I observed others reject it – asking to step down from the acting team whenever it is called out.  I recall advice from one of the group dynamic sessions to “not be concerned with always getting Playback right”. And then, just one month away from completing our project, I was an actor standing up there and the conductor called out this form. I panicked. Quickly opened the google document that listed all our forms and read through the ritual – let me at least get this ritual right, for the sake of the teller! I reflected thereafter:

What did you find challenging: If this was my dream – lol!
What are the memorable moments of today:  performing “If this was my dream” was a memorable moment for me today. It was memorable because I have been boycotting this form for almost a year now due to not fully understanding it and then I could not stand there and boycott it at that moment because I was called for duty under very limited circumstances. I had to serve.

Prior to this moment, Marat and I had an initial conversation about the forms and the sense that there is a hierarchy of forms in our Playback Theatre community. But my boycott had nothing to do with the status of forms, I was simply confused. It was because I did not know this form that I avoided it. Will C suggested I interview Marat to get some answers.

In this article, I will present some of the findings from my interview with Marat Mairovich, the person who introduced the Better Together group to this form, with the intention to provide a deeper understanding of this form called “if it was my dream”. Through highlighting some critical questions related to metaphor, ensemble and conducting, I hope to provide insight for anyone who makes use of this form.  Marat and I end up discussing education and training within the Playback Theatre space, which I have added to the conclusion of this chapter.  By doing so, I intend for this chapter to be useful to anyone working within a diverse range of playback skills as well as an international group of practitioners who may or may not have a varied understanding of theatre and performance from within their training, culture of theatre and context.

Part 2: Cheraé interviews Marat Mairovich, and talks with Sheila Donio and Poh Kiang Tan 

This section of the article will provide insights on the form “if this was my dream”, based on my interview with Marat as well as include some “Aha!” moments through conversations with Poh Kiang Tan and Sheila Donio (also part of the Better Together project). I specifically had conversations with these two members for a number of reasons. I approached Poh Kiang because I had read in one of the online guidelines that they discovered the form from Malaysian Playback Practitioner Peggy Soo (Rosin & Vogel, 2021, p.30) and Poh Kiang is from Malaysia and had called the form once as conductor in our group. I approached Sheila Donio because she had been our first teller in testing out this form during our orientation, and things had not gone as expected at that moment.

Describing the form and how I understand it operates (on Zoom)

I could not find any writing about this form other than when it was brought to the online platform. In the Storytelling on Screen written by Jordan Rosin, Heidi Winters Vogel and Sammy Lebron, as well as the guide titled Online Playback Theatre written by Gerry Orkin and Nir Raz, the name of the form differs and the ritual of the form differs somewhat. Neither speak about the company or individual who first created the form, neither speak about any clarity on what dreams mean. Between the two guides, the words that the actors say differ. Therefore the first part of this inquiry was about naming some of these details.

Cheraé: Did the form exist before Zoom? Did you know this form when it was done in a shared space, in person, and what did it look like?

Marat: The form existed much before Zoom. Igor Lyubitov, from Russia, founded the form. We spoke a lot with Igor when he taught us this form, the whole of Russia does this form as well as in Israel. Igor taught my group this form. The form is not very different when it is done on Zoom. [The actors] think about the story and they connect to the heart of the story, and to understand the heart of the story they use a metaphor. Then he or she will tell some dream. It [creates] a dreaming mood, to get a little further away from reality, but still be in connection with the story and the heart of the story. And the rest of the group is moving, listening to this dream and trying to move, not pantomime it, almost like a chorus – moving together as inspired by this dream.

Cheraé: Do the actors that are moving together, have to create a dream-like sequence or what is it that they are creating?

Marat: They are creating their reaction to the dream. They can be the dreamer himself or the atmosphere. Like if I am saying “I am the dragon flying in the sky”, they can be the dragon or the sky, but they need to synchronize and work together like in a chorus. This form is very unique, in a scene for example, we work with mixing things between reality and metaphor/dream. And we dive in and dive out, and Igor once said, he invented this form for weird stories.

Cheraé: Do you know why it is called “if this was my dream”?

Marat: “If I would dream about this story, it would be this dream”.

Cheraé: It is not necessarily, “based on the story I have just told, these are my dreams/visions of the future”?

Marat: No, if I was going to sleep, dreaming about something connected to this story, this is what it would be. [What it would] look like.

Cheraé: So it is purely about the metaphor that comes up with that story?

Marat: I understand now that dreams can sometimes be the vision.

Cheraé: Exactly, sometimes dreams can mean a vision for the future. I really want to find that clarity. Because you see, even though on the [google] document it tells us we must find a metaphor, when I played this form, I had gone into the future [based on the past experience] in other words “this is what I dream about now…”.

Marat:  I have a dream, like [Martin Luther] King’s speech…

I found it interesting, this distinction between dreaming in the sense of visualising and dreaming in the sense of putting one’s head down and dreaming of this story taking place in a different dimension or landscape. Poh Kiang’s understanding is that this form allows for something we do not yet know to be brought to life, she said “we use this form for something that I had wished but yet, I never achieved. Or something where all the facts aren’t there, I actually still don’t know, I am guessing what my future will be. But I noticed the way we do it here is different from the way we do it in Malaysia.”. Perhaps there is room here for us to consider the use of the word “dream” in this form. At some point of this inquiry, I watched the video recording found on YouTube which is linked to the Rosin and Vogel guidelines. In the example of “if this was my dream” I listened to the teller, to his story and I watched the enactment and at the end the teller said, “yes it was like I was living a dream at that moment”. So the teller interpreted what he watched as, “yes, it was like I was living a dream”.  Not necessarily the metaphor, not necessarily a vision of the future, but rather – for him, his story was like a dream come true. Perhaps there is possibility for all these meanings of the word “dream” to exist in this form…however…metaphor is crucial to this form.

Discussing the importance of metaphor (for this form)

The actors find a metaphor for the just-told narrative. This is the dream that the actor speaks. I strongly believe in the use of metaphor in Playback Theatre. Here at our affiliate school in South Africa, Drama for Life School of Playback, we have a whole section in our core training where we ask the students to respond to the stories we hear through metaphor. We include this because we know the power of metaphor and we want to provide students with thinking beyond the literal. We also know that metaphor, linked closely with myth and fairytale, is part of the echoes that exist (Salas, 2004). However, when it comes to theatre, especially for the purpose of activism and education, when using metaphor we are warned against using metaphors that are too out of reach for our audience, ones that will go over their head, for the fear that it will not be read by the audience and then no change will occur. I will unpack metaphor with Marat and why this form is dependent on metaphor.

Cheraé: So how far can the actor take the metaphor? How do we avoid the actor telling a metaphor that just doesn’t land?

Marat: First we need to teach people to listen deeply to the story.  The purpose of this, in my opinion not Igor’s, is to deal with the stories that are very painful, not social, it’s about personal trauma. When you are hurt and your soul is bleeding, you need to touch it very very gently. And in my opinion metaphor is the best way to do it. Not to go to the exact point and reframe it again. But to hold this story, to really understand, in the case of what we first experienced in our Better Together rehearsal, the story that was told was not clear for the actors and myself so one of the reasons that we failed is because we clearly did not understand what is the heart of the story. But if we do understand exactly what is the heart of the story, the metaphor will appear and it will be very gentle, touching to this story.

Cheraé: A question I am thinking of now, it’s part of my critique of the form, if four people are telling a metaphor, don’t we lose something? Because if four actors choose, one chooses the dragon…another chooses…

Marat: There is the heart for the whole story. But also we know that a story can have three sections. What was before the story (the platform); the story itself; and then the conclusion. And sometimes we can find a metaphor, or the heart for a particular part and not for the whole story, because it is very transformational. For example, someone was very depressed, and somehow because of some occasions he becomes very happy. So I can go to the depressed side and find the heart of the story in this part and present it as a metaphor, and someone else finds the heart of the story in the second part and present it as a metaphor, so we are not using the metaphor for the same part. But sometimes because the heart of the story is a way of focusing on something. So I can experience this heart of the story in a different way from you as my fellow actor. It’s not just about the metaphor, it is also the conclusion. So maybe if we touch the whole story to the heart of the story and we look at it very differently then there is never only one way to see it.

Cheraé: Yes and the ensemble must work together to bring the fullness of the story, but each on their own. Everyone is contributing one part to the fuller story. Each actor has the responsibility to bring a part of the story alive through the metaphor and if we are all going to be trying to capture the whole thing in one metaphor, it can be so far away from the story. But actually if the ensemble is working together, hearing each other’s metaphors, seeing which parts of the story has been shown and which parts of the stories, experiences still need to be highlighted through metaphor.

How do you capture the heart of the story with a dream interpretation? Because when we talk about the heart of a story, we are talking about what is underneath everything. So how do you capture that, offer that to the teller and audience but it’s in a dream interpretation? The heart in a metaphor?

Marat: So we need to trust. It’s the trust button. The first trust button is to the ensemble. Then the second is we need to trust our imagination of our audience and the teller itself. And I think that open things, not exact reframing or continuing to do the same things that happen in the story. If we do the same thing this story was told, in the same way of what happens…you cannot feel this with your imagination. You just repeat the same thing. And see the same thing on the stage. There is not so much interpretation. If it is open, I just play music for the story, and for someone to be moving, we give room for the audience and the teller to fill it with their own thing. And in my experience the perception of art is about creating something for the imagination of the viewer. We must trust the audience. And sometimes my metaphor will work in a different way.

Cheraé: Rea Dennis speaks about balancing aesthetics with accountability in a Playback Theatre performance. And she says that we must remember the enactment is a “physical and visual language” that carries the story and that we shouldn’t be re-telling the story with literal choices because a literal translation of stories could be “reductive and potentially re-violating”. I actually love what she says on how useful it is to “conceive of an aesthetic rendering of the teller’s account as a translation”. And so we are translating the narrative. So we translate the original telling we are translating it with a more “textured experience for the audience”, bringing that script to life with our aesthetic and certainly metaphor is part of our aesthetic! So I hear you, and I want to explicitly connect what you are saying with what Rea has written.

Marat: I think a little problem in our context (Better Together) is always that our translation and metaphors are landing on cultural backgrounds of people and if we have people from different cultural contexts it could be problematic because we may not be able to touch the right metaphor.

I am concluding from this part of our conversation that the actors must make careful choices with their metaphors and be very aware of one’s cultural references that may not land with everyone. I am also concluding that dreaming of the future in this form does not honour the use of metaphor. In a very basic understanding, we use the echo of metaphor to translate the original telling into something representative of the story.

Discussing when such a form is best used 

My next and (main) train of thought is the ongoing question of when such a form should be selected by the conductor. And what I discovered is crucial for those who wish to make use of such a form, that is based both on the need for a more sensitive approach to a traumatic story, as well as a need for aesthetic variation, as Marat better puts it:

Marat: I have two answers:

      1. To hold painful stories. A traumatic story. Not the trauma, but painful stories. We can hold other stories with this form.
      2. As a conductor, I can see that we repeat the way we are dealing with stories, and I want to change something in the whole sequence of this performance so I will choose something different. And this is a different form. I can choose many different forms, one for musical, one for metaphor etc. that can be considered during the conducting. So I choose it if I want to bring something fresh to the performance but not to lose the story. If the story I hear has multiple characters, I wouldn’t select this form for sure. I know I need the personal view mostly, from the teller. And stories that need a more gentle holding.

Cherae: I see what you are saying. So if this is a painful story that needs sensitivity.. Like we would do as actors, when we learn the echoes of a story, we play the myth and fairytale of the story when we don’t want to present the teller with the face of the story or the here and now. We choose those echoes. But in this way, as you describe it – the actors don’t choose the echo, it is the conductor who chooses that we are going to play this story in the echo, in the metaphor.

