Company History

The first Playback Theatre company was founded just north of New York City in 1975 by New Yorker, Jonathan Fox, and his New Zealander partner, Jo Salas. Fox had been working in improvisational theatre, and had become interested in telling stories accompanied by a musician. Salas was a trained musician and activist. In 1980 some of the members of the original Playback Theatre Company toured Australasia resulting in companies being founded in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth and Wellington, New Zealand. Luckily for us, since then Fox and Salas have returned to the southern hemisphere and we have been inspired by their workshops.

Companies now exist on six continents. Melbourne Playback is proud to be part of the International Playback Theatre Network which has over 100 company and 300 individual members from more than 50 countries.

Melbourne Playback was founded by Mary Good in September 1981 when she returned from studying in New York with the Playback Theatre Company. We have been operating since then, one of the longest running Playback companies in the world. From those early days, performances were offered to the general public, as well as to educational institutions, unemployed people’s groups, and at schools for special needs youth, Winlaton and Travancore. Since then we have performed for many educational, community and Government groups all over Victoria, held public performances at theatres such as Gasworks, La Mama, Malthouse, Dancehouse, and Geelong Courthouse, and performed extensively for corporate clients. The company has expanded its skills base, offering public workshops in theatre and music and tailor-made corporate training. In 2012-13 we completed our biggest project to date, working in Sydney with 4500 Qantas ground operations staff to reinvigorate its airport service culture.

In the past few years long-term member and sometime Artistic Director, Andrew Gray, has been concerned that organizations tend to self-select people who are somehow similar to themselves. He has driven a push for greater ethnic diversity in the company, resulting in a Diversity Policy and an internship offered to Vietnamese/Australian actor, Diana Nguyen. Diana has gone on to become a key member of the company and in 2013 was successful in securing ArtsVic funding to run Playback training with newly arrived young people in partnership with the Southern Ethnic Advisory and Advocacy Council in the City of Casey.

Also in 2013 we were excited to work on our first ever creative development. Over two weeks at Theatre Works, the company worked with a video artist, electronic musician and lighting designer. As well as live story telling, we used video-recorded interviews with Port Melbourne residents. This provided some experience creating rehearsed work, which was useful as we have been commissioned to create to rehearsed shows this year based on client’s experiences.

2011 saw a celebration of our 30th anniversary at the Malthouse Theatre. Since then long-time members Alan Davies (now lighting improviser for our public shows) and Ernie Gruner (musician) have been working on archiving material from our history, some of which will be available online.

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