Unity in Playback Theater performer David Raizor of The Manors adds musical accompaniment during a show.
Windermere resident Richard Regan Paul has been involved with acting and improvisation since high school. From acting to comedy to learning improv at Sak Comedy Lab during his senior year, he has been developing his craft and sharing it with others for years.
After studying a unique form of improvisational theater called Playback Theatre, which is utilized by performers in more than 50 countries, Richard wanted to bring the technique to Central Florida. With Christ Church Unity hosting weekly rehearsals, as well as the feeling of almost a spiritual mission, Richard formed Unity in Playback Theater in 2010.
During a Playback performance, an audience member will share a situation they have experienced or life moment they wish to have clarified. The participant is the one who chooses which actors he would like to portray the various characters in his story. Although it is entertaining, it can also lead to new perceptions and understanding, and give life to healing.
As the show begins, audience members respond to questions from the conductor, or emcee, then watch as actors create brief theater pieces on the spot. Volunteers from the audience sometimes come to the stage to tell longer stories, choosing actors to play the main roles. Although performances often focus on a theme of interest or concern, the performers follow no narrative agenda, but use their dramatic skills and humanity to embody the concerns and experiences of the audience members.
Unity in Playback Theater has worked with youths residing at the Great Oaks Village Foster Care Group Home, particularly on the subject of bullying. Other presentations have been with staff members at Hospice of the Comforter, caregivers at Share the Care Inc., and employees at Florida Hospital.
Ron Habin, a cultural anthropologist and Williamsburg resident, had little acting experience. Other than undergraduate teaching, some background in radio, and a brief attempt at stand-up comedy, Ron is learning as he goes about the techniques of improv comedy as it applies to Playback Theater. “I was drawn to Playback Theater because I envisioned that it could become part of my ‘ministry,’” Ron said. “I’m not a formal minister, but listening to and helping people is how I try to proceed in the world. Playback engages that very formula. “In Playback Theater, we as actors must exercise what we call ‘heart listening.’ If we’re successful, when we play back the teller’s story, they and all of us can be deeply changed.” Mark Dixon of Cypress Landing founded Majic Cleaning Systems Inc. 25 years ago, which he now co-owns with his wife, Sheri. “I wanted to be able to speak and act from inspiration that comes in the moment and find a new way of self-expression,” Mark said. “Especially important to me is helping people feel better by bringing some joy, humor and levity to their lives, especially those who are facing challenges.”
Mark appreciates that performing gets him out of his comfort zone. “Although a performance can be entertaining, sometimes the laughter comes from the participant and the audience realizing whatever happened is OK, and the experience is a shared one,” Mark said. “We are building bridges.” David Raizor of The Manors has been a professional clown and amateur magician for more than 20 years. He began taking improv classes 10 years ago. “I was drawn to Playback Theater because it was a totally different type of improv than what I was accustomed to,” David said. “I wanted to challenge myself and learn new things; however, a large part of the joy of Playback is that we give back to others in ways I had never imagined. “We as actors feel great joy and emotion from the smiles, laughter and, sometimes, tears of the audience. They are grateful when we can help them experience relief in releasing stress, anger or pain, or sharing in joy and happiness.” Richard is a full-time actor in Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. He also performs and teaches improv techniques at Sak Comedy Lab, and has acted in film, theater and TV commercials. “Playback Theater has the ability to play any kind of story and for diverse audiences — serious or truthful, celebratory or even the everyday moments of life,” Richard said. “We capture your experience and honor how it felt to you, without judgment or advice. The commonality of feelings and experiences is revealed.” Richard hopes Unity in Playback Theater can also give voice to disenfranchised groups or individuals whose views and experiences are not often heard. His dream is that they can become what he calls “citizen actors.” “We perform not only for our own gratification or to entertain an audience, but to serve the community,” Richard said. These techniques also can aid companies with diversity awareness and team building, inspire students, reach at-risk teenagers, and offer stress relief and new insights to a variety of audiences. “Our goal is not to change, counsel or educate the audience,” Richard said. “It is simply to capture their experience, honor it and let them know there are others who acknowledge what they went through. Playback Theater can offer great hope to all those who experience it.”
For more information about Playback Theater, call Richard Regan Paul at 407-455-4746 or email
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