Junior Boomers

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Playing a part in employee training

By Debra Phillips

It's dramatic. It's compelling. It's . . . employee theater? Sort of. As companies increasingly look to human resources specialists to calm workplace tensions, an innovative training method has taken center stage: "playback theater."

"People love it," says Riley Harvill, whose Dallas-based HarBeck Co. puts the method into practice for Fortune 500 and small businesses worldwide. "They want to come back and [do it again]."

Playback theater is a method by which professional actors re-enact workplace-related stories. Themes range from sexual harassment to workplace diversity. "We tell [employees] to think of something that's happened to them in a previous workplace," Harvill explains. "A good acting company can capture the essence of a story without having the exact dialogue."

Drawing from their backgrounds in psychology and counseling, Harvill and wife Rebecca Stallings, both 42, design their one- or multiple-day workshops according to each company's needs. There's a lecture portion, but playback theater is the real crowd-pleaser. And once the curtain falls, participants discuss what they've seen in the five- to six-minute "plays."

"We're getting more and more phone calls from [companies] that want something different," says Harvill of his 5-year-old human resources training company. "People say they feel validated by seeing their stories re-enacted." Bravo!

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Junior Boomers.

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