A final critique on the form itself 

One of my earliest and biggest critiques of this form is the fact that there is the real possibility that the teller themselves are missing in the form. If actors detail metaphors far from the initial retelling then the teller could easily disappear. After all, Sheila did voice that “it’s a great improvisational form, but it’s not my story”. Sheila continued in our conversation saying, “I was the guinea pig. It was my story that we first used with this form. And when I saw the enactment of my story, it was beautiful. I loved it. But it had nothing to do with my story. It was like their story. And when the conductor gave it back to me, I told him it looked beautiful but I don’t recognise it as my story”. This form was offered to the Better Together team as one form to be used as part of the long forms. Seated alongside scenes/stories, as an alternative to carrying a longer narrative. However, in scenes/long stories, we always cast the teller. In “if this was my dream” we do not cast the teller, so the teller is not necessarily represented in this form. This is unlike “monologues”, in which while there is distance from the teller, the last monologue must directly represent the teller. I therefore needed to ask Marat: How does “if this was my dream” honour the presence of the teller, the person who has just shared a story?

Marat: I think all the dreams must be from the teller’s view. So those stories are from the personal. Without too many other characters/people in it. So these are the kinds of stories this form touches.  So naturally, it becomes the teller’s dreams.

Cheraé: So the actors must use first person, I, me, etc?  We can paint landscapes but where is the teller in landscapes?

Marat: No, the way I teach it – I ask people/characters to find the person in the story. “If it was my dream, I would be a dragon…”, and then paint the landscape.

Cheraé: How can you avoid this not becoming a very different interpretation of somebody else’s story? I tried to keep my offering (when I performed it in one of our sessions) as close as possible to what I heard in Michael’s story. I was dreaming now as Michael, of future young boys who wish to walk on the road less traveled the same way he did. But then another actor mentioned an animal…where do we draw the line? I’ve heard you talking about it from a personal point of view, so just checking if there is anything you want to add?

Marat: If it is open enough and the interpretation is not for the actor but for the audience and teller, and when I say open I mean you are not trying to recreate the same story through the eyes of the dragon, you are working with metaphor as input to recognise the story, to understand the story. So it is open, but moving in a specific way. It should be open enough to give an opportunity for the teller to make the interpretation.

Part 3: Concluding remarks 

I wish to conclude this chapter by touching on the topic of what it means to be concerned with getting this form “right.” I also wish to end the chapter with a brief discussion on the importance of providing adequate time for training, as well as discussing the hierarchy of forms. In our very first group dynamics session, just four months into the Better Together project, we were asked by those leading the session to respond to a few questions in order for them to prepare adequately. I had provided the following response under the question “Is there anything else you would like to add?”:

I still have some anxiety around the forms. I realized looking at my reflections that each month I had named the forms as my biggest challenges – except for the last month when the conductor was very clear that they will be using only forms I was familiar with. In a way, we didn’t give ourselves enough time to understand new forms that had been introduced to us (eg. Monologues, if it was my dream, 3 people pairs) and I arrive with that anxiety every session. While I read up on them to prepare myself, it’s easier when the learning has happened in the body. So either time is put aside for us to do so or an acknowledgement to not use these forms is made, that’s the only way I think my anxiety will be released.

The leaders of the group dynamics session ran a fishbowl and placed myself in one with two other members of the group. I recall the discussion to be an honest and authentic one, and I also recall the words “let us not be concerned with getting Playback right”. However, it was not so much about getting this form right, but rather serving my group adequately. For these first four months I had flagged over and over again my confusion, my anxiety and my desire for another opportunity to understand the forms. But at what point would the organising team say “let us stop and re-evaluate how we can make people feel like they can contribute effectively in the group?”. In this project, it never happened. I knew that these forms can work. However, when you are in a place of not knowing, I believe that emphasis needs to be put on the learning. But in the Better Together space we never gave each other enough time to learn the forms. I invited Marat to think around – what does he think was needed for the Better Together group to really grasp this form?

Marat: Time. But I do believe it’s still connected somehow to my not good enough explanation as well as the dynamic. I think our group rejected it on the grounds of “why do you use this form that nobody knows, why did you (the organizing team) put it on our shoulders? We are nervous enough, because it’s a new process and now you are putting this form on us to carry also”. And perhaps my persona as a white, straight, male. I am writing about this in my own article. And if Nina (she knows this form too) if she taught the form perhaps something would have been different somehow.

Cheraé: Do you think if there was just another moment, if we gave it another chance do you think people would have opened up?

Marat: Sure. Like you did.

And while I never really opened up to the form, I made it my main priority to set up an inquiry now that the project has ended. In sharing my discoveries with Sheila, she was extremely surprised, her words were “I am a teacher. I just understood this form now for the first time…it’s amazing, a form where you listen to three different metaphors in a story…It’s like witnessing three different narrative V’s.”. My only wish is that we all could have had such a revelation. It was not about getting it right either, we always run the risk of shooting for the moon and missing it completely when we step into the shoes of the Playback Theatre actor. As Marat says:

Marat: I want to say this, this is important – just to say this thing of four actors and four dreams…three of them can match and one of them can be missed. And this is also okay. All of us, we’re shooting in the same place and this is also okay. If someone missed it, it’s okay.

Cheraé: Aren’t we doing that all the time? As Playback Theatre actors? In all of the forms, we are taking the risk that someone will miss something.

Marat: And if just one dream can catch the teller’s heart of the story, it’s enough.

Cheraé: I think there is real room here for the ensemble to understand that they have to work together. That each dream isn’t an individual moment, yes it is, but they need to be hearing each other – if the previous metaphor is too far, if the previous metaphor didn’t begin at the personal, they need to be asking themselves; what is missing and what really needs to be said in order to honour the story?

In thinking about status and hierarchy, one final point I wish to make around accepting and rejecting Playback Theatre forms as they develop across the globe, is that we are artists, creatives and we know the role our methodology plays in society. As we engage in the diverse ways in which we perform narratives, let us give each other the time to understand, to develop and to critique, in the best way possible. Let us give each other the opportunities to practice from an informed position, so as to grow better, together (cheesy, I know).  I asked Marat whether he thinks people can say “this is not playback”, specifically connected to this form, and here’s what he had to say:

Marat: There are a few stones that we need to remember. Listen to the story with empathy, don’t invent something that was not in the story…the foundations…but everything else goes. In my opinion. Our founders Jonathan and Jo have once said, in a beautiful way, “take it, this is not ours, this is yours, develop it, but remember there are stones (foundations) in a way”. Remember: every story must be heard, think about how we include and build connection with outsiders. Do it with empathy and think about three things (aesthetic, social dimension, rituals) so these three dimensions are very important. If one is better than the other, then one will disappear in some way and then we have a problem. Because now it’s no longer Playback. Improv for example, sometimes they use a story from the crowd but take it over, they don’t think about the social dimensions or they are not thinking about the story itself. It’s just “let me be creative and do things far far away”. This is not our practice, we need boundaries. Sometimes people who did a lot of Playback in their lives, sometimes we know what is right and wrong, we know what is Playback but sometimes new things can be surprising and for those surprises, I personally try to take the time to see if it really does fit the Playback structure or if it’s just new for me and because I am not used to this kind of Playback.

At the end of this inquiry, I felt sad. Sad that we did not explore the form further. Just imagine if we gave each other just another moment in our journey, to re-address “if it was my dream” and “monologues”. We could have understood the form better, the history of it as well as the developments of it, as well as how it fits into these three circles. But the sadness is what led me to put pen to paper and produce this reflection. It doesn’t matter whether this form fits into the traditional model that we know, it doesn’t matter where anyone has been trained or by whom – it doesn’t matter – if we just give each other the space to explore it.


Rosin, J, Vogel, H & Lebron, S.  2021. Storytelling on Screen: An Online Playback Theatre Archive and Guidebook. Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts in association with Virginia Tech Publishing.

Orkin, G & Raz, N. 2020. Online Playback Theatre. V1.05.

Dennis, R. 2008. Refugee performance: aesthetic representation and accountability in playback theatre IN Research in Drama Education, Vol.13. No. 2, P. 211-215

Salas, J. 2014. Echoes in Playback Theatre Stories. Notes from Leadership in Québec, Canada.


Simple Questions and Complicated Answers
Michael Cheng, Singapore


What can I write about? What are people interested to know about this year-long journey of ours? What discoveries did I make that might be of interest to others? What am I able to articulate clearly?

“Answers are meaningless if we do not have the right questions.”

I don’t remember where I read this. Maybe it was a line in a play or a television drama. But it has been resonating with me for a long time. In my practice, it translates as trying to pose the right questions, and hopefully also inspiring students to ask the right ones too.

In my journey, questions have always guided my path. They are like lamp posts providing illumination. Sometimes, they make clear the right path to take. Many times, they reveal a different route for me to tread.

So perhaps an article of questions would be more interesting? Perhaps different answers may arise for us in response? I would love to hear from you if you have more questions and thoughts after reading this article.

I began writing this the night after I played a song for our group warm-up. The song is called Saudade, Saudade by MARO, a Portuguese singer.

“Saudade”, as I understood it, has no direct translation to English. It is a feeling with qualities of nostalgia, melancholy, and an enigmatic yearning. The song sets the mood nicely as this article takes form at the end of our Better Together journey.

As we embark on this article, looking for the right lamp posts, perhaps you can search for this song on YouTube, and play it. Let’s listen, walk, and find the questions that matter.


About the forms…

What are the most suitable forms for a group of people with a vast diversity in cultures, Playback traditions, and levels of experience?

How important is it for a group to focus, or not focus, on the forms?

Would that change how we listen to the stories?

Would that change how we are with one another?

What if we build our repertoire of forms together?

How does that impact group building?

Will we have enough time to do all the other important things?

Should we take the time?

What if we let go of “the right forms”?

Do short forms still matter if we are warmed up?

Or are there other aspects of warming up that we may neglect?

Are long forms that do not work with narratives still considered Playback forms?

About conducting…

How much does this project need us to know about conducting, before conducting?

How do we feel when a short form is called after a long dialogue between the teller and the conductor?

How do we feel when the conductor is letting the teller say too much?

Is it just me that feels like online interviews feel even longer than in person?

Is it just me that feels my attention slipping away in moments?

What if we had time to build a common understanding about the process of conducting in the group?

What if we took time to check our common understanding of the differences in interviewing for different forms?

About our country presentations…

What if we knew what was important to say in 20 minutes?

Is that even possible?

What would you choose to share?

How much does what we shared about our country say about us?

How much can we recognise ourselves in a presentation about another country?

How does one presentation influence the next?

How do the playback enactments influence the next presentation?

How important are numbers and facts about a country?

How can we connect those numbers and facts to how we were formed and influenced?

About the format and process…

What would it take to do this project in this format in person?

Is it even possible, or will the same geographical location add another layer of echoes?

How much does the online format affect our sensing and connection?

How much time is too much time in between the sessions?

Are we resonating more with the personal in the presentation, or the information about the country previously not known?

Do the stories resonate with the individual in that time? Does it germinate more thoughts, feelings, and stories?

How much care for the individual can we give as a group? How can we take individual responsibility to give care?

A little bit about Narrative Reticulation

If you’ve made it through the writing thus far, thank you! At the very start of thinking about my topic, Narrative Reticulation (NR) came to mind. Obviously, this didn’t turn out to be a deep exploration into NR, but I do want to add a few thoughts. Hopefully, they seed more questions for future exploration, for you and for me.

NR is one of the Playback topics that I think about quite often, because it is fascinating and yet nebulous in a way. I find it meaningful to think about why and how Playback works, and why and how we do the things we do, in process, forms, and ritual. Theory seems to me to be the foundation for “good action” in Playback.

Better Together was a wonderful opportunity to study this. We played back stories arising from different contexts, cultures, and geographies in each session. At the same time, the format itself offered a unique opportunity to explore and think about NR across multiple sessions in a significant period of time.

In the project, each month would focus on a particular country. A participant had 20 minutes to share about the country of origin. Then the remainder of the session was about playing back feelings and stories triggered by the sharing. Interestingly, the only teller was to be the presenter. It was only in the following session two weeks later, that the other participants shared their stories in response to the previous session.

Incredibly, the Red Thread wove through our stories across the many months. Themes of intergenerational connections, evolving personal identities, colonialism and migration, and our responses to social structures, were just a few that created this rich tapestry.

