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 4
The Unities of Documentary Theatre

“Where everything is possible and nothing unexpected, communication
must break down. It is because art operates with a structured style gov-
erned by technique and the schematic of tradition that representation could
become the instrument not only of information but also of expression.”

—E. H. Gombrich,

Art and Illusion1

Approaching the history of this theatre art in a survey of representative examples from the point of view of structure, technique, and traditions affords not only a way to preserve these elements, but also a way to look at them through a different lens of interest. An analysis of a number of American documentary plays will show that to create a documentary play involves the observance of a specific set of rules, or unities, that make it possible to communicate information not available by other sources of human expression. Observing these rules has now become a tradition in the practice of merging document and drama. A discussion into the rubrics and customs of the documentary process in drama also makes it possible to show how reality can be recreated on stage in a fair and accurate way. This activity will also provide a means to acknowledge the concerns that attract the attention of the playwrights that compose these works of theatre.

In demonstrating that American documentary theatre has a history, just how that developed is the more elusive set to draw forth. Nevertheless, the evidences laid down so far have shown specific markers in this story do indeed exist, naming the key players, their products of invention, and their rewards. While reconstructing the past, full explanation as to how particular documentary theatre projects came into being can only be an approximation. Because we are dealing with representations of a recreated moment from life on stage using live perform-

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