Your story matters to Houston Playback Theatre

By Office of Communications
July 7, 2022

Everybody has a story to tell. Whether the story is something menial, like a seemingly normal commute into the office, or a life-changing cancer diagnosis for a friend or family member, each person’s life is unique.

For Houston Playback Theatre, telling your story is their forte.

For 25 years, Houston Playback Theatre has been a part of the Houston community, performing real-life stories from their own lives and the lives of audience members. On June 16, the troupe visited McGovern Medical School to tell the stories of those attending the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics’ Arts & Resilience Program.

Playback theatre is an improvisational form of theatre that features members of the group telling and acting on stories from any range of topics. The group begins by listening to a story from a member of the audience, asking questions to find out more information, and then interpreting those stories before acting them out to the crowd.

The group consists of eight members, including Sarat Munjuluri, MD, child psychiatry fellow in the Louis A. Faillace, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Munjuluri has been involved with Playback Theatre since 2018.

Since Munjuluri and other members of the group have backgrounds in health care, the group prides themselves on using playback theatre as a stress relief for both themselves and their audience. The group regularly performs in communities struck by grief and tragedy, using the art as a way to help heal.

In 2020, Houston Playback Theatre published a paper in Chronic Stress examining the efficacy of their art in combating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a disaster. For the paper, titled “A Pilot Study on Playback Theatre as a Therapeutic Aid after Natural Diseases: Brain Connectivity Mechanisms of Effects on Anxiety,” the group used a series of playback theatre performances in communities affected by Hurricane Harvey and studied the levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD among 13 people affected by the disaster.

The research determined that both anxiety and PTSD symptoms significantly decreased, while depression reduction was not significant. These results show that playback theatre may offer a form of relief for disaster-induced anxiety.

Houston Playback Theatre, the oldest playback theatre company in the Southwest United States, is part of the International Playback Theatre Network and Playback Theatre North America. HPT’s members have received training in Playback Theatre performance and theory by co-founder Jo Salas and other leaders of the international Playback Theatre community.

Houston Playback Theatre will perform live at 7 p.m., Friday, July 29, at the Jung Center (5200 Montrose Blvd.). For tickets and more information about the performance, visit the Houston Playback Theatre website.