It was incredible, because you can imagine the diverse ways in which we arrived at each session. We committed to one another for one year. Yet life for all of us carried on outside of the sessions, until we met again two weeks apart. Even though the sessions are linked to one another, we still had to pick up the pieces each time. Still, there were coherent and common themes weaving through the stories. At the same time, it was easy to see when a conductor’s direction of questions led us away from the thread.

Oftentimes, the playback still worked. At times, the dialogue seemed to take a more complicated route to “our story” and dialogue. It seems to me that in this particular format, a deeper awareness of overall themes, as well as grounding or arriving properly, are crucial elements to deepen the Guidance of form and process. This is not easy, nor does it always happen.

In some moments, the tension between Spontaneity and Guidance was very clear. We must attend to the “Here and Now”. We must also acknowledge that much may have happened in between our meetings. These aspects take us away from attending to the thread and dialogue across multiple sessions. Skilful Guidance is needed to bring us back to where we last ended, to remember how we felt, and to recall what we took away. Many times we did that through masterful evocation.

Another aspect of the project was the questions that participants asked the presenter. These were written in the chat or in verbal form after the country presentation. The questions are important as a reflection of our curiosity about the presenter and the country. They also act as stimuli, for both presenter (teller in the same session), and the tellers in the following session.

Nonetheless, clarifying questions about details and opinions bring us away from a “story space”, to a “head space”. To me, it is important that we remember Playback is about stories, first and foremost. Questions that lead us to the “story space” tend to be more about the personal, such as “How did that event affect you growing up?”. Questions that lead us in the opposite direction are in the manner of “How are the rights of the minorities protected in your country?” Which questions to you are important to unfold a personal Story emerging in the moment?

Perhaps, the key is in the Guidance of the transition from the “head space” to the “story space”. Perhaps some of us may identify with this. Sometimes tellers come to tell of their opinions, or of a particular situation that has not yet revealed a personal connection. We can perhaps guide them to find that personal connection through a process such as remembering when that situation affected them.

Narrative details develop the story and help us to imagine what happened in our minds’ eye. We want to be able to “see” the person in the events described. Of course, the more we know about the context, the more likely we are to understand the deeper notes of a story. Still, this is as much about the Atmosphere that we create for storytelling, as it is about the Story node in NR. How did we end the last session? How are we arriving at this one? How can we help participants to recall their feelings from the last session, to breathe, and to look deep to feel an impulse arising? How can we create an atmosphere resonating with, and continuing from, the previous session?

Another crucial aspect is in the conducting. There are important reasons behind why conducting is “Active”. This refers to the thought processes in the moment, as well as the act of interviewing, or as I like to call it, dialoguing with the teller. There is an active co-creation aspect in play. Conducting is more than offering a question and waiting for the completion of the offered answer. As many of us in the wider community know, a key skill is when and how to interrupt, to actively guide the conversation in search of the thread (that the conductor hopefully is aware of).

I see the conductor playing the social investigator role as a very curious person. The conductor-social investigator is curious about how this story is connected to the previous one. There is curiosity about how the events in the story have shaped the identity or the in-the-moment responses of the teller. There is a crucial curiosity about what happened next. There is curiosity about how the story fits into a hypothesis about the overarching themes. Also present are the gentle steering of the conversation, the tender building of trust, and the light touch of a friend across the dining table, in service of the personal Story.

In essence, this project showcased many differences in styles and conducting personalities. Across the more successful (in my opinion) sessions, were a common deep understanding of the playback process, and a presence of skills needed to guide the teller in a relationship of co-creation.

At this point, I am also curious about how playbackers in our communities create the right conditions for a personal Story to be stimulated and shared. I am curious about the different formats of your projects, and how these affect the NR. Perhaps we might even take a step back to consider how NR can be a roadmap for how we design Playback projects. Perhaps many of us are already doing so!


The flow of stories throughout our year-long journey has been tremendous. I can describe it as a water flow through different terrains, perhaps starting as drops of aqua pura from a glacier up in a cold and harsh place. In some moments, the water flow turns into a gentle stream, carving a winding path through the forest. Or perhaps, it is the rocks and stones on the ground, and the roots and growth of the vegetation that carves the path of the water.

There are moments when the flow becomes a muddy torrent, and some of us have to hold on for dear life. There are other moments where the terrain seems to hold back the water, but we can still see the small spread of water on the ground, making its way onwards. Sometimes, the flow gets stuck and muddy waters form. They almost seem stagnant, but there is life within. At other times, a waterfall forms, when the gush of stories seems to cleanse our souls.

Finally, the flow reaches the seas. For some, it is barely now a trickle. For others, it is a last gush of life-giving.  Perhaps you will hear some of the stories. For sure, the stories stay with us. For now, the stories are released from our ritual container, into the sea of playbackers around the world.

As this story ends, I take my leave with gratitude for my fellow travelers – Ági, Anna, Cheraé, Elsa, Mansee, Marat, Nina, Poh Kiang, Sheila, and Will C. I will cherish our time together, and look forward to moments of reunion to come.

I leave you with a lyric from Saudade, Saudade… “Nothing more that I can say, says it in a better way…”

My Journey with Better Together
Marat Mairovich, Israel


Hello. My name is Marat, I was born in Moldova, and at the age of 17 I moved to Israel. As a musician and conductor, I have been doing Playback theater for 25 years. I lead three Playback Theater groups in Israel: a group for the visually impaired, a group for immigrants, and “Mabat” – a performing group for the sighted and visually impaired. I perform and train throughout Israel and abroad (South Korea, Germany, Latvia, Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, etc.) and on Zoom (Hong Kong, Uruguay, US, Australia, Singapore). I professionally play violin, piano, synthesizer, guitar, and percussion.

For me, the story of our project began long before its appearance. My personal and important changes are always born from questions, events and, most importantly, because of the people and their stories! Personal stories. It is endless for me: from this vessel I can drink forever, or so it seems to me. And yet, one of my main archetypes is a traveller-seeker. What does that mean? Firstly, I like to travel, that is, to work abroad or to walk and relax there. And I do this a lot, I coach and perform in different countries. For example, this summer I had five trips to different countries of the world; it was a great summer journey. And secondly, my seeker’s nature is expressed in the fact that I love to find and invent new forms of self-expression, and this is mainly related to Playback Theatre (PBT). For example, I sometimes come up with new song forms in the Playback Theater. I already created many forms, and I’m always looking for new ones. Or, for example, together with my friends Roman Kandibur, Andrey Utenkov and Igor Lyubitov, we created “Yonder”. Through our work on Zoom and our common interests, this group has invented a new sub-genre of playback theatre. It relies on myths, fairy tales and the like. So, seeker. It’s me.

It was on the platform of all this: my love for stories, for travel, the search for new PBT forms and in contact with my partners (Will C. and my wife Nina Garbuzova), that a new project was born: “Better Together”.

“Better Together” is an international project in Zoom. All of us, eleven participants from different countries, made a presentation about our country and shared personal stories related to it. We also delved into other people’s presentations, played back other people’s personal stories, and discussed everything, sharing thoughts with each other. We met twice a month to discuss one country at a time: at the first meeting we delved into the presentation and did Playback for the stories of the presenter, and at the second we took part in group reflection with the help of Playback and conversation. Each of us has been in several roles, as a conductor, an actor, a presenter, a facilitator or just an audience member.

Like everything new and unknown, this project has had many unexpected surprises in store for me. Both pleasant and not so pleasant.

Note: Of course, I will describe events from my point of view only, I assume that other members of the group may perceive it in their own way.

Not very pleasant surprises

I cannot say that my experience of this project was easy for me. The only white heterosexual male, a person whose very presence can evoke strong feelings, even unconsciously. Me. The representative of a country that, to put it mildly, is unpopular (Israel). Who is this? It’s me. And most importantly, who is very afraid of group dynamics and especially group aggression? This is me. And who often gets into the epicentre of these very dynamic processes? This is also me. Why am I afraid? Perhaps this is due to my childhood and the fear of being rejected. I will not go into too much detail about my childhood, it is not important and it is too intimate for this article.

If it was my dream

So, from the very beginning, in the study session in September and, subsequently, in the second meeting of the group in October, I met my fears. At the training meeting in September, we as organizers (Nina, Will C and myself) discussed what kind of Playback forms we would like to use in our process. We prepared several forms and distributed the responsibility for explaining them to the group among the three of us. I talked about the “If it was my dream” form. This form, developed by Igor Lyubitov from Russia, is one that many of my playback friends and I use quite often. It is metaphorical, it helps to look at history from a different aesthetic angle, and its flavor is a little “different”. Each of the performers in turn invents and tells a kind of improv dream, which indirectly, with the help of a metaphor, comes into contact with the narrator’s story. The rest of the actors move synchronously under the influence of this monologue. So (if there are three actors), it turns out three invented dreams, or three metaphors for the story of the narrator. I find it a really enjoyable form to use. So, I described it and gave it a try on the story of one of the members of the group. The performers, in my opinion, did a good job. These were beautiful dreams with meaning, but… the teller herself was unhappy. She said that this is not her story and that she does not understand this form at all, or what it is for. I assumed that we had heard her story wrong, then I tried to explain the form again to her, and later to another participant. But there was a group dynamic of rejection. After that, we did not use this form at all: the group rejected it categorically and irrevocably. If I’m not mistaken, the group tried it once and that’s it. Cancel the form. At the same time, the irony is that the form itself is often used and was even included in the handbook of forms for Zoom Storytelling on Screen: An Online Playback Theatre Archive and Guidebook by Jordan Rosin and Heidi Winters Vogel with Sammy Lebron.

This was the first time that I felt Rejection come to call. He did not touch me directly, although I felt that this was partly a challenge to me, as a representative of the organizers of the group.


My second encounter with group dynamics was much more difficult. We started the process in October. We devoted the first session (of two meetings) to Russia. Nina, Will C and I, as the organizers, took responsibility for this session. Therefore, Nina was the presenter of Russia and the narrator, Will C was the conductor, and I was the facilitator, that is, responsible for the second meeting and for the conversation at the end of it. In this conversation, we discuss how the group works, how the presentation of the country influenced us, and also some kind of group dynamics. I can only remind you that I’m wary of group dynamics and really didn’t want to be a facilitator, but the other option, being a storyteller about Israel, scared me even more. Well, it would probably not be a very good idea to start the “Better Together” process from my country, Israel. So, I made up my mind and began to prepare. After the study meeting in September and subsequently at the first meeting in October, I noticed that there are “authorities” in the group. That is, in my opinion, there are people who feel that they “know” how to do Playback correctly, how to be in the process, and so on. And the “authorities” share their vision quite freely. They felt they had this freedom, I think, because they had been in Playback for many years and had been in various important positions in Playback organizations. And also, I noticed that there were new playbackers in the group who felt l they had no right to express their opinion, who were silent and did not often tell stories, and also did not rush to the stage. That is, a certain hierarchy was beginning to establish itself, which is not entirely justified, because although our project uses Playback, it also requires various other skills and knowledge. I felt it was important to push the group in the direction of discussing this. Who thought he could ride out group dynamics? It’s me, silly me! Naturally, during the conversation, I did not directly report on the topic I was referring to. I just asked something like this: What do you think prevents the group from opening up and moving forward? In doing so, I suggested to the group not to focus on technical inconveniences, but only on internal group dynamics. I didn’t want the group to run away from a conversation about what processes were going on within themselves. So when, for example, some participants tried to tell the group that they did not know the forms, I asked them not to continue the conversation in this vein. The group began to search, it was beautiful and I delved into this conversation. There was a little time left before the end of the meeting, and I was so hopeful that the group would uncover the hierarchy that I noticed. So, when one of the participants suggested lack of time as an obstacle (two hours per meeting), I quickly interrupted her and asked her to focus on the dynamics. It is important for me to note that I did it politely, although I did not let her finish. The fact that I interrupted her caused a rather strong reaction (tears) in her, which I and many others did not notice, because I was focused on the conversation, and not everything is always visible in the small windows of Zoom. But part of the group did notice. And gradually the process began: first drawing my attention to her tears, then subsequently group aggression. Through unconscious as well as unspoken group dynamics, the group “recruited” a person who showed this aggression to the maximum. It was a shock for me. Subsequently, thinking about this situation, I realized that this is how I met the old principle of the operation of social fears: If you are very afraid of receiving something from society, you will definitely have to meet it. Of course, we calmed everything down and more or less talked about this conflict in the group and in the organizational team. It was clear that when I interrupted her, it caused the group to associate this action with male aggression towards a woman. It was an archetypal situation for the group. At that moment, having failed to serve the group as a facilitator, I unconsciously gave it the opportunity to adjust the norms of behaviour. After that, the group increased its focus on awareness of privileges and oppression within the group and outside it. I want to emphasize that, of course, individual members of the group were already very focused on these topics. But thanks to this conflict and other cases, in my opinion, this direction has become a clear group norm. Another norm concerned respect for other members of our group.

