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Verbatim theatre is a form of documentary theatre in which plays are constructed from the precise words spoken by people interviewed about a particular event or topic.
The playwright interviews people that are connected to the topic that the play is focused on and uses their testimony to construct the piece. In this way they seek to achieve a degree of authority akin to that represented by the news. Such plays may be focused on politics, disasters or even sporting events.
A verbatim style of theatre uses the real words from interviewees to construct the play. Campion Decent, Australian playwright and author of the verbatim theatre play Embers, said it is “not written in a traditional sense… but is... conceived, collected and collated”.
Recent, high profile pieces of verbatim theatre include: The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman & Tectonic Theater and its sequel, The Laramie Project-Ten Years Later, both about the hate-murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998; Talking to Terrorists by Robin Soans, My Name is Rachel Corrie by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, Deep Cut by Philip Ralph and Katharine Viner, The Permanent Way by David Hare, Counted (2010) by LookLeftLookRight. Unusually, London Road (2011) by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork, is a verbatim musical, in which the verbatim spoken text is coupled with music composed and sung to resemble the source interviews as closely as possible.
Another recent example is Black Watch, a piece that integrated interviews taken with actual members of the Black Watch with dramatized versions of their stories and dance pieces. The piece originated in the Edinburgh Festival and was created by the National Theatre of Scotland and Gregory Burke. Also, a play by Dustin Lance Black, 8, is an example that uses interviews and courtroom transcripts in order to reenact the legal argument and witness testimony of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case.
Recorded voice delivery is an extension of verbatim theatre in which actors have recorded interviews played back to them during the performance, allowing them to directly mimic the accents and manner of speech, as well as the words, of the people they portray . This technique is similar to that pioneered by American actress Anna Deavere Smith in her play Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities 1991, and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. A more recent example is Grandpa Sol and Lily's Grandma Rosie by Lana Schwarcz, in which Schwarz portrays the residents of a retirement home via puppetry and playback of interviews via iPod.
In 2012, the Welsh National Theatre put on a play about money problems between the different social classes named sgint. It was the first Welsh language Verbatim play.
In November 2013, JW3, the new Jewish Cultural Centre in Finchley Road, London presented a Verbatim play 'Listen, we're Family' by Kerry Shale, who also played one of the four roles. The other actors were Maggie Steed, Tom Berish and Isy Suttie.
- The Independent: The rise of democratic theatre
- The Guardian: Verbatim theatre: the people's voice?
- The Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators Verbatim Theatre unit