CU's Playback Ensemble

CU’s Playback Ensemble, made up of faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students from several different departments, performs for a wide array of campus and community events. The Ensemble also runs the Critical Conversations Project, which uses Playback Theatre to facilitate conversations in areas of rural Colorado that are experiencing rapid and destabilizing change (social, economic or environmental).

Playback Theatre is a non-scripted, interactive theatre form in which audience members share true stories or experiences from their lives and see them “played back” by an ensemble of actors in ways that encourage insight across chasms of difference. 

Like a cross between a town hall meeting and an improvisational performance, one actor from the ensemble (“the conductor”) engages the audience in a collective conversation, asking questions that address the specific concerns of those who’ve gathered. The audience’s responses are played back on the spot in non-confrontational ways that build bridges, strengthen social bonds, and lift civic spirit.  

Critical Conversations Project

The Critical Conversations Project (CCP) employs well-developed, empirically tested Playback Theatre to facilitate conversations in areas of rural Colorado that are experiencing rapid and destabilizing social, economic, or environmental change. Playback is a non-scripted, interactive theatre form in which audience members share true experiences from their lives and see them “played back” by an ensemble of trained actors in ways that encourage insight across difference. Practiced in more than 70 countries, Playback is used in projects from facilitating transitional justice in Afghanistan to repairing trust between community and police in Memphis. Empirical evidence has demonstrated its ability to improve relationships and facilitate reconciliation.

Piloted in January 2020, the CCP has empowered members of the CU Boulder Playback Ensemble to conduct two, four-day residencies in Paonia, Colorado, each offering a combination of public listening sessions, performances, and open, inclusive workshops for members of the community. May 2022’s community events included a full-day workshop with the students, faculty, and staff of Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy (PELA), a free public workshop involving participants aged 8 to 72, a listening session with community partners, a free public performance at Paonia’s historic Paradise Theater, and participation in the second-annual Story Share held at the Blue Sage Center for the Arts – a multimedia arts event which brings to life area residents’ family histories as a way of showcasing local history and shared community values. Community partners have included the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition (NFVCC), Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy (PELA), the Learning Council, Paradise Theater, The Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss, and the Blue Sage Center for the Arts in Paonia. Plans are in place to return in 2023 in support of Paonia’s selection as one of six Colorado towns to participate in the traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit, Crossroads: Change in Rural America.

For More Information

To learn more about CU’s Playback Ensemble, find out how to join, or book the Ensemble to perform for your class or event, please email thdnoutreach@colorado.edu.