As for me, from that moment on, I stopped feeling free. I stopped experimenting, and almost did not act as an actor. The group felt it too. I was never chosen to be a conductor. Just one more time I was chosen to be the facilitator. And that was by the woman who I had interrupted previously. I felt blocked by this lack of freedom but I did not let it stop me. I manifested my presence in a different way. I told a lot of personal stories and participated a lot as a Playback musician. In these roles I feel calmer, safer.


Another aspect that was not very pleasant was the language – English. I cannot say that it was a surprise, but I did not expect that it would be so difficult for me. Not being able to freely express yourself, your opinions and your feelings in such a group is a real barrier. After all, it is very important to understand all the nuances of the expression of other members of the group, to accurately express your own. This was very lacking for me. In order to understand someone, you need, for example, to make out the accent of a person, to understand their English. And we had participants from very different countries and with different levels of English. Therefore, I felt I was only ‘surviving’ in the group. I was looking for all available ways to express myself and understand others. Sometimes Google Translate and subtitles in Zoom were able to help. But these “crutches” sometimes hindered more than they helped.

Pleasant surprises

These were wonderful trips to other countries, and I “walked” through them not as a tourist: I got to know them from the inside, looking at their beauty and ugliness. Looking back, I get the feeling that I was looking at these countries through the eyes of another specific person, like a priest of the Faceless God (Game of Thrones) dressing in other people’s faces. I put on the face of a woman from India and thought about patriarchy; I turned into my wife from Russia and was sad about what happened to my homeland; I walked with the face of a man from Singapore and went to the army in another country; I looked around in the form of a woman from Malaysia and thought about my  relationship with my mother; I looked back at my immigrant family as a woman from Brazil; I was angry at my country as an African-American from the USA; I rejoiced at the achievements of my country and feared their losses as a woman from Portugal; I struggled with other people’s opinions and looked at my past through the eyes of a South African woman; I felt my country with its delicious food on one hand and racial prejudice on the other as a woman from Hungary. I was there. Walked everywhere. Lots of feelings.

Yes, when I mentioned beauty and ugliness, I certainly didn’t mean architecture. We talked about cultural values, rituals, racial, religious or gender freedoms and prejudices, about relationships with parents or within the family. And all this was true.

I think these trips were priceless. My traveler archetype was delighted with them.

Another pleasant surprise. The group tried to be, and in fact were, very empathetic.

About my presentation

My presentation on Israel was a good example of this. Many, and in particular the woman whom I called to be a facilitator, had their own opinion, quite clearly, on the topic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At the same time, at meetings preparing for my presentation, when we discussed this aspect with her, and when I expressed my approach to this (and it is quite complicated and complex), I did not feel rejection, only curiosity and empathy. Of course, her opinion has not changed under the influence of our preparatory meetings and my presentation itself. But to get empathy and some understanding where you don’t really expect it, was nice and felt important. Some members of the group could not come to my presentation due to technical reasons. Thanks to this, the group had a new ritual: to answer in writing the questions that were asked in the chat during the meeting. I did this at the request of one of the participants. Thus, the recording of the presentation and the answers to questions after it made it possible not only for those who were not present to understand what the meeting was about, but also for those who were present to get a more complete picture of the presentation’s perception of the country. It was a nice bonus for us “travelers”.

More about Israel

As for the norms of behavior in the group, which I noted at the beginning of my story, I noticed that the presenters choose for themselves how to talk about their country. The two main lenses were a focus on the personal perception of the country by the presenter, and a focus on facts and statistics. Both were present in all presentations, but at the same time, everyone somehow chose what to focus on more. And so, I chose the prism of the personal. I shared my perception of Israel as an expat who moved to the country at the age of 17. How I got to know Israel. About what aspects of life in it began to be revealed to me later. It was also about nature, about conflicts, about culture, about intimacy and belonging, about rejection, about wonderful contacts sometimes even with strangers, about how I learned to hug, and much more. In this presentation, I used music that I love very much (I also like it because it is a meeting of different musical cultures and a beautiful mix of them), and photos with views from places that could touch my heart. It was wonderful. Of course, I grieved over the conflict between the Arab world and Israel, and I felt partly separated from my country, because I see no way out of this situation and I can painfully perceive what is happening. It was part of my history.

And then I told different but significant stories from my life in Israel. About death and about life near death, about humor and so on. I remember my presentation with a smile.

What else did I like?

What else did I like about our group? Discussions, the opportunity to share your own and hear about different worldviews. After all, the current world order is by no means ideal, and an attempt to change it somehow unites all members of our group.

I really liked the meetings of the organizational team. Lots of controversy, but also lots of laughter. Well, the main thing is that we came up with something new and unknown.


It seems to me that this experience, being a part of “Better Together”, was unique. Why? Probably because of the way of living this experience, and because of the people who gathered in our group. It was overall a very good and unique experience and I am very happy that I went through this journey, that I “traveled” with this group of people.


“Evolution” of a white playbacker – how I created separation
Ági Orbán, Hungary

“Better together” has been an online Playback Theatre project which lasted for 12 months and was intended to investigate international cooperation, connection or separation through our own stories of  our countries, culture, background, politics and values. This has been one of the hardest Playback Theatre journeys I have been on since 2009 when I got to know this form of improvisational theatre.

All 11 members of the group had two sessions where the focus was on their culture and personal stories. During the first session the person presented their country and shared personal stories, which we played back and listened to reflections from the others. In the second session the other group members told stories in reflection of the first session and there was a discussion about the topics raised during that month.

The purpose of this writing is to reveal my struggle to acknowledge and accept my own bias, potential racism and partaking in the maintenance of oppressive systems. This is my very personal experience and discovery summarised in a very short format, which hopefully will be meaningful to other white people while navigating the seas of their own racism in multicultural environments.

It was May 2022 and my turn to present my country, culture, my life and what is important to me to the group. I talked about a lot of things and within that I was talking about a tiny bit of history, mentioning that the Austro-Hungarian Empire used to be an ethnically very diverse community. This was in the dawn of a national awakening and at the time, in the 19th century, when nationalism started to flourish as an ideology. On the Hungarian side of the empire the leading nationality (meaning that of the most influential decision makers, politicians, and intellectuals) was the Hungarian, who oppressed, used and threatened most of the other nationalities and ethnicities (Serbians, Croatians, Bosnians, Romanians, Slovakians, Ukrainians, Russians, Slovenians, Romas, and Jews). This position of power was completely diminished after the First World War, by the treaties forced upon the losing parties of the war. One would think that people, communities, and nations learn from their mistakes and histories and consider evolving and adapting. It has not yet been the case on the level of countries unfortunately, but hopefully evolution is possible on the personal level.

I studied History at university, I thought I knew better, I educated myself and signed up to treat others with respect, dignity and consideration. I have become an immigrant to better understand others’ points of view, those who migrate and live elsewhere than where they were born. I thought I treated people with different nationalities, cultural backgrounds or skin colour in such a way that my behaviour couldn’t be questioned. I didn’t think my behaviour could be oppressive or hurtful to anyone on a general level of relating. I`m liberal, socially engaged, curious, open minded and an “artist”.

That’s what I thought as a white European, growing up in a mostly (but not exclusively) white country, with a white history. I believed I could put myself in the shoes of people with a different skin colour. I know now it takes much more to awaken to my whiteness and its consequences than just acknowledging it with my words and then moving on.

Below you can see the map I used to illustrate the colourful ethnic situation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during my presentation. While I was explaining the history I used the expression “skin colour” to refer to the peach-coloured area on the map, which represents the Hungarian ethnicity. I didn’t think of using the words ‘peach colour’ in that moment, because I wasn’t even aware at all of my choice of language, while I was presenting to a multicoloured, multicultural group of people.

At the end of the session one of my group members called our attention to my choice of expression during the presentation and commented that not everyone has skin colour like the peach-toned area of the map. The truth was out there and my air froze. I was the king who was naked, and I sank under the ground from the shame I felt. I stopped hearing, seeing and the world started to spin around me. I was alone in my apartment joining the group online. There was no one to talk to and I felt I was kicked out of heaven. This was right at the end of the session, we acknowledged the ignorance of the white people and this event as an expression of systematic oppression and very soon we said our goodbyes.

In the quiet of my home I admitted to myself how ashamed I was, yet I had also forgiven myself, because how could I have known this would come out of my mouth? I promised myself that in future, I would be much more conscious of what I said: but could I?  How conscious can I be? Who did I hurt? How often have I hurt people by my ignorance? I still don’t know, but it especially worries me that I’m not the best with language and words, so I can’t guarantee I won’t say things that might not be appropriate in the given context. With some worry in my heart, I closed this event and I thought this was the end, but it wasn’t.

A week later I received a letter from two group members that they had created a questionnaire which would ask the members about this experience: whether they had noticed my use of the term ‘skin colour’, what they felt, or if they wanted to react in that moment, what had stopped them, etc….They wanted my permission to send it to the other people. They felt a growing need to discuss the events of my presentation further and spend time on it in the next session or whenever it was possible. There were four people who worked on this survey from the group and the others didn’t know about it.

When I read the survey and the request, many things started to happen inside me at the same time. It is all human and it is not all beautiful.

First of all, I felt very much alone and isolated, even though they came to me.

I felt left out from something that I was a central part of.

It felt very personal despite their claims that it was not.

I felt hurt, and I also felt I deserved it because I’m ignorant, and that’s what ignorant people deserve.

I could not relate to the questions, and it appeared that the whole discussion was about what I did, which it both was and wasn’t.

I felt I couldn’t decide if this topic needed discussing further, but that the group should have decided.

I felt I wouldn’t be able to carry on in this group, as I had no allies.

I felt attacked, and at the same time I knew that attacking me wasn’t the goal of their action, but I couldn`t differentiate between these intentions for a while.

I felt I had to protect myself.

I felt I was a sinner.

I was terrified of what would happen to me.

I felt it was unfair that all these things happened separately from the whole group.

I felt like disappearing from shame again. I wanted to forget it, I wanted to move on, I wanted to sweep it under the rug. It was so painful that I didn’t feel strong enough to be able to face my own actions. I didn’t forget it, I didn’t move on. I experienced the pain and I did my best to take responsibility.

After discussion, the decision was made to ask the group how much time they want to spend on this topic in the second session and if they wanted to fill out the questionnaire. The majority wanted to spend time on it and fill out the questionnaire, and keep the structure we held for our sessions created by the organisers.

During the second session I was broken by shame and fear and pain. During the second session we heard stories related to “skin colour” as a name of a colour of white people’s skin that exists in many European languages and how some people noticed this more than others. And I heard other stories as well about immigration, roots, and fears. I also heard one of my black-skinned colleagues say that this issue that has come up is the problem of white people. I hadn’t heard it put this way before, and it was very reassuring in a strange way. I started to feel the ground under my feet again. I cried a lot in my fear and listened to the diverse sharing that came out of my first session. The session was over, but this story wasn’t over for me.

The questionnaire wasn`t sent out after this session and it wasn’t filled out. Someone told me that was a pity, which I agreed with, yet I felt lighter that I hadn’t become the centre of an investigation of systematic oppression. I’m too weak or not a big enough person, possibly. My group mates created a very sensitive session and also they truly considered me, which I appreciate fully, even though I could not accept it with an open heart until this day. I felt I did not belong to this group.

