WHAT IS DOCUMENTARY THEATRE?
Theatre began as storytelling. The need to survive and pass along traditions generated language and gesture that could be repeated, and passed on. With survival needs met, theatre appreciated a time of being of the people and for the people. Once the Greek theatre co-opted the art form, however, the genre became a means to dictate morality.
Augusto Boal asserts in Theatre of The Oppressed that if theatre is not the revolution itself, it is at the very least a rehearsal for the revolution. In his analysis of Aristotle's Poetics, he suggests that in dividing the audience from the actor, an even greater schism has arisen: action has been severed from theatre.
Documentary theatre, sometimes called Docudrama, Verbatim Theatre and Investigative Theatre among other names, aims to mend this divide. Some claim that Bertolt Brecht is responsible for the earliest documentary theatre. Federal Theatre Project's “Living Newspaper” in the 1930s, and The Living Theatre and The Open Theatre in the 60s and 70s are among the notable practitioners in the genre who paved the way for more modern feats spearheaded by the likes of Anna Deavere Smith, The Civilians and The Tectonic Theatre Project.
Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project garnered significant attention with their 2000 The Laramie Project, an investigation of the last days of Matthew Shepard, a young man brutally beaten and left to die, the victim of a hate crime against the halcyon plains of a small Wyoming town.
Before that, Anna Deavere Smith received accolades for Fires in the Mirror, a piece addressing the Crown Heights Riots (1991) for which she was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1993 and Twilight: Los Angeles, an investigation of the Los Angeles Riots (1992). These pieces won her the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show in consecutive years.
So then, what is documentary theatre?
Our work at BCKSEET is most influenced by the more contemporary work of Anna Deavere Smith, The Tectonic Theatre Project and Elevator Repair Service. Through verbatim interviews, articles, and research, at its finest, documentary theatre offers a social lens through which to better understand, debate, and improve the current socio-political climate by creating a forum to share hereto under-represented causes.
Documentary Theatre brings back the revolutionary nature of theatre – reinstating its ability to address the needs of a community and serve as an agent of positive change for justice.
(L to R): Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project, Anna Deavere Smith in Twilight Los Angeles, Berholt Brecht
BY KATE BRENNAN