Co-founded by Bob Beare in 1996, the Houston Playback Theatre (HPT) is a theatre troupe that specializes in performances in which the audience takes part in the show as much as the actors themselves, through a method of improvisational theatre called “playback.” The idea of “playback theatre” was invented in 1975, mixing the concept of psychodrama (acting out your internal conflicts on stage to gain insight into them) with music, storytelling, and audience participation to create an interactive experience.

Here’s how it works; the HPT performers begin the show by individually sharing moments from their own lives to the audience, which are then “played back” through improv by their fellow actors. Then, members of the audience are encouraged by the conductor to do the same, with their contributions recreated by the troupe. The aim in this is to cultivate a safe and honest environment in which members of the audience can feel comfortable in sharing anything, from fleeting feelings that they sometimes experience, to deep and personal stories about their lives. This leads to a variety of performances from the actors, ranging from gut-busting hilarity to moments of touching emotional sincerity.

At the end of the show, the performers and the audience are asked to share their feelings about what transpired on stage, and to reflect on how the “played back” moments relate to feelings and events that they’ve experienced in their own lives; to spur them towards personal growth and more comfortable inter-personal communication. The ultimate goal is to create a space where any story, feeling, trial, or hardship can be voiced and heard.

The Houston Playback Theatre performs in many venues around Houston, from schools and churches to museums and theatres, working with audiences large and small. If you’d like to see pictures and videos of their performances, check out their Facebook page here.