I was creating separation, but why? At this point I had the understanding that people didn’t hate me for doing what I did, however I wasn’t able to connect to anybody in the group any more. Some people were kind enough to reach out to the point that I ended up becoming a conductor, which I wasn’t expecting. This was a very kind gesture considering the circumstances, yet I still felt isolated. I wasn’t able to forgive myself, and I wanted to blame everyone else as well.

During these days, I was lucky to listen to Tara Brach’s first podcast on Three Blessings.  The first blessing she talked about is forgiveness. I realised that I was going around feeling like a victim and then the perpetrator, then a victim again, and it seemed impossible to get out of this circle. I experienced some disillusionment during the events, I felt rejected and my belonging severed. I was spinning in reactivity. Things really didn’t go my way. I wasn’t sure I could stay in the group. I have also been aware that I’m responsible for creating my own feelings and I have choices, but I could not control my devastation.

All this judgement, anger, reciprocal violation, blame, defence, and spinning created a lot of separation between me and the group, at least in my reality, because I had hardly any contact with others. I felt I was very alone. I was in a trance.

The podcast helped me realise my situation and opened my eyes to the possibility of forgiving myself and others. It opened the door of appreciation for the experience, and what it could have held for me and for all of us who experienced it as a learning and connecting moment. This podcast brought me peace and allowed me to reflect and investigate the situation from a new light.

I acknowledged my own racism and ignorance. I’m now able to do something about it, and support our growing awareness around our whiteness and everything that comes with it. I talked about it openly with a broken, but open, heart. I accepted it as part of me. I got to know myself much much better than before. I was honest about my faults and I took responsibility. This event also created opportunities for others to reflect on their own racism, biases and situations if they wanted to. I was hurt and I recovered, I experienced shifting my emotional state from despair and anger into constructive thinking and reflecting. I become grateful for myself and for others who contributed to the deepening of the Better Together group process through very difficult situations. I realised that I was supported and held, however on the online platform I could hardly sense it. I also realised I have a long journey to heal this wound I opened up, and I have the responsibility to heal the big human wound that we and our ancestors created. I have some hope I can contribute to the healing now that the wound is open in me too.

Overall, it has been a very human experience with all its heavy and light moments, and I will be forever grateful to be part of it.


Michael Cheng (Singapore): Michael is an applied drama practitioner and educator who has initiated socially-engaged arts projects and taught internationally at all levels of Playback Theatre.

Sheila Donio (Brazil): Sheila is an actress and an accredited Playback Theatre trainer, performing and facilitating training programs in Brazil and abroad for over 20 years, while also being a translator-interpreter and an administrator for CPT and several art projects.

Cheraé Halley (South Africa): Cheraé Halley is an applied drama practitioner and creates theatre with a focus on human rights and social justice. Cheraé is currently the co-director of Drama for Life Playback Theatre and serves as a board member on the IPTN.

Marat Mairovich (Israel): Marat Mairovich is a musician and conductor with 25 years of experience in Playback Theater. He performs and trains all over the world (South Korea, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey, Russia, Belarus, etc.).

Ági Orbán (Hungary): Ági is a playbacker, adventure lover, transformer and a human animal.



























Better Together, Part One: Participants’ Commentaries on a Year-Long Project

During the recently completed Better Together project, eleven Playback practitioners from eleven countries met online twice a month for a year. Each person then wrote about what happened in this extraordinary experience, from their individual point of view. The participants’ statements and articles (including two that were co-authored) provide a fascinating composite portrait of a sustained experiment that was clearly profound for all concerned–with implications that go beyond those who were directly involved.

The writing has been lightly edited for clarity, first by Emily Conolan and then myself, preserving the voice and English usage of these diverse writers. For most, English is their second or third language. Some use American spellings, others British.

Playback Theatre Reflects will publish the commentaries in a series of three posts.

Better Together: Participants’ Commentaries on a Year-Long Project, Part One


Introduction: Will C.

What the rest of the world needs to know about us: Cheraé Halley

Better Together – The Way of Connection: Nina Garbuzova

My connection to PT outside Malaysia: Poh Kiang Tan

How Do I Share My Country’s Story in Twenty Minutes? Mansee Shah Thard

The space between: Interweaving the “I” and the “We”: Elsa Maurício Childs

Contributors’ biographies

Introduction: Will C.

“Better Together” is a Playback in the Port project designed by Nina Garbuzova, Marat Mairovich, and Will C. This online initiative took place September 2021 – October 2022 with a goal of connecting 11 Playback practitioners, each representing a different country. By creating presentations of our own countries, practicing Playback Theatre, and utilizing other interactive discussion methods, we intentionally learned about our individual and collective capacities and limitations. During the final month of the project, each member of the group wrote what they felt was most important to share to the global Playback community, and beyond, about our process. The writing that we have compiled is an offering, an attempt to create opportunities for understanding how we might connect over shared values and invite difference inside of diverse spaces. While the writing that follows signals the end of our project, we hope that it is the beginning of a communal conversation of how we can continue striving to become “Better Together.”

What the rest of the world needs to know about us:
A personal reflection on five concepts that (potentially) made our group “better together”
Cheraé Halley, South Africa

After the first three months of joining this group there were five themes that kept showing up in my engagement with the Better Together project. I recall jotting these down after being provided with the prompt “what is something that you are experiencing or witnessing in this group that you wish to express to the larger world?” Below was what I had prematurely written.

  1. Trust. There was a deep sense of trust among strangers.
  2. Humour. There was in a strange kind of way, a common understanding of humour.
  3. Believing. A belief in the human organism’s ability to listen to one another, hold space for each other, honour story.
  4. Saying “Yes”. We were a group of people who would just say “yes” in what feels right when it feels right.
  5. Becoming. We all understood that we were becoming something. Even if we didn’t know what we were becoming yet.

What really happens when you put 11 Playbackers into a virtual project set up by three of the group members? I can tell you that a bunch of nerves, mixed with a will to succeed and a dash of human error is bound to flavour up the entire pot. At times the heat became aggressively too much to handle, but upon reflecting back on the project, the five themes listed above seemed to keep the pot from overboiling and spilling onto our (sometimes very dirty) Playback kitchen floor. This personal statement will reflect the ways in which the five themes above resonated with me the most over the course of the 12 month project. It will also name the implications (if any) that these themes had on how I show up in this twice-monthly group project. 

Right from the beginning I found that we had begun developing a sense of trust that often needs time to work on for groups of strangers.  Even though there were a few people in the group who knew each other prior to the work, there were many people in the room who were strangers to me and each other. How we managed to develop such a sense of trust in such a short time can only be reflected through the frame of the Better Together project. We had not spent a great amount of time “building trust” which often happens as part of the usual start to any group. No, instead, we jumped right in. I get the sense that everyone had some level of trust allocated to either one person in the group, or towards the frame of the project or possibly towards the practice we are all so familiar with. Personally, I could only operate from a place of trusting the practice and trusting the other Brown people in the room, even if I did not yet know them very well yet. It certainly created a safety net for me to deep dive into taking on certain roles within the group such as a facilitator or as a conductor right in the early stages of the project. And I wonder where the rest of the group members placed their trust for the duration of the project, and in what ways these carried them and their participation in the project.

Humour has a weird way of connecting people to one another and building bonds in a group. I know I use humour both as a way of reaching out to strangers and as a way to release tense energies in a group setting. Humour online however, is not always well read and even more tough when there is a group of diverse ages and cultures present. I am always aware of when my humour lands and does not land…and with whom it mostly lands with. These are always indications for me that a pathway of connection is possible between myself and others. I can say that humour led me to connect with all the members in this group in very different ways. And then I became the clown, an easy role for me to step into, but not in any avoidance kind of way. Knowing that in the first three months of this project my reflections were being read by the organisers, I (sort of) (deliberately) made use of humour to connect with them in a lot of what I had written.

Carl Rogers speaks about the ‘freedom to learn’ in education, and introduces the concept of the ‘facilitation of learning’ (Rogers, 1968,p. 112.) I would like to borrow one of the attitudes between the facilitator and the learners which he names as a requirement in the facilitation of learning. And that is to “believe in the human organism”. When he mentions this, he says if we are going to trust our learners, if we are going to warrant success from them, then we need to trust and believe in their abilities to do so as well. Trust that humans have the ability to do, to think, to have opinions, to absorb, and to question. In our case, I borrow it in the sense that there was definitely a belief in the human’s ability to listen to stories of strangers, to hold space for each other in a frame we have adopted and to honour everyone’s emotions present in the project. I think this is testament to how, despite not having clear instructions and understandings of some of the forms, people were willing to share their stories and members were willing to play them. The above concept (together with the first) is what supports the fourth concept I wish to reflect on in this personal statement and that is, saying “yes”.  Ahhh…our good old improvisation number one skill. Of course, saying yes, among strangers, is completely built on the concept of believing in the human organism and trusting in the human organism. It also brings to light how deeply rooted our practice is in these concepts that are the foundations of good ensemble.

Behind any good Playback Theatre practice is the well known fact that whatever we bring to the enactment is always still in a process of becoming, by virtue of it being spontaneous and improvised and non-scripted. This could mean becoming something aesthetically beautiful, or becoming something potentially dangerous, or becoming something that could affirm what our teller has expressed. Becoming. This for me, means that we are constantly still finding and searching and are always living in the possibility that nothing is fixed. When all else failed us during the Better Together project, what perhaps, most of the members understood is that as a group we were still in the process of becoming something.  While that something might not have been a fixed and similar thing for all members, we were all in various “becoming” processes and as a collective. This could have potentially been one of the concepts that continued giving everyone in the group an ongoing sense of puzzlement and inquiry despite the times when our kitchen became too hot for comfort. I know that this was definitely the case for myself as a member of this group.

So what is something that I experienced and witnessed in this group that I wish to express to the larger world?… Well, that for our Playback Theatre community, perhaps more room could be given to these five concepts when we gather at international spaces, forums, boards, and in performances. We spend so much time judging each other’s practice, each other’s intentions and each other’s opinions. We need to tap back into the principles of “saying yes”, but only if we recall what it means to trust and believe in the human organism’s ability to care for others, although that does not mean we must dismiss the wrongdoings of members of our community. But remember that they too, as we all always are, still becoming. Becoming something. And of course, a little humour goes a very long way…that is, if we make room to let the laughter and joy in.


Rogers, C. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merrill.

Better Together – The Way of Connection
Nina Garbuzova, Russia

This is a personal statement on what makes people connected, what helps us know each other at different levels, and the personal discoveries of eleven universes in zoom windows.

My name is Nina Garbuzova. I am from Russia, and in September 2022 I moved to Israel with my husband Marat Mairovich. A year ago we (Will C, Marat and I) decided to do a project together. A Playback Theater project to explore the cultural characteristics of different countries, to understand how playback can work with these features, and just to have an adventure, apparently … because “Better Together” became a real adventure.

I have been doing Playback Theater since 2015, and the most valuable thing that playback has brought into my life is connection. My theater group Playback01 has become my family. Relationships based on playback values ​​are incredibly strong and flexible. We have learned to hear and listen to each other; we have learned to accept each other in any condition; we have learned to work together; we have learned to hear ourselves and our needs; we have learned to be attentive to each other and to ourselves; and we have learned to tell own stories and find ourselves in the stories of others.

At the start of Better Together, we agreed that in a year each participant would write an article to share their experience with the community and not lose the treasures we found along the way. By the way, I hate writing articles, it’s good that we agreed that our personal statements can be written in any style. I chose the style of a chaotic stream of consciousness and a little poetry.

Absolutely all the details, written in a very cool and structured way about how the project was arranged, you can find in the article by Will C.

My stream of consciousness says that questions you can ask yourself are far more important than the answers I can give. So…

What happens when 11 strangers from different countries agree to meet together twice a month?

What happens to you when you talk about yourself through the prism of your country and your nationality?

What happens when the whole group serves one person and plays only his/her stories?

What happens when difficult questions about oppression and privilege are raised in a group?

What happens when group members don’t feel the need to take responsibility for the group?

What happens when group members take responsibility for the group?

What happens when, during a project, your country unleashes a war of aggression against a neighboring country?

What happens when you move permanently to another country during a project?

What happens in the team of project organizers when external circumstances are so massive that two out of three are simply crushed and washed away by a wave of emotions and have to change their lives?

