Volunteers at the Salvation Army’s ReCreate Café are gathering this week to learn a new form of improvisational theater with the hope of forming a troupe in Chattanooga.

A public demonstration of playback theater will take place Thursday, May 29 at 7 p.m. The free event will allow participants and the public to witness how a playback theater performance works.

The demonstration is the beginning of a three-day training session for actors in the applied theater method.

Unlike “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” where one-word suggestions are culled from the audience, playback theater encourages the recreation of full stories. The master of ceremonies asks questions of the audience to solicit stories, and the actors then use a variety of theatrical techniques to act those stories out with no planning.


Playback theater was created in the mid-’70s and is practiced in more than 50 countries.

Tenika Dye, artistic director at ReCreate Café, has extensive training in the playback theater form and hopes to use the form to help tell the stories of homeless Chattanoogans.

Actors will participate in an extensive study of playback theater, beginning Thursday night. (Photo: Sam Burns)

“Applied theater is theater outside of the box of regular entertainment industry,” Dye said. “You’re using it for social change, justice, etc. And that’s basically what I do at the Salvation Army; I use theater in different ways to help the homeless population.”

During Thursday night’s performance, actors will demonstrate two types of playback theater-a short and long form. The short form takes stories and plays them back immediately, while the longer form allows the story to evolve throughout the performance.

“It’s a really powerful thing,” Dye said. “It’s just really mind-blowing how intuitive the actors can be.”

By midsummer, Dye hopes to have a playback troupe formed. She is currently looking for people who want to commit and train together.

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Updated @ 8:02 a.m. on 5/29/14 to correct a factual error: The event starts at 7 p.m., not 6:30, as originally reported.