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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”. it is a creative type of drama to help tell the story of what actually happened.
American actress/playwright Anna Deavere Smith has been described as a pioneer of verbatim theatre due to two of her one-woman plays in the early 1990s: Fires in the Mirror (1992), about the 1991 Crown Heights riot, and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (1994), about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. For both plays, she conducted interviews with numerous people connected to the events, then fashioned the plays out of the interview transcripts.
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 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 and 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.
More recent examples of political verbatim theatre are Tess Berry-Hart's plays Someone To Blame (2012) and Sochi 2014 (2014). In Someone To Blame (about the miscarriage of justice of teenager Sam Hallam ) the words were taken solely from witness statements, court transcripts, media headlines and interviews with those involved. Sochi 2014 was created from interviews with various LGBT citizens in Russia after Vladimir Putin's anti-gay laws (see LGBT rights in Russia) in the run up to the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Black Watch (2006) integrates interviews taken with members of the Black Watch with dramatized versions of their stories and dance pieces. The piece originated in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was created by the National Theatre of Scotland and Gregory Burke. 8, a play by Dustin Lance Black, 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. An 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 and again in 2014, JW3, a Jewish Cultural Centre in Finchley Road, London presented the verbatim play 'Listen, we're Family' by Matthew Lloyd and Kerry Shale. Shale played one of the roles with Debby Chazen, Jennifer Stoller, and Tom Berish.
Usually done in person, interviews are then used to generate ideas.
- Whitton, Rebecca (August 10, 2006). "Embers". Sydney Stage Online.
- Jupp, Emily (April 13, 2010). "The rise of democratic theatre". The Independent.
- "Documentaries". Hafan S4C.
- 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