What happens when you start a project as a group of three and then you feel like you’re alone?

What happens when you listen to stories and play them back without always understanding English because it’s not your native language?

What happens when you immerse yourself in the culture of another country, its features and worldview through the personal stories of a person?

What happens when 11 strangers get closer to each other?

What happens if you decide to make this journey by yourself?…

Each of these questions could be discussed in a separate article. But, do you remember that I don’t like to write articles? I like to ask questions, I love to get to know people, diving into the depths of their personal stories with them, I love to feel the connections between people. Sometimes, it seems to me, that I have a professional deformity, that I can no longer just sustain small talk about nature, about the weather, or about something that really does not matter. The opportunity to tell stories and be heard, the opportunity to play the story of another and hear a person is exactly the path to connection. This is what makes it possible to truly touch the soul, life, the very essence of another person and see your reflection in another.

I know that another ten people from our group will write their own articles, and others will write more than one.  I want to dedicate a poem to our group. I don’t know how to write poetry in English, so there will be no rhyme.

Better Together Forever

When you set off on a journey and want to get there quickly, go alone.
When you set off on a journey and want to go far, go together
The road will not be easy, you will get tired and want to quit everything
Cursing the day you hit the road
But each time, overcoming the peaks, descending into underground caves,
Crossing fast rivers, every time you will thank God
For the fact that you went out on this road and overcame this path not alone
No one will return from this journey the same
Our world has expanded, it has become ten times larger
Ten new universes are now opening their doors for you
When you want to open your inner world – open up to another person
When you want to discover the world of another, listen to their stories
Sometimes smart and right words do not allow you to look into the depths
And mistakes help you get to the point very quickly
Mistakes we make on the path to excellence

At the end of this chaotic stream of consciousness, I would like to say that we managed to create a truly unique and much needed tool for the community. It is structured, and thanks to the efforts of each member of our group, brought to almost perfection, it is a finished product with a clear methodology that everyone can use. It allows you to touch on really important and complex topics at the human level, thus creating a window of opportunity to find solutions to these problems.

It develops social awareness, skills as a playback actor, conductor, and facilitator.  It gives understanding of group dynamics, personal responsibility, responsibility for the group and an understanding of your personal contribution to the group.

If you decide to gather your group and follow our trail, let us know, we have life-hacks.

My connection to PT outside Malaysia
 Poh Kiang Tan, Malaysia

My Background

I’m Poh Kiang, my family name is Tan. I lived in a very tiny Malaysian Chinese fishing village (Bagan Tengkorak) when I was young, there’s about 30 houses there. We lived with our 4th uncle and his family in our grandpa’s big house. So, it’s interesting to know how two families lived together: we had two kitchens in this big house. I felt grateful to have my 4th aunt to support my mum for taking care of her nine children. My aunt was the one who held my little hand for my first writing, sharpened my pencils, helped me with some drawings and so on. My first formal social experience was in my primary school as I didn’t even have a chance to attend preschool. There was a bad experience where my friend teased me in class, and said my family drank water from the river. I was speechless!

I took a long time to complete my tertiary education due to my dad’s financial situation. Basically, he had no extra money to support us but he had a very kind heart to allow us (girls) to get an education. During those days, Chinese society was narrow minded and kept girls at home to help with household chores, feeding pigs, farming, sorting fishes etc. I was lucky to have my elder siblings to guide me on my studies and show me the path. I chose to attend our government’s Polytechnic for a three-year Diploma in Accountancy with some sponsorship from Kuok Foundation. I graduated from the University of Putra Malaysia with a Degree in Accounting in another three years under some study loans.

My experience in Better Together

During the pandemic, I came across many organisations which shifted from physical to online performances when China started lockdown and playbackers from India and China initiated some performances for them. I had some chances to join a few of them, but it was for short term projects, like a study group for 3 months, an online performance in Chinese Language for a few months, Playback for Playbackers for another short period, etc.

I felt so thankful that I was selected to be part of the Better Together project. This was something  that I was looking for, as it was longer term as compared to the earlier ones. I read through the requirements and marked down all the dates of meetings. I didn’t really pay much attention to the requirements for writing, in fact, I didn’t realise that I needed to write some reports after this project! Anyway, I believe I would still have chosen to join if I had known that there would be some writing work at the end of this project. Why? Simply because I was looking for a platform for me to explore more about playback theatre. I love to connect with different playbackers, especially different cultures, so I joined with full curiosity about what this project would bring to me. Like it or not, I didn’t think much. I knew that “THIS IS WHAT I WANT!!!”

As a preschool educator, I enjoy my work.  I love teaching children, seeing them grow is like a miracle. Most importantly, I’m so happy that I can help them to unleash their potential. However, I’m not sure how to share my playback experience with them since they’re so young, at 3 – 6 years old. My life’s journey is to give back to society what I’ve benefited from before, promote love, caring and a peaceful society through mutual understanding among different ethnicities. I believe playback theatre will be an important tool for my life purpose. I know that our society needs harmonious activities to promote listening to each other, and being proactive to respect each other. I am at my best when I’m sharing, contributing and fully focused. So, I wish to make this playback theatre happen in Malaysia.

After a year in this project, I was resonating with some topics like oppression, identity, career, relationships, racism, etc. Some topics on activism which had never come to my mind like protest, human rights, environmental issues and so on, were presented and these issues caught my attention. I was grateful that this group was so open and had a high level of acceptance, I felt safe after a few meetings and bravely volunteered myself for the presentation. Somehow, I reflected that I only shared the common facts about Malaysia such as food, the different races (Chinese, Malay, and Indian) and my hometown. I should have presented more dimensions about myself, my culture, my country’s sometimes unfair policies, and my opinion about what’s happening here. I guess I was pretty reserved in the beginning and not sharing a lot of how I think. But then, I’ve been taught from a young age not to mention some sensitive issues openly, it may cost me very highly to be in jail if I say something offensive, especially if it’s related to politics, religion, culture etc.

I felt so happy that I was able to incorporate Johari’s Windows (a tool that helps us understand ourselves and each other) into our playback theatre together with Agi Orban, my buddy in Better Together. She’s very creative and open to my ideas and was able to innovate within our group dynamic. I had a strong sense of success in this experience, at least this was another way for me to know more about our eleven members from a different perspective: how do I see myself? How do others see me? What are the things that I know about myself but others don’t? What is the potential that others see in me that I don’t realise?

Since we’re coming to the end of this project, I wish that the good vibes will continue and be shared to more people. Thanks to our organising team, Will C, Marat and Nina; thanks to all participants Michael, Cherae, Mansee, Elsa, Sheila, Anna, Agi and myself, Poh Kiang. We’ve made it happen!

How Do I Share My Country’s Story in Twenty Minutes?
Mansee Shah Thard, India

When eleven people from diverse countries get together online for a year on the “Better Together” Playback project, the process and dynamics can be pretty interesting. The idea is to know each other’s cultures through presentations about their countries, followed by personal stories, playback and some discussions.

When the concept of Better Together was announced in the International Playback Facebook group, it sounded like a dream. More so, as I had just started jamming online with international participants and felt the need for it. There were times when I felt at sea because of not knowing about cultures and dynamics of different countries which limited me to play back these multicultural stories.

Twenty minutes is given to each person to present about their countries, culture and their relationship to it. “Tell your story” in twenty minutes. When I first heard about this, I thought that twenty minutes would be too much.

Our own choices about what we want to present or what we look for in presentations from other countries say a lot about who we are. When we initially started the presentation, the first few presentations were more from an individual perspective – their childhood years, what they liked about their countries and what they didn’t like, and so on. I don’t know if they would have been different if they were presented in the later part of the year when there was more comfort in the group.

Some of the participants found it challenging to decide what to share about their country. After all, most of the countries are complex with different races, classes and divisions. Besides, there were a few of us who felt unsure about presenting the not so glorious aspects of our countries. Then again, there were a few who were most comfortable sharing about the political aspects of their countries, and not so comfortable with sharing about their personal life.

Considering that I was amongst people who were unknown to me and had longer Playback Theatre experience than me, I wondered what I could present to them in twenty minutes. But, as time moved on, and the comfort set in, I realised that twenty minutes is too short a time to tell the story of my country, India. There is so much – history, politics, culture, people, economy, geography and beyond. What should I include and what is okay to not include? When actually I started preparing for my presentation, I decided I wanted to showcase my country in a way which only I know (through my local eyes). History was important, so I sent a couple of videos about my country beforehand. Other information such as politics and geography, I assumed people could always find through Google. I decided to talk a little about myself, my family and about the nuances which only I, an Indian woman living in India, knew and that’s how I went about it. Even then, the twenty minutes felt very short because there is so much more about my country which I wanted to share. I was comfortable presenting about the culture, the idiosyncrasies of India and Indians, as it was something I had lived in for forty-two years of my life. What I was not comfortable presenting was the facts of the political scenario, as my knowledge was too limited to discuss it but still, I did my best as they were important facts. The main theme that came out (maybe because I spoke very passionately about it or it touched the group more) was patriarchy in India. It was not easy for me to show my country in a negative light but still it was important to share.  I’m glad that I did, as a lot of participants could connect to it and found it enriching. Somehow, for me this theme has stayed with me, even now, three months later. And it has ignited in me a spark to be observant and to speak up when required (especially for the voiceless) and not be a bystander.  This, I believe, is the most important takeaway for me from this group. To not be on autopilot, observe, read up and speak up. I will always be grateful for Better Together for this and beyond.


The space between: Interweaving the “I” and the “We”
(Narrative Reticulation in a multinational Playback Theatre project exploring multicultural encounters.)

Elsa Maurício Childs, Portugal

When I was a child,
I believed in magic.

Now I have grown, and
I believe in stories.

Now I am older,
I give words
to the stories in people’s heads.

(“The Storyteller”, Imogen Wade)

My name is Elsa and I… 

In 2021, Playback in the Port created the online Better Together project, a highly stimulating and bold experiment on multicultural encounters through the mediation of Playback Theatre, directed by Will C., Marat Mairovich and Nina Garbuzova. After a selection process, with small group interviews, eleven people from eleven different nationalities were chosen to participate. The project, previewed to last for thirteen months, with twice-monthly two-hour meetings on alternate Sundays, consisted of presentations about each one of the countries represented in two sessions (one country per month). The first session was aimed at presenting each participant’s country, culture, and individual history and stories. The second session focused on stories of how the rest of the group related to the presentation and stories shared in the first session. There were also sessions specifically aimed at handling group dynamic questions resulting from previous sessions.

My personal testimony about my participation in this project is an attempt at underlining the patterns of connection between stories coming from and inspired by such diverse individual, social, cultural and political contexts as the ones these eleven people came from, as it became clear that this would be an opportunity to highlight the occurrence of Narrative Reticulation, especially appealing due to the fact that the group of tellers and the team of performers would be the same throughout these twenty-six sessions. As such, it would not only be possible to study the occurrence of Narrative Reticulation in each one of the sessions individually, but also from week to week and throughout the twenty-six sessions in total, thus contributing to an understanding of Playback and its effectiveness as a communication and bridge-building tool in the context of multicultural dialogue, proving that Narrative Reticulation “provides a rationale for dialogue through personal story” (Fox, 14).

Another element that contributed to this decision was the fact that, even though this would be an audience made up solely of playbackers, and thus of people who are aware of the Playback concepts that I propose to highlight in relation to the possible connections between stories, this deep familiarity of the whole group with Playback was counterbalanced by the originality of the context and framework that defined the very nature of each session and group of sessions and the thematic and formal prompt for the presentation and storytelling. This breaking away from the habitual, underlying expectations and premises of Playback Theatre could prevent a more significant type of preconception on the part of the tellers when deciding to share a story, which, when occurring, could introduce a bias in the conclusions of this reading.

As a chorus, let’s watch…

The mere witnessing, as a member of the group myself, of the stories as they were told rendered immediately evident the fact that the occurrence of Narrative Reticulation was strong, as we heard story after story that connected to previous stories not just from the same session, but from previous sessions, sometimes weeks apart, which seemed to confirm that “the dynamic balance of four attributes – story, atmosphere, spontaneity, and guidance – allowing a flow of interconnected stories” (Fox, 1), was definitely in place in the Better Together project.

