Documentary Theatre in the United States: An Historical Survey and Analysis of Its Content, Form, and Stagecraft

By Gary Fisher Dawson | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Documentary Theatre and Its Classes

“We must interpret, we must find meanings in things, otherwise we would
be quite unable to think about them. We have to break down life and events,
which are self-contained processes, into meanings, images, concepts, well
knowing that in doing so we are getting further away from the living mys-
tery.”

—Carl Jung

On the Relation of Analytical

Psychology to Poetry1

Classifying plays is a reductive process that requires a distance once removed from their creative worth. But the process of assigning type, in addition to the unities of composition as developed here, is yet another tradition in the history of the American documentary play, and can produce good results. This tradition has to do with the classifying of certain documentary plays into particular groups, as Mason did in his quintessential study of “Documentary Drama: A Study of the Form” (1972). Accordingly, how documents are put to use is dependent upon the dramatist's intent, and will determine the various types of documentary theatre that result.

Mason's accounting is made up of five distinct classes, which include the documentary tragedy, or character drama; the documentary problem play; the documentary propaganda play; the agit-prop documentary drama; and finally, the documentary tribunal play. “In each category documentation is used for a different dramatic purpose with its own distinct attitude towards the facts and the history involved,” he explains.2 Mason's predecessors in this classificatory tradition are: Aristotle, Polonius and his various categories of “historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral; scene individable, or poem unlimited,”3 and theatre historians George McCalmon and Christian Moe

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