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Rethinking verbatim dramaturgies

Responding to the resurgence of verbatim theatre that emerged in Britain, Australia, the United States and other parts of the world in the early 1990s, this book offers one of the first sustained, critical engagements with contemporary verbatim, documentary and testimonial dramaturgies. Offering a new reading of the history of the documentary and verbatim theatre form, the book relocates verbatim and testimonial theatre away from discourses of the real and representations of reality and instead argues that these dramaturgical approaches are better understood as engagements with forms of truth-telling and witnessing. Examining a range of verbatim and testimonial plays from different parts of the world, the book develops new ways of understanding the performance of testimony and considers how dramaturgical theatre can bear witness to real events and individual and communal injustice through the re-enactment of personal testimony. Through its interrogation of different dramaturgical engagements with acts of witnessing, the book identifies certain forms of testimonial theatre that move beyond psychoanalytical accounts of trauma and reimagine testimony and witnessing as part of a decolonised project that looks beyond event-based trauma, addressing instead the experience of suffering wrought by racism and other forms of social injustice.

Open Access (free)
Caring performance, performing care
Amanda Stuart Fisher

This introductory chapter establishes the guiding questions, values and theories that inform the dialogue between care and performance developed in this edited collection. This ideas are explored in two ways: first, in the aesthetic field of performance, where performance practices enact a mode of care for other people; and, second, in the context of professional practices of care, where care can be artful, performative and aesthetic. Drawing on the theorisation of caring inaugurated by feminist care ethicists in the 1980s and early 1990s, this chapter introduces a conceptualisation of care as intrinsically performative, embodied and relational, emerging from an engagement of both ‘practice and value’ (Held, 2006: 39). The examination of care through the dimension of performance is an innovative approach to the theorisation of caring practice and is new within the interconnected fields of care ethics and care theory more broadly. By developing an understanding of the performative dimension of care through an engagement with socially engaged performance practice, this edited collection explores the possibility for the development of more caring and careful creative societal practices as well as the development of performance work structured around artful and aesthetic caring encounters.  

in Performing care
Open Access (free)
Fluidity and reciprocity in the performance of caring in Fevered Sleep’s Men & Girls Dance
Amanda Stuart Fisher

This chapter examines Men & Girls Dance, a dance-based performance piece by Fevered Sleep that brings together a group of male professional contemporary dancers and girls who dance for fun. Through modes of performed caring and its use of carefully negotiated moments of reciprocity and interrelationalilty, the piece both foreshadows and explores some of the anxieties that proliferate the socially imagined site of the encounter between men and girls, offering care as a way of rethinking this. Drawing on the experiences of the dancers and the relationships of trust and mutual dependency that have been developed through the creative process, Men & Girls Dance establishes a playful, exploratory and exhilaratingly aesthetic, while also addressing the suspicions and anxieties that frame many quotidian exchanges between men and girls. Through a tender performance of togetherness, the performance makes visible new forms of ‘caring knowledge’ (Hamington, 2004) and repositions the dynamics of power and vulnerability that predetermine our perception of men’s encounters with girls. In so doing, in Men & Girls Dance, I argue, care becomes performed and reimagined, repositioned as something fluid, reciprocal and that ultimately emerges as a force of resistance to the restrictive discourses that shape masculinity and girlhood today. 

in Performing care
Performing the ethico-political imperatives of witnessing
Amanda Stuart Fisher

This chapter considers the proposal that testimonial performance has the political potential to stage what Foucault has described as parrhesia, a mode of speaking truth to power. In testimonial theatre, the witness as parrhesiastes speaks out about real events of injustice and in so doing illuminates perspectives that have been overlooked or erased by dominant political discourses. Drawing on a discussion of The Colour of Justice (Norton-Taylor, 1999), The Hounding of David Oluwale (Agboluaje, 2009) and Notes from the Field (Smith, 2019), three plays about police racism and racialised social injustice, the chapter argues that the dramaturgical form of the tribunal play does not necessarily offer the most political or ethical engagement with acts of parrhesia. Rather it is through testimonial dramaturgical approaches that the parrhesiastes can be repositioned as narrators of their own story and able to speak out in their own words about the injustice endured. The chapter concludes with some proposals that address what is articulated as the ‘ethical demand of testimonial practice’ – a premise developed by drawing on the philosophy of Simon Critchley and Knud Ejler Løgstrup’s theorisation of the ethical demand.

in Performing the testimonial
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Performing witnessing in a post-truth era
Amanda Stuart Fisher

This concluding chapter draws together some of the key problematics explored in the book and argues for the relevance of contemporary testimonial theatre-making practices within a political climate marked out by the politics of post-truth discourse and political narratives increasingly rooted in populism. Through a discussion of And the Rest of Me Floats by Outbox (2019), a London-based theatre company that explores trans and queer identities, the chapter considers the diverse ways in which testimony is now being adopted within many performance practices to examine different lived experience and identities. These new engagements with testimonial performance practices, which are marked out by fluidity and a hybridity of form and approach, lay the ground for importance critical forms of ethico-political resistance and establish performance strategies that have the potential to speak truth to power, while enacting forms of solidarity with others.

in Performing the testimonial
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Performing the ‘promise’ of truthfulness: the hybrid practices of contemporary verbatim and testimonial theatre
Amanda Stuart Fisher