Looking at the structure that may have given rise to this flow, the first session dedicated to each country started with a moment for face rights (a check-in that acknowledges the importance of each voice being heard, each face being seen) led by the conductor for the session, followed by a 20-minute presentation on their country by the teller-presenter. After a moment for discussing what, from the presentation, was resonating with the audience and a warm-up led by the facilitator of the session, the teller-presenter was invited by the conductor of that session (chosen previously by the teller), to tell stories based on their presentation and/or on the questions shared by the rest of the group in the chat after the presentation. The first session ended with a few minutes for takeaways and for inviting someone to volunteer as conductor for the second session. Besides the conductor, as just mentioned, who facilitated the Playback part, the session was guided by a facilitator also chosen by the teller, a role that, unlike that of the conductor, was extended to the second session, establishing a connection and a sense of continuity between the two sessions for each country/teller. In the second session, the follow-up facilitator was responsible for the face rights moment, dedicated to assessing how the previous session was resonating with the group, a moment followed by a warm-up led by the previous conductor. This warm-up led into the Playback part, directed by the volunteer conductor, who elicited from the group stories about the way the previous session had resonated with them. After the Playback and main part of the session, the facilitator guided a discussion with the whole group on what had remained with them from the two sessions. The final word of the second session was always given to the teller/presenter, as should happen in a traditional Playback context, as a part of the Playback ritual.

The stability, familiarity and internal logic of the structure for each module of two sessions, and of the succession of the different modules, as well as what came to be the ritualistic nature of each one of the different moments and their respective facilitation, helped create a coherence and balance in the guidance of the whole process and of each individual part of the process. This balance enabled us to encompass very different conduction styles, different individual and group energies, different focuses on the part of the conductors and the presenters, different formats for the presentations, and different audience/teller responses. And the coherence and balance that defined both the basic structure and the type of simultaneously solid and flexible guidance that it stimulated and contained allowed for connections between stories in each session and throughout the sessions that made up our one-year journey to occur more easily.

The same can be stated, without any hint of contradiction, for the spontaneous nature of what was gifted to the whole group by the whole group in the form of stories, of the performers’ (actors and musician) offerings, and of the fluidity, flexibility and univocity of the conducting and facilitating, beyond any and all the individual specificities that singularized each participant of the project. All the attributes associated with this determining feature of Playback, its improvisational nature, for which spontaneity is a sine qua non condition, were present: the playfulness with which we started and ended the sessions; the interplay of creativity and imagination in the retellings, where body expression and movement and a more poetic, minimalist use of language, set and props were central; the level of collaboration between performers; the interaction between actors and musicians; their presence and deep listening capacity; and the flexibility with which everyone exchanged roles.

The exact same final coherence and cohesion happened with the atmosphere that each individual, each team and the group as a whole were able to co-create, co-construct, and co-manage. The use of each individual stage, the balance of music, word and silence, the deep sense of theatre and the creation and maintaining of ritual in the retellings, alongside a stated, continuous search for inclusivity (which defined the sessions up to the very last moment we were together), the profound familiarity and, especially, affection that connected the group helped construct the collective resonance of individual stories that I would say defined Better Together as a whole.

Better Together was based upon the fundamental premise of Playback that stories are key to our identity, deepened by the other central premise that inspired the creators of the project: that the stories of the space(s) where we became individuals are also key to our identity; that is, that for our personal and national identities, the “I” and the “we”, are intertwined. As such, the most characteristic thread that united the stories that were shared along the project was the one that connected the stories of each individual country to each teller’s personal, family story.

Throughout each session, but also throughout the whole process, the stories shared by the group expanded both in breadth, as each set of two sessions structurally evolved from one single teller, to multiple tellers and because more and more people were motivated to share and to show their vulnerability along the thirteen months, and in depth, as the recurrent, main themes seemed to be increasingly explored in terms of scope and implications, seeming to become progressively more complex.

Statistically speaking, so that we can have an idea of the dimension of the storytelling involved in the process, Better Together had eleven tellers, eleven stories-presentations on countries, forty-two stories told by the presenters, immediately following their presentations, fifty-three stories by the whole group that were inspired by those presentations and by the presenters’ follow-up stories, and eleven final moments of sharing by the teller-presenters, in a total of one hundred and seventeen narratives shared by the whole group, which is equivalent to an average of more than ten stories per teller.

Type of Stories Number of stories Average per teller 

(11 tellers) 

Presentations on each country 11 1
Follow-up stories by presenters 48 4.4
Stories by rest of the group  53 4.8
Final word by presenter 11 1
Total 117 10,6

Table 1: Story stats

As regards the topoi that define the one hundred and seventeen stories shared, they can be grouped into four major thematic groups:

  1. Family history: ancestors, children, memory, loss, (dis)connection, roots, growing up, chosen family;
  2. National and individual identities: ambiguity, immigration, questioning, distance, proximity, re-evaluation;
  3. Work and activism: awareness, lack of awareness, self-awareness, belief, hope, despair, social justice, commitment, passion, self-knowledge, Playback;
  4. Oppression: violence against women, misogyny, racism, colonialism, lack of freedom(s), the patriarchy, gender-based discrimination, questioning of one own’s patterns of oppression.

We experienced a journey among these connected topics in each session, which deepened and became progressively more complex and vulnerable throughout the duration of Better Together, a process marked by an obvious augmentation of meaning (Fox, 2). This became perceptible in the dialogue that the stories progressively established with each other, revealing new meanings and new depths as we moved along, even if this dialogue could take different forms. Stories spoke to and of each other by association, by opposition, by inversion, offering new meanings to each individual story and to the general story of Better Together, a story of connection and courage, as the most quoted words in our final sharing exercise revealed.

The art of quilting

What quite immediately came to be and kept forming itself as a beautiful composite, integral, puzzle-like image made up of diverse individuals, playing diverse, changing roles, sharing about diverse spaces and times, in diverse ways reminded me of the reading of Narrative Reticulation as creating “a kind of tapestry with a unified design and a sense of the whole” (Fox, 3). But a tapestry is defined as a single piece of woven fabric where all the threads are hidden to form a single, unified, final image. A more productive and telling metaphor, from what I have experienced in Better Together, would be that of the quilt. Each individual story we told became a geometric piece of fabric in this evocative quilt, with colors, textures and patterns of its own, alongside all the other pieces of individual, single pieces of fabric, with colors, textures and patterns of their own, with distinctive tones, hues, lines, and threads that connected them to other pieces of fabric previously sewn in and to the ones that would still come to be. And, as happens in a quilt, but not in a tapestry, it was not only at the end of the sewing process of the whole patchwork that the complete image, the final design, appeared. This quilted image, made up of all of those individual, unique, original pieces, became progressively evident and readable, at every step of the way, by all of us as we sewed it together, as a community, throughout the thirteen months of the project.

Does a quilt possess unity? It is made of patches, its pieces may come from the most diverse origins, from anywhere; they may be stitched together, with different threads, by the most diverse hands, that often work in different moments in time, across generations even, to assemble it; it may seem to create different images at different times. That is all true and actually part of the reason why it is such an apt image for the process of Narrative Reticulation in general and for the type of strong, meaningful and inclusive Narrative Reticulation that defines Better Together. Quilting, both as a craft and as a metaphor, derives its power precisely from the fact that it is a multi-layered textile, made of numerous individual patches of different cloth that come together both as a progressive and as a final image or design, involving the communal synchronous and/or asynchronous work of different individuals and/or groups, a profoundly meaningful communal gesture that simultaneously tells the identity of each individual and of the whole community that created it. Just as Better Together gave rise to a quilted, multicultural group of diverse individuals whose connection and interweaving seems to contribute to the belief that “more of [Narrative Reticulation] in our social contexts will lead, one can hope, to more cohesive and civil communities” (Fox, 15).

I remember a group that…

For me, as a human being, first and foremost, and as a playbacker and a citizen of the world, this learning experience was one of the most rewarding ones I have ever lived in terms of its profound humanity, its emotional wealth, its experiential depth and of the critical awareness it offered me and, I believe, offered all of us. I leave this project as a better person for having learned from the example of a beautiful group of humans that I miss already, even if we just said goodbye to each other. The leaf of reticulating, communicating, dialoguing veins that all our narratives have created will also carry this final farewell story:

I miss your laughter, your honesty and your insights, Agi.

I miss your serenity, your care and your attentive silences, Anna.

I miss your power, your intelligence and your sense of humor, Cherae.

I miss your gentleness, your listening and your determination, Mansee.

I miss your creativity, your sensitivity and your belief in dialogue, Marat.

I miss your metaphors, your attentiveness, and your presence, Michael.

I miss your courage, your beauty, and your capacity to feel for and see others, Nina.

I miss your joy, your commitment, and your spontaneity, Poh Kiang.

I miss your perseverance, your integrity and your guidance, Sheila.

I miss your energy, your generosity and your inspiration, Will C.

And that is why I will end my personal article by dedicating to each and every one of you the song that Michael chose for my presentation about Portugal. “Saudade” is a polysemic, untranslatable Portuguese word that speaks, at the same time, of distance and constant presence, of longing and belonging. Your stories spoke of you and me. They spoke of us. They spoke of others. They spoke of the world. And they will keep inhabiting me and telling me who I am and who I want to be, forever…


Fox, Jonathan. 2019. Playback NR Workbook: Guidelines for Mastering Narrative Reticulation. New York: Tusitala.

Blanda, John Andrew, and Mariana Brito da Cruz Forjaz Secca. 2022. saudade, saudade.  Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC.


“Will C.” AKA Will Chalmus (United States) is a Playback practitioner and international trainer that simultaneously holds positions as an educator, consultant, performance artist, and event manager.

Elsa Maurício Childs (Portugal) is a Playback performer, conductor, director and researcher, as well as an activist Theatre programmer and producer, working towards social justice, with a special focus on gender and identity questions, and on matters related to gender, sexuality and mental health for teenagers.

Nina Garbuzova (Russia) is co-founder and actress of the Playback01 theater, co-organizer of the International Playback Camp, professional business trainers, expert in Art2Business techniques for solving corporate problems.

Cheraé Halley (South Africa) is an applied drama practitioner and creates theatre with a focus on human rights and social justice. Cheraé is currently the co-director of Drama for Life Playback Theatre and serves as a board member on the IPTN.

Poh Kiang Tan (Malaysia) has ventured into early childhood education for more than 10 years. She is a playbacker in Malaysia under Rasa Sayang Playback Theatre. She’s interested in influencing society through playback theatre.

Mansee Shah Thard (India) is a Playbacker and a social entrepreneur who manages a performing art space in Bangalore, India


Acknowledging the importance of the citizen actor and social artistry in Playback Theatre

In this excerpt from her recent doctoral thesis, Kathy Barolsky investigates the Playback Theatre term “citizen actor”, which leads her to the concept of social artistry, “an attunement to socially just ways of being.” In addition to the thesis, Kathy has published extensively about Playback Theatre and social justice, informed by her company Drama for Life Playback Theatre’s work in the complicated context of post-apartheid South Africa.

Acknowledging the importance of the citizen actor and social artistry in Playback Theatre

Excerpted and adapted from Playback Theatre: Intra-acting with stories in post-apartheid South Africa, 2022 (doctoral thesis)
By Kathy Barolsky, PhD

Jonathan Fox coined the term the citizen actor (2021) in the early years of PT in the mid-70s. It is a crucial concept capturing the role of the PT actor, but despite its importance, there is very little detail as to what the citizen actor does, or what might define a citizen actor in PT.

In 2021, Fox briefly and concisely outlined key beliefs behind the concept. Fox begins by bringing attention to the straightforwardness of the word actor as “the standard meaning of the theatrical role player, and at the same time a suggestion of ‘activist’” (Fox, 2021, p.184). Fox quickly points out that the word ‘activism’ has been contentious in the PT community, with many practitioners not seeing the direct link between the practice and politics. However, he clarifies this by stating that “Playback Theatre practice is committed to general principles of human rights…, and the Playback Theatre actor will be an activist if she is to live up to this credo of all humans [and non-humans] deserving a voice…” (2021, p.184).

