Nothing to lose but self-respect
Verbatim theatre continues to be a productive development on British stages. Black Watch, Gregory Burke's searing account of soldiers in Iraq, is the most prominent of shows that draw their text - sometimes literally - from interviews with members of the public. Some burrow into events that have wide political ramifications - like Burke's play, or Deep Cut by Philip Ralph, another production that takes a hard look at military culture and examines the lack of transparency of the deaths of recruits at a British army barracks.
Companies in the UK are enthusiastically picking up the technique most closely associated with Anna Deveare Smith, who weds a chameleon ability to inhabit her interviewees' bodies with a writer's eye for the details that reveal a life. With her company Recorded Delivery, Alecky Blythe has examined an oddball range of material - from a siege in Hackney to the elderly at play and comfort-sized prostitutes. The actors hear the recorded interviews in earpieces as they perform each night, building a character from their precise vocal rhythms. Even dance theatre is exploring the technique - DV8's To be straight with you marched into contentious territory of race, religion and homophobia, putting juddering bodies to frequently pained voices.
And then there are those companies who only want your shame. London's Bush Theatre is appealing for stories of sudden loss of dignity, just as they solicited tales from heartbreakers and the broken-hearted for Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover. A team of writers will turn these indignities into drama.
Companies are trying ever harder to connect to their audience - though Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre and Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company are the only major troupes I know of to set up a twitter feed (I'd love to read dispatches from a rehearsal room, but can imagine that the atmosphere of intensely private searching would be compromised by a constantly tweeting assistant director). But what better way to engage with an audience that to draw on their own experiences? Not so much write-what-you-know as write-what-they-know. So, will anyone be sharing their shame with the Bush? And is this an effective way to keep drama real?
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