Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Verbatim theatre

I did not really have a clue, once again, about this type of theatre, so i came into the lecture with a very open mind as to what to expect from this session. It took me a while to fully understand about how verbatim theatre works, but once i did, i found myself trying to pick apart all of the issues within it.

Verbatim plays have rightly been credited with galvanising political theatre in Britain. But the process is fraught with concerns about the veracity of statements and the way that material is edited. It seems that whereas most of us are quite aware when we watch a reality TV show that what we're seeing is strongly shaped and filtered through an editing process, when we watch verbatim theatre we quickly lose sight of that mediation. The result? We accept what is presented to us as true without questioning how statements have been selected and organised, or even how the interviews that elicited the "evidence" were conducted.

Setting aside the fact that verbatim theatre often deals with material that is already heavily mediated in the first place, what these plays offer audiences is an open door into a subject whose density might otherwise be difficult to negotiate. The strength of a piece such as What I Heard About Iraq lies not in its staging, but in the way it presents its material in a fashion that makes the audience question every single word it hears. It sends you out of the theatre and back into the world determined to question every sound bite you hear and newspaper article you read. That's very different from a great deal of verbatim theatre which functions in a way that cajoles you into accepting that piece's particular bias as the truth and nothing but the truth.

What began to bother me about this form of theatre is that the outcome can be unfair, depending on what order and how the interviews are shown on stage. It can also be very difficult to show the opposing views about a subject, especially if you already hold strong views about it. An example might be if you are researching about religion and terrorism, and you strongly disagree with everything that your interviewee is saying. Your questions may change throughout the interview, so that you reach an outcome which supports your own views, or what you in fact intended to show.

But in order to use verbatim successfully, you must accept that it is not about yourself. You must have an open mind about the outcome, and not try to manipulate your interviewees. The best way of showing verbatim theatre so that you avoid offending or upsetting people is to show both sides of an opinion. However, should you want to show only one opinion, you may take the interviews which best support these views, and disregard others for the sake of your work. You must accept that there are many other views on the subject, but that you have chosen to use only a few of the many.

I think that verbatim theatre could have quite a strong impact on an audience, especially if subect area is quite current. It allows the audience to access information which they can not often access, and it gives them an insight into real people's lives and opnions, without making them up.

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