Program Details:

Critical Conversations Project: Playback Theatre in Rural Colorado

Critical Conversations Project (CCP) is a new project that employs well-developed, empirically-tested Playback Theatre to facilitate conversations in areas of rural Colorado that are experiencing rapid and destabilizing change (social, economic or environmental).

Playback 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. Practiced in more than 30 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.

From January 8 - 12, 2020, members of CU’s Playback Ensemble will pilot CCP in a four-day Playback residency in Paonia, Colorado. The pilot, designed in close collaboration with North Folk Valley Creative Coalition’s (NFVCC), will include two performances to targeted community partners, two listening sessions with community members and one workshop for local actors. The ensemble will return January 4 - 9, 2021, for a larger implementation, which will include three performances for targeted community partners, four days of workshops with local actors, and a community-wide performance which will include performances by community workshop participants.

This is a private program by request only, or for a specific audience or group.


In Colorado

  • Paonia

Program Partners

Supporting This Program

  • Dr. Jim Walker is a career educator, performer and arts-activist with 25 years’ experience teaching adults and 12+ years as a professional practitioner of Playback Theater. He is currently Teaching Faculty/Mentor for the Norlin Scholars Program and a longtime member of Playback Theatre West.
  • MA/MBA student Elise Collins is a teacher, performer, and facilitator with five years of experience working with interactive theatre in communities. She is passionate about using counseling with theatre to cultivate communication and empathy in audiences and performers.
  • MA/MBA student Matara Hitchcock’s efforts focus on interpersonal communication, narrative, and faith, and she is eager to produce work that impacts the lived experiences of communities, and her research.
  • NFVCC, a 501c3 nonprofit based in Paonia, is a membership organization serving the North Fork Valley (Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Crawford) in Delta County. NFVCC’s mission is to grow the local economy through Creative Industries and build community identity as a Creative District.
  • Ondine Geary (staff) directs Outreach & Engagement for the Department of Theatre & Dance. She has been utilizing Playback since 2007 and has used it with a variety of organizations, including those who serve the transitionally homeless, survivors of domestic violence, and families who’ve lost loved ones to homicide.
  • PhD student Amanda Rose Villarreal is a teaching artist, facilitator, director, and activist, whose scholarly and creative work investigates the intersection of theatre, cognitive science, education, and social justice. She is a Thomas Edwin Devaney Graduate Fellow and scholarship recipient through the Center for Humanities & the Arts.

Sponsoring Units

Arts & Sciences, College of

  • Theatre and Dance, Department of

Program Contact

Ondine Geary
Production, Outreach & Engagement Liaison

Program Categories


  • Community Planning
  • Community Resource
  • Theatre

Program Types:

  • Civic Engagement
  • Community Event
  • Public Performance
  • Workshop


  • Business
  • Families
  • General Public
  • Rural Communities
  • Senior Citizens

We do our best to accurately represent CU Boulder’s outreach programs and services, but they are subject to change and may no longer be active in a community. Please contact the program directly for current information.