Four figures and a bird
The original Playback Theatre company found its name sometime in the first few months of its existence. It was a typically collective and creative process, trying out different ideas, knowing intuitively when we landed on the right one. A couple of years later, around 1977, I designed a logo. Under the arched name of Playback Theatre in a clunky serif typeface, four androgynous dancing figures hold hands. A bird flies above them. I was trying to depict what I felt to be the essential qualities of our new art form: connection, creativity, physicality, and playfulness embodied in the four figures; and the mysterious or transpersonal or ineffable, symbolized by the bird.
We used this logo throughout the life of the original company, on our letterhead and most of our posters, programs, T-shirts, and so on. (Times were different in those pre-computer days and we didn’t hesitate to experiment with other graphics as well.)
In the late 1980s our life cycle as an ensemble formally came to an end (though informally it continued another few years). In 1990 the members and board of directors of the original Playback Theatre company gave our incorporated nonprofit status, along with our logo, to the newly formed International Playback Theatre Network. This gift acknowledged that our role as initiators was fulfilled, and the future belonged to those--including some of us--who would take the company’s discoveries further. So our logo became the logo of the IPTN, available to member companies and practitioners who wanted to use it.
In preparation for this transition, the company’s board of directors made the decision to get a service trademark for the name and logo. We hadn’t felt the need to do this before. But with Playback Theatre growing fast, it seemed prudent to have legal ownership of the name and logo. I was delegated to handle the trademark process, and have managed it ever since, with generous pro bono support from a large law firm in New York City.
The logo was soon adopted by other Playback groups, as was their right as members of the IPTN. For original company members, it was both exciting and a little disconcerting to see our handmade graphic illustrating the brochures and posters of groups we didn’t know. Arriving in Finland for the 1993 international conference, I peered up at a huge logo on a banner slung across the main street of Rautalampi—proof that Playback Theatre itself was no longer just the domain of our little group of pioneers in upstate New York, but a growing worldwide movement.
Things change. Recently the IPTN board recognized that the time had come to update the logo, and now there is a beautiful, dynamic new version for the next chapter of Playback Theatre’s development. The trademark, no longer applicable, has been discontinued. But the old logo is still out there, still available for Playback Theatre groups to use if they wish.