The introductory chapter establishes the central problematics of the book by introducing three interconnected areas of inquiry. Firstly, it considers what has been widely described by a number of commentators as the re-emergence of verbatim theatre practices in the UK, America, Australia and in other parts of the world over the past twenty-five years. Secondly, the chapter argues that the reliance on personal testimony within many contemporary verbatim plays distinguishes this form of theatre from other documentary theatre traditions, requiring us to think afresh about how contemporary verbatim and testimonial theatre practices engage with truth-telling processes that bear witness to real historical events. Finally, the chapter considers the dramaturgical, ethical and political dimensions of a theatre-making practice that represents real events and real people. It does so by examining the truth claims of these kinds of practices and by interrogating how concepts such as truthfulness and authenticity become activated within the different and hybrid dramaturgies that mark out contemporary verbatim theatre practice.

in Performing the testimonial
Piscator, Hochhuth and Weiss
Amanda Stuart Fisher

This chapter interrogates the much-contested notion that verbatim theatre is defined by its claims of truthfulness understood as factualness; it does so by exploring the influence of German director Erwin Piscator on the development of documentary theatre in the first part of the twentieth century. Beginning with Piscator’s early documentary theatre work, where character was structured as an emblematic figure that tended to be representative of the proletariat, this chapter examines how Piscator’s approach to documentary theatre was informed by his exile in America in the 1930s and his growing interest in psychological realism and the Stanislavski-influenced Method he encountered there. Through an exploration of The Deputy (Hochhuth, 1963) and The Investigation (Weiss, 1965), both of which were directed by Piscator, the chapter traces how documentary theatre moved away from representations of social reality and shifted instead towards approaches rooted in truth-telling where the culpable were called to account. Positioning The Deputy and The Investigation as part of a pre-history of contemporary verbatim theatre, the chapter argues that these plays established dramaturgical strategies that engaged in forms of interrogatory truth-telling that emerged, not from a re-enactment of the real, but from a fidelity to the witness and the event.

in Performing the testimonial
Shifting dramaturgies and performances of truthfulness
Amanda Stuart Fisher

Through the construction of a genealogical account of the verbatim play, this chapter offers a new reading of some of the key historical developments in the evolution of this form of theatre, drawing on some of the most influential verbatim plays that emerged between the early 1990s and the early 2000s in the UK, United States and Australia. Focusing on the changing use and meaning of character and direct address in these plays, the chapter considers how different verbatim dramaturgies engage with the promissory act of truth telling and how these plays have adopted different modes of enactment and characterisation in order to produce certain forms of audience spectatorship. By examining the ways in which truth telling and testimony appear in verbatim theatre, the chapter moves on to examine what the concept of authenticity comes to signify when applied to various verbatim practices and how the promise of authenticity is performed through certain dramaturgical choices and modes of acting. The chapter concludes by offering an analysis of My Name Is Rachel Corrie (Rickman and Viner, 2005). Like many other examples of verbatim theatre, the use of reiterated personal correspondence and fact in this play does not, it is argued, ultimately produce a form of witnessing. Rather, the play becomes something of a hybrid form that sits somewhat uneasily between the real and the fictive, the authentic ‘reality’ of the event and the dramaturgical choices of the writers.

in Performing the testimonial
Towards the decolonisation of testimonial theatre
Amanda Stuart Fisher

This chapter shifts the focus of the book’s inquiry away from verbatim theatre in order to develop a distinct understanding of testimonial theatre practice. Through an interrogation of different concepts of testimony and witnessing, the chapter argues that testimonial theatre should be distinguished from verbatim theatre practices both in terms of its intention, its dramaturgical construction and its creative process. Drawing on a range of different testimonial plays developed in South Africa, Australia and America, the chapter critiques psychoanalytical conceptualisations of testimony and engages with theorisation developed by scholars who have sought to decolonise the discourses of testimony and the witness that have dominated Euro-American scholarship. Through an analysis of plays by South African director and playwright Yaël Farber, the Australian playwright Alana Valentine and the New York-based indigenous theatre collective Spiderwoman Theater, the chapter develops an account of three modes of witnessing. In each of the examples discussed, the dramaturgical structure of the play moves beyond the psychoanalytic framework of testimony, opening up new ways of understanding how theatre bears witness to real historical events of trauma and suffering.

in Performing the testimonial
Open Access (free)
New perspectives on socially engaged performance

The book advances our understanding of performance as a mode of caring and explores the relationship between socially engaged performance and care. It creates a dialogue between theatre and performance, care ethics and other disciplinary areas such as youth and disability studies, nursing, criminal justice and social care. Challenging existing debates in this area by rethinking the caring encounter as a performed, embodied experience and interrogating the boundaries between care practice and performance, the book engages with a wide range of different care performances drawn from interdisciplinary and international settings. Drawing on interdisciplinary debates, the edited collection examines how the field of performance and the aesthetic and ethico-political structures that determine its relationship with the social might be challenged by an examination of inter-human care. It interrogates how performance might be understood as caring or uncaring, careless or careful, and correlatively how care can be conceptualised as artful, aesthetic, authentic or even ‘fake’ and ‘staged’. Through a focus on care and performance, the contributors in the book consider how performance operates as a mode of caring for others and how dialogical debates between the theory and practice of care and performance making might foster a greater understanding of how the caring encounter is embodied and experienced.