Mariana Batkhan

Mariana gained her degrees in music, drama and psychology at Saint-Petersburg State University and University of Art and Culture. She has performed as a singer, actress, MC and a multi-instrumentalist in both Russia and Australia. As a writer she has created scripts, lyrics and music for shows and documentaries and has been an Art-Reviewer for SBS Radio. Her one of a kind international folk rock band Ethnodelica plays a diverse and unpredictable mix of powerful northern motifs and spiritualistic southern vibes, mixing Slavic harmony with hilarity, sadness, mystery and drive. Mariana is also a Russian Culture lecturer at Macquarie University. Mariana sees Playback as a place she can use her expansive skills to help communities to connect and flourish.

Thanassis Boulis

Thanassis, born and raised in Greece, is a computer engineer, math & science lover, a long-form improvisor, and actor. He was introduced to the world of acting and improvisation while studying electrical engineering at UCLA in 1998, and was since hooked. Coming to Australia in 2004, he continued his theatre training and acted in many plays and improvisation shows. In 2008, he was introduced to Playback Theatre and was excited by this new world. He loved the physical impro aspect of Playback, as well as the challenge to identify the core of the story and honour it. A year later, in October 2009, he joined Sydney Playback and he has been developing the craft since. He is a Playback actor and trainer. He is also working as a role-play actor and facilitates theatre and improvisation skills workshops.

Johanna de Ruyter

Johanna is passionate about the complementary relationship between communication and the performing arts. For Johanna the central core of theatre has always been about authentic communication – encompassed in the process of creating a show, in the performance itself and specifically in Playback Theatre. She has been working for over two decades as an actor and collaborator on various award-winning theater projects both nationally and internationally. She has completed a Diploma in Movement and BA in Communications. She has been performing with Sydney Playback for 25 years and has fulfilled a range of roles – actor, conductor, trainer and client liaison. In addition, she facilitates Leadership Presence training programs throughout the Asia Pacific region, with The Ariel Group, a leading US Executive Training Company. Drawing on the centuries-old story sharing and theatre practices that inform her work she designs and delivers her own Communication Training, Coaching and Presentations programs for a range of clients in the Community and Corporate sector.

Max Finlayson

Max has a BA in Theatre/Literature studies from QLD University and has also studied improv/scripted theatre techniques at the Actors Centre in Sydney. He also holds a Grad Dip in Education from Sydney University. In a previous life Max worked as an actor in Sydney based Theatre, Film  and Television as well as performing Theatresports. He joined Sydney Playback in 1989 and has occupied the roles of Treasurer; Conductor; Administrator; Director; and Actor. At other times Max is found skateboarding between work, family and playback lives.

Samantha Herbert

Samantha Herbert is the founder of the business Seeds of the Future creating workshops and events that allow individuals to identify their strengths, clarify their life path and uniquely and creatively express themselves. She has completed a Bachelor in Communications (Theatre/Media) and a Graduate Certificate in Gestalt Psychotherapy. She is currently completing a Diploma in Leadership in Group Work and Expressive Arts and an Advanced Diploma in Transpersonal Art Therapy. Samantha is a storyteller for education and entertainment and is passionate about reconnecting people to the magic of play, imagination and the natural environment.

Natalie Mackenzie

Natalie Mackenzie has always believed in the power of storytelling and is fascinated by people and what makes them tick. A registered dramatherapist with ANZATA (Australia and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association) and the British Association of Dramatherapists in the UK, Natalie has experience working with children who have experienced grief, loss, and emotional trauma. She has facilitated drama programs for children and adults with learning difficulties, assisted adolescents and adults in dealing with a range of mental health issues, both in the community and in a forensic setting and has helped excluded young people back into the education system by developing dynamic creative programs. Her dramatherapy business, Playful Minds, helps kids who are experiencing big emotions use creativity and their imagination to express themselves and cope with life’s serious stuff.

Steve Meagher

Steve has been a member of Sydney Playback since 1994 as an actor, conductor and Artistic Director. He trained at Sydney’s Drama Action Centre and has performed extensively in improvisation, storytelling and Commedia dell’Arte in theatres, schools and workplaces.  He has also lectured in Communication for the University of Sydney and mentored a generation of medical students. He is a founding workshop leader and trainer with Sydney School of Playback Theatre and  works in both the community sector and the corporate world.

Paula Novotna

Paula Novotna is a playback actor, social justice lawyer, professional storyteller and poet. She is also a TaKeTiNa rhythm process facilitator. Paula has been a playback actor since 2009. She is passionate about the power that comes to each of us, and to us as a collective, when our stories are shared. In her creative work, Paula draws inspiration from the long spiritual tradition of Storytellers as entertainers, teachers and healers. Her commissioned work includes No Boundaries (Illuminart) and Into the Unknown (Blue Mountains Bicentennary – LBMNC). Playback encourages Paula to continue to say ‘yes’ to the offers of life, and to listen deeply to each of life’s stories

Majella O’Shea

Majella joined Sydney Playback in 2016. She has toured as an actor internationally with The Good Company Pride and Prejudice (UK), Praxis Theatre Laboratory Salome and The Cenci (UK and Ireland), Compagnie Oz Dracula (France), La Boite Noir Inner Voices (France) and This Viral Intelligence The Dismissal (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Her solo performance in Stolen won Best Actress at the Sydney Short and Sweet Festival with direction by Stephen Wallace. Majella’s music  has received Triple J rotation and has been played in the American TV Series Crash and Vanished and the Australian series Laid. In 2013 she was commissioned to compose and record a score for “Soar” for the Womens’ Circus, Melbourne. Majella has also worked as a director for Everafter Theatre Company Sydney, featuring actors living with a disability: “How To Handle A Fractured Heart” was performed at PACT Theatre and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” at Leichhardt Town Hall.

Michael Pooley

Michael has been a full time performer with Sydney Playback since 2002 and added Playback Conducting to his repertoire in 2011. He trained with the Drama Action Centre and the Centre for Playback Theatre in New York. Michael has used improvisation and the skills of playback in his work as an Occupational Therapist working in Mental Health settings, as a learning and development practitioner in the Public and Higher Education sectors, as a volunteer in the not for profit sector, and as a human navigating life. His current day job is as a learning professional with the College of Physicians.

Ioulia Stepanova

Ioulia Stepanova is a Belgian clinical psychologist, drama therapist, performer and improviser with Ukrainian roots. She is passionate about raw human creativity and is addicted to travel and personal growth.  With her artistic alter ego Improviser On The Go she explores ways to engage others in playful encounters. She believes strongly that using our imagination and play to create new narratives can help us heal, grow and sprinkle every day with a little magic.

Catherine Swallow

Catherine is an actor, puppeteer and storyteller who joined PTS in 2014 when she moved to Sydney from her native NZ. Prior to this she performed with Playback Theatre Wellington. Catherine holds a Master of Arts degree in Theatre and her acting roles include Rhonda in Who’s Afraid of the Working Class, dir. David O’Donnell and Sara Brodie (2003) and The Kitchen At The End of The World, Circa Theatre Wellington (2014 Role: Penelope). In 2009 Catherine formed Just Giraffe Theatre, and her show Tall Tales for Little Ears has performed at venues and festivals throughout NZ including Capital E for Children (2009-2014) and the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival (2014). When not performing she works as an arts administrator and teacher. Catherine sees Playback as a unique opportunity for audiences to share, reflect and celebrate the complexities of life.


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