There are many activist art forms to work with in applied theatre, ranging from Boal to Brecht, but choosing to articulate ‘activism’ through PT asks for a subtler, less in-your-face activism because of its emphasis on creating dialogue by ‘honouring people’s stories’ which can leave the enactment by the performers as a wide open field for interpretation. Due to this, the form does not accentuate foregrounding the political aspects of a teller’s stories. Therefore, this is completely dependent on the actors listening to tease out the political dimensions of a teller’s story. Nevertheless, its potential as a politicised art form is no less significant and has an important contribution to make to the spectrum of political art. The required dialogue in and around the art form among the ensemble itself and between the ensemble and audience involves a profound level of engagement and connection from all involved to make PT work. It invites a sophisticated artistic challenge for the performers to enunciate different nuances within the dialogue that takes place.

Fox continues to describe more specifically the use of the term ‘citizen’ in a PT context. I have taken the liberty of breaking them down into the following points. The word citizen actor embodies and implies:

      • A sense of community responsibility.
      • The citizen actor will espouse an ethics that strives for a theatre event benefitting everyone involved.
      • A Playback actor as common citizen requires humility, an absence of ego in social standing that mirrors the egolessness of our stage work.
      • A sense of context that includes historical and political knowledge.
      • It is …incumbent upon the citizen actor to interrogate herself regarding social stereotypes and prejudice that might contaminate understanding and enacting others’ stories. (2021, p.184-185)

To me, Fox’s briefness in elaborating on the ‘definition’ of the citizen actor is an invitation to the PT community to consider the implications of these guidelines in practice thoroughly. It is a provocation to problematise what responsibility might look like in PT in fine detail, which is a central part of the undertaking of the research from which this article is excerpted. What does it mean to set up performances that benefit everyone? What type of dialogue can be facilitated in this context? What are the limits of this? The egoless actor is an ideal that is important when collaborating with fellow performers and the audience. At the same time, PT performers need a certain level of boldness to claim the necessary space to do what they do. Finally, a foundation of historical and political knowledge is an integral arsenal in a performer’s backpack. However, this aspect of PT training often falls by the wayside.

Finally, the last point of the profound task of investigating the layers of oneself and the prejudices we hold as performers is a monumental and necessary task. These blind spots have a direct impact on how performers listen and stage a teller’s stories. I have written about this in depth in ‘Doing white differently? Playback Theatre and whiteness in post-apartheid South Africa’ (Barolsky 2021), from a conductor’s perspective. Cherae Halley and I also co-authored a book chapter (Barolsky & Halley 2021) where we unpack the complexity of our unexpected blind spots in a PT performance in relation to a teller’s story about gender-based violence.

Learning the form of PT is complex with its rituals, and combining that with a high level of artistic expression is another bar to surmount. Coupled with finding a way to have enough artistic flexibility to find form for socio-political and psychological understanding of a teller’s story, and do it effectively, is not an easy task. Despite this, I have witnessed with Drama for Life Playback Theatre that this goal is worth working towards. Striving towards this goal gives more opportunity for the presence of the sophistication of the citizen actor to come to the fore.

While practicing and researching PT, I have noticed details surrounding the activation of the ‘citizen actor’ when the performer is at the pinnacle of embodying this during a performance. In this moment, the performer brings together the ideals of the citizen activist actor, finding the highest expression of responsibility within the PT form without being didactic. As Rancière eloquently explains, “the dream of a suitable political work of art is in fact the dream of disrupting the relationship between the visible, the sayable, and the thinkable without having to use the terms of a message as a vehicle” (Rancière 2015, p.59).

The strength of the actor and the citizen coming together has captivated a sense of awe in me. This has instigated a curiosity to try and engage with how this dream of a suitable work of art comes to be, where affect and responsibility can come together with such a force. It is a force that alters the perception of how the ensemble and the audience experience a teller’s story. To embody this dream, where art and the political come together, as expressed by Rancière, is when the performer’s yearning for a socially just world enacts itself with full spirit, and materialises itself in relation to a teller’s story expressed by the citizen actor’s social artistry. Social artistry is cultivating affective responsibility through:

…an attunement to the world, an attunement to socially just ways of being. The echoes of histories, memories and landscapes, and all things physical that imprint and sculpt us as human beings. The performer tunes into their social artistry capacity by dropping into these multiple layers, this affective wisdom- profoundly listening to it on a sensorial and corporeal level. This attunement is what condenses itself as a creative knowing and intuition drawn upon in the moment of staging social artistry. The work of social artistry is about an authentic practice, rooted and informed by an understanding of the world’s workings around us. This commitment is not a textbook understanding of a discursive phrase but driven by curiosity and a performative understanding of social justice, visioning it into everyday life creatively. (Barolsky 2022, p.57)

Rancière’s conception of political art fits with the ideal of how social artistry comes about as it resists an instrumentalisation of what politically attuned PT should look like. There is no road map to this, nor a total ‘tool kit’ devised for this purpose. Social artistry differs, deepening the artistic strengths of the performer and how they combine that with how they see the world – comprehending and seeing the world as a constant becoming in practice and exercising new ways of being with others. The performer does not come armed with the conscious intention of going into a performance to make visible every power structure and those that are made invisible by them at every turn. Instead, the performer consistently commits to social justice ideals and the idea of being a citizen actor on and off stage. Therefore, when the performer is on stage and a political moment arises, the performer can channel their social artistry appropriately towards participatory parity (Fraser, 2005). Enacting this may be along the spectrum of affirmative or transformative modes of staging social justice themes within a teller’s story. For more detail about Nancy Fraser’s participatory parity concept and transformative and affirmative modes of justice in PT, one can read Barolsky 2021b.

As the performers translate the teller’s story, the spontaneity of that engagement and its material worlds configure themselves to produce affects. From this moment, the actor draws on what has gone before to match and intra-act with this moment using the wisdom that comes with social artistry, reconfiguring material agents in the moment of becoming. The political capacity of PT comes to fruition when the teller is suddenly made visible by the teller’s actor and supporting ensemble as citizen actors. The visibility through social artistry is not a trite representation, the type that Dennis (2007) actively warns against in her form of materialising social artistry in translating refugee stories in PT. The staged political art finds nuance in taken-for-granted staging of oppressed or marginalised people so that people’s names, histories, and constant becoming are honoured and not reified. Thus, images of silenced tellers resist commodification into ‘disaster porn’ (Recuber, 2013). Such work relies on the performer’s prowess of intuiting the relationship between art and politics as part of the aesthetic regime of art.

The performer’s act of resistance of re-establishing what can be seen and heard is not premeditated. If it were so, it could easily fall into the ethical regime of applied theatre instrumentalism. The work of the PT performer is to do the opposite. It is to disrupt the co-ordinates where appropriate, yet this can never be foreseen. The ethical regime can never completely be dismissed, as teaching PT forms are part of the ethical regime but can still be taught in a way that makes performers aware of implementing PT in a way that encourages the aesthetic regime.

PT performers can be carried then to a place of fruitful risk that Rowe refers to (2007), where “practitioners work the equipment, theoretical and experimental, without any illusion of clean hands and unapologetically express their enthusiasm and amazement for the world and the possibilities of fostering just relationships among the world’s diverse ways of being/becoming” (Barad, 2012, p. 207). Barad captures an aspect of social artistry as a social theoretical, practical experiment of playing in the muck of life. It asks for boldness and bravery from the performer. Even if it is dirty and feels all-defeating at times, having the opportunity to muck about in the PT space is an opportunity for those diverse ways of becoming to be thrashed out amongst PT ensemble members, and that will translate into social artistry on the stage.

Barad names the need to speak to ghosts, to open up for new ways of being willing to take on the idea of responsibility, a core element of social artistry:

Only by facing the ghosts, in their materiality, and acknowledging injustice without the empty promise of complete repair (of making amends finally) can we come close to taking them at their word. The past is never closed, never finished once and for all, but there is no taking it back, setting time aright, putting the world back on its axis. There is no erasure finally. The trace of all reconfigurings are written into the enfolded materialisations of what was/ is/ to-come. Time can’t be fixed. To address the past (and future), to speak with ghosts, is not to entertain or reconstruct some narrative of the way it was, but to respond, to be responsible, to take responsibility for that which we inherit (from the past and the future), for the entangled relationalities of inheritance… (Barad 2010, p. 261)

Social artistry is a commitment to living life fully and seeing it as an opportunity; to walk alongside ghosts, to cry and laugh and feel into the histories that we as citizens inherit. In countries with a tenuous relationship to democracy, which in South Africa’s case is hampered primarily by the ghosts of colonialism and apartheid, a volatile concoction of entangled material simmers. The ghosts lie latent in entanglements and assiduously materialise when one least expects them through daily intra-actions.  When they are not conversed with and acknowledged, they find new paths to entangle themselves and persevere. Their obstinacy creates magnified affects in a soup of wounding that continues to fester. Here, they parade about – banging, stamping, whistling, and wailing for attention. The point is that in South Africa and other countries where injustice lies unaddressed, their material presence gnaws and chafes at everyday life, making navigating everyday life difficult and draining.

PT, the citizen actors, and their skill of social artistry have a unique role in such contexts of transitional justice, where citizens are haunted by the empty promises of reparations that have yet to come. To model and create spaces of how to go on and find meaningful ways of making sense of such realities is indispensable.

Fostering social artistry as a performer in PT is a commitment to renewal and finding ways to relate through seemingly impossible situations in working towards justice to come. This wondrous wisdom and commitment shared in PT offers a platform for the performers’ social artistry to invite everyone into this vision. This invitation may be met with trepidation at first as the ensemble and tellers warm up to one another, especially when there are so many ghosts around. However, then they begin to speak, and us with them, and so the work begins.


Barad, K. (2010). Quantum entanglements and hauntological relations of inheritance: Dis/continuities, SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come. Derrida Today, 3 (2),240-268.

Barad, K. (2012). On touching—the inhuman that therefore I am. Differences (Bloomington, Ind.)23(3), 206–223.

Barolsky, K. (2022). Playback Theatre and the significance of intra-actions in staging social artistry. Applied Theatre Research10(1), 55-70.

Barolsky, K. (2021a). Doing white differently? Playback Theatre and whiteness in post-apartheid South Africa. Research in Drama Education26(2), 224–239.

Barolsky, K. (2021b). Playback Theatre, social justice and empathy: A diffractive review. Applied Theatre Research9(2), 117–132.

Barolsky, K., & Halley, C. (2021). Chapter 12 Liezel’s Story – #NotInMyName: Playback Theatre in post-apartheid South Africa. In P.J. Janse van Vuuren, B. Rasmussen, & A. Khala (Eds.),Theatre and Democracy: building democracy in post-war and post-democratic contexts. Cappelen Damm NOASP.

Dennis, R. (2007). Inclusive democracy: a consideration of Playback Theatre with refugee and asylum seekers in Australia. Research in Drama Education12(3), 355–370.

Fox, J. (2021). Citizen Actor: The artist as citizen and the ethical role of a Playback performer (essay written in 2020). In J. Fox & J. Salas (Eds.), Personal Stories in Public Spaces: Essays on Playback Theatre by Its Founders. (pp.184-185). Tusitala Publishing.

Fraser, N. (2005). Reframing justice: In a globalizing world. New Left Review36, 69–88.

Rancière, J. (2015). The politics of aesthetics: The distribution of the sensible. Continuum.

Recuber, T. (2013). Disaster porn. Contexts (Berkeley, Calif.)12(2), 28–33.

Rowe, N. (2007). Playing the other: dramatizing personal narratives in playback theatre. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Kathy Barolsky is a drama and movement therapist (MA, RCCSD), applied theatre specialist (MA Dramatic Arts, Drama for Life, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) and Playback Theatre Leadership graduate (2013). Kathy founded Drama for Life Playback Theatre in 2008. In August 2022 Kathy completed her Ph.D. as part of the Building Democracy Through Theatre project at the Norwegian University of Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. She is also a member of the South African conference committee that is hosting the International Playback Theatre Network World Conference for the first time on African soil, in 2023.