Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Impact of Participating in a Verbatim Theatre Process

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Impact of Participating in a Verbatim Theatre Process

Article excerpt

Introduction

bald heads & blue stars (2014) is a verbatim play that explores the female experience of alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that results in varying degrees of hair loss. Writing and performing in this play was the context for my reflective practitioner case study researching the theory, process and impact of verbatim theatre practice. This article focuses explicitly on the experience of the verbatim process from the perspective of the women who were interviewed. I refer to the interviewees as the community of storytellers, and explore the impact of three distinct moments throughout the creative development process: the initial interview, reading a draft of the play, and viewing the final performance. My verbatim theatre practice places emphasis on a community's lived experience, and shares the stories of this experience through performance. I am therefore intervening in the community in order to create a performance that tells a story about that community, and in this case study the intervention was driven by the explicit agenda of exploring concepts of female beauty and the balding body. The case study data indicates that participating in this verbatim theatre process impacted the community of storytellers in a variety of ways. They express positive self-awareness, enriched interpersonal communication among family members and a stronger connection to the broader alopecia community. The responses were predominantly positive, however, there were also moments of discomfort and confrontation as the storytellers witnessed the re-telling of their stories. This article interrogates and analyses the various artistic practices and ethical considerations made across the process of writing and performing bald heads & blue stars, and how this practice directly impacted the community of storytellers.

A Review of the Current Field of Research on Impact

There is minimal research that explicitly investigates the impact of involvement in a verbatim theatre process on the community of storytellers. I have therefore drawn on research conducted within the field of research-based theatre and critical pedagogy to make parallels with the research conducted specifically around the impact of verbatim theatre.

Amanda Stuart Fisher, a pioneer in the field of research concerning the impact of verbatim theatre processes on the community of storytellers, argues that a verbatim theatre process can be 'one based on reciprocity ... grounded upon conviviality and of potential therapeutic value' (2011: 194). She suggests that storytellers often choose to participate and 'strongly [want] their experiences to be shared publicly' (2011: 201), they 'enter into this process willingly and do get something back in return' (2011: 205). This 'something back' was perceived by the storytellers in her project as gaining a critical distance on their experiences, allowing them to better understand and work through the implications of that experience, as well as an opportunity to connect with people who had similar experiences (2011:206). Stuart Fisher's method of practice 'placed the empowerment and wellbeing of the mothers themselves at the heart of the project' (2011: 198). This method manifested in an inclusion of the storytellers throughout the creative development process and a continual resolve to be reflective practitioners (2011: 207). Stuart Fisher suggests that this 'ongoing process of self-reflection' and questioning 'why we are doing what we are doing and how we think it will benefit the participants' (2011: 207) is a starting point for an ethics of practise for verbatim theatre, and I will shortly outline the theory of practice that underpinned my process in bald heads & blue stars.

Caroline Wake's analysis of impact is grounded in the concept that verbatim theatre could be considered a form of realism due to its mimetic conventions, its 'moments of mimesis or re-enactment' (2013: 106) that are witnessed by the audience. …

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