The Story of Building a Playback Network

The Story of Building a Playback Network

(1) why and how we started, (2) what we’ve been learning and, (3) how you might benefit.

Dear Playback Theatre friends around the world,


In our (mostly happy) bubble: So easy to focus on just what’s in front of us.  Sure, those of us in our local troupe knew of the Playback community — several of us had gone to Playback Centre trainings or an IPTN gathering.  But we were busy in our lives and engrossed in our local work (both the ups and downs).  Hard to think to connect with Playback colleagues. 

But we kept bumping into limitations in how to meet our company’s desires or needs, like:

●     Can our work have bigger impact?

●     How to make a more beautiful and effective website? How to develop stronger promo materials? 

●     How could we bring in more income?  Present what we do effectively to higher paying clients? How to write a kickass fundraising proposal?

Wondering, how can we avoid reinventing the wheel?  Where might we find

●     Inspiration and helpful role models?

●     Good ideas for how to save precious time?

●     Sample promo and business materials we can use?

Happily, two of us, founding members of our company, have travelled a fair amount for our other work.  Wherever we go we look to see if there is a Playback group to visit.  So lovely to rehearse with over two dozen companies and exchange artistic practices, and then compare notes about business and company development.  Sometimes we brought a few companies together in the same area.  They told us they rarely saw each other…  The force of those bubbles!

Would other companies and practitioners enjoy the benefits of exchange of ideas (like we had) if it were more convenient?

Building a network

●     Who’s there? In 2010 we mapped everyone we could find doing Playback in the U.S. and Canada (sorry if we missed you!).  Spoke to someone from 75 companies about their history and needs.

●     Leaders talk: We invited Playback folks in the U.S. and Canada to come together for two leaders gatherings (in D.C. and in Seattle).  We decided, yes let’s create a network!

What we’ve done since

●     Promo video: We created a short video in 2011 about some Playback applications in North America. 

●     Conferences: In 2011, a North America Playback Theatre weekend gathering in Boston, and in 2012 a second one in DC.

●     Easy talks: Since late 2012, we have hosted 47 teleconferences, first for Playback musicians, then for conductors, and then over time for all Playback lovers on many different questions and themes.  Despite the challenge (especially for Playback people) of being disembodied on a call, we’ve felt surprisingly connected and many have gotten fresh useful ideas to try at home. Many different people have moderated.


●     We have limited time to work on organizing this network.  What do we focus on?

●     How do we not get fried organizing events?

●     When we communicate how do we get busy people to respond to us?

Plans (for the next two years)

●     Toolkit (see blurb below)

●     Continued teleconferences, especially on Playback applications (youth, elderly, at conferences, universities, racial dialogue, Restorative Justice, etc.)

●     Probably another North American conference, summer of 2017.  Some ideas:

○     Lots of performances and debrief sessions to learn from what we saw.

○     Planning high social impact projects (including fundraising and project assessment).

○     Business development, leadership development and company development.

○     An “Open Space” day where participants make offerings of sessions in the moment.


●     Share with us experiences about developing a Playback network (whether you have one or want to organize one), and get in touch to Skype sometime.

●     If you’d like to learn more about the reference guide: “A Playback Theatre Toolkit: through one company’s perspective,” go to the toolkit page on PNA’s website.

●     If you do Playback in the U.S. or Canada join Playback North America.  Whether you are an individual or a company, you will get a membership at the same time in IPTN.

Wishing you the best,

Christopher and Anne Ellinger, Amber Espar, and Tonia Pinheiro for PNA

About Playback North America (PNA)

PNA  is a regional network for Playback Theatre companies, performers, and fans in the U.S. and Canada.  It’s purpose is to facilitate peer exchange to build community and share best practices.  PNA is in partnership with the International Playback Theatre Network and with the Centre for Playback Theatre.   


The Centre for Playback Theatre supports collaborations that support global connections. We are encouraged by this new joint membership between IPTN and PNA, and look forward to exploring its full potential in our global Playback community.

Warmly, Jennie Kristel, Board member for Centre For Playback Theatre

The International Playback Theatre Network (IPTN) and Playback North America (PNA) have agreed to offer you a combined membership. We want to make it as easy as possible to be part of the international Playback Theatre community.  We would be excited to have you join both IPTN and PNA!

Best regards, Juergen Schoo, IPTN President

I’ve been going through the Playback toolkit from PNA. It is incredible work, and I believe it will definitely help playbackers who buy it.

Best regards, Jori Pitkänen

“PNA…Why another organization? I skeptically wondered.  Now I know. 

Through PNA’s teleconferences my Playback practice has been strengthened; the support I receive keeps my head above water when Playback seas get rough.”

 -Dana Rungay, Director, Red Threads of Peace: Playback Theatre in Winnipeg

A Playback Theatre Toolkit:

through the lens of one company’s experience
will be available soon!

It is a new reference guide on artistic, business, and company development for Playback companies and teachers.  The Artistic section (about 150 pages) will be sent electronically to all 2015 PNA Members.  The compiled artistic, business, and company sections (about 300 pages) will be available for PNA Members and international Playback Friends, by mid 2016 in several formats: as a PDF, an e-book, and paperback book.  For more info, look on the website.

Email us if you’d like to be put on the invitation list when it comes out: