Fostering togetherness through theater arts

By: Emily Adams Keplinger

Since 2009, Playback Memphis has been bringing stories to the stage. Stories that encourage the public to reflect on both what is wonderful about our community, as well as what is challenging.


“Playback is an innovative and unique art form,” said Virginia Murphy, founder and executive director of Playback Memphis. “A Playback Memphis performance is a unique collaboration—someone from the audience shares a personal story or moment and then watches as a team of professional actors and musicians bring it to life on the spot using movement, music, metaphor and spoken improvisation.”

Stories shared may be funny or serious, but Murphy says they always reflect the dynamic, complex and unique experience of living in Memphis and the Mid-South. In addition to their entertainment value, these performances offer teachable moments for social change.

“By supporting Playback Memphis, the public has a chance to pay it forward,” said Murphy. “The proceeds from each public performance are used to bring our theater to a partnering local nonprofit organization.”

With several collaborations already underway, Playback Memphis offers a school-based, anti-bullying program called “Be the Peace!” and “Memphis Matters” invites the public to bring issues of their own choosing to the stage. Another program seeking to create social change is “Performing the Peace,” which Murphy describes as a train-the-trainer model that brings police and individuals who have been incarcerated together in a safe and open setting in which the participants examine and explore the barriers and the solutions to positive community-police relations. Currently this program is being performed in collaboration with Lifeline to Success.

Playback Memphis’ newest endeavor places them in partnership with the Shelby County Universal Parenting Places, an organization where parents can receive professional counseling, information and emotional support for family related issues or concerns.

Also on the near horizon, Playback Memphis will host the winter international training courses, from Feb. 13 – 21, for the Centre for Playback Theatre.

“The Centre for Playback Theatre supports the ethical and artistic development of Playback Theatre worldwide, thereby promoting healthier, more civically engaged and inclusive communities. Over 15 students from as far away as Nigeria and Kazakhstan will be here to train with Playback Memphis’ professional and apprentice ensemble,” said Murphy.

Braden Hixson is a relative newcomer to the volunteer ranks at Playback Memphis.

“I came into volunteering for Playback Memphis by simply attending a performance with a friend,” said Hixson. “I loved the sense of community connection that I felt and just kept coming back. So far, I have primarily served as an usher for various performances. However, I’m beginning to bring my artistic side to the forefront. I have an undergraduate degree from the Memphis College of Art and I work at The Brooks Museum in Visitors Services. I hope to offer help with design and creative collaborations at Playback.”

Playback Memphis offers an average of three to five performances/workshops per month. The Public performances of “Memphis Matters” are held at Theatre South, located inside First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper, and “Community Matters” are performed at a variety of locations, based on their community partners.

For more information about Playback Memphis, check out their website at


Tennessee Arts Commission
Arts Memphis

Playback Memphis is proud to be supported by ArtsMemphis and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
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