“Staging The Unstageable” – By Sayma Ahmed Shanta

“Staging The Unstageable” – By Sayma Ahmed Shanta

“Staging the unstageable,” putting real life experiences on stage. As the cambridge.org online dictionary defines, the medieval Latin word, Verbatim, is the use of the same words that were originally used. (Dictionary.cambridge.org, 2017) Thus when Verbatim is conjoined with theatre, it implies the re-telling of a situation. However, the scene isn’t narrated, instead, it is acted out in theatre format with the “…same words that were originally used.” And since the concept of Verbatim is based on theatre, not only is it the use of the original words, it is also the use of the exact same facial expression, posture, gestures, body, movement, use of stage/space, pitch, pause, pace, tone that will refine the theater piece significantly as a true verbatim, because everything remains intact. Thus nothing changes, not the dialogue, the setting, nor the emotions, it is the re-simulation of the exact unaltered original situation. Which is the reason that this theatrical playwright involves a large process, consisting of research, brainstorm, interviews, and composition of colloquies (conversations), incidents, trials, or even tv shows regarding the chosen topic, or event trying to be re-portrayed.

So in simplest terms, verbatim theatre is a piece of theatre, wherein general public, witnesses, public figures or celebrities are interviewed about their experiences in a specific event or their experiences with a subject. (An introduction to verbatim theatre, 2014) Afterward, these interviews are collated, compressed and conjoined in an orderly manner to emphasize emotions into a play which uses that specific primary, original, first-hand dialogue material to portray the specific event, or a topic in depth as to what general public or public figures have said about it, through actors and actresses.

Verbatim theatre is a style of drama that requires much documentation, which is shaped by the different stories and scenes that it captures, formulated and built upon the foundation of any political, controversial, emotional topic or a particular event. The stages which mold this foundation topic into a full verbatim theatrical piece consists of four main stages. The first stage, is to research as much as possible about the chosen topic or event, gathering primary sources, to bring out authentic information, such as telegrams, diary entries, interview transcripts, videos, and recordings, or secondary sources which can give a broadened understanding of the chain of events surrounding a particular event in history, or extend one’s knowledge on their chosen topic. The second stage, is to focus on the people involved; to find people who can be interviewed, and collect firsthand information about their experiences with certain topics such as, racism, immigration or depression, or even interview about their experiences in world events, such as the World War One, presidential elections, American Civil War, Brexit or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The third stage, is to edit and condense, where the whole array of interviews are brought together, and then some are carefully selected to be performed in the play, as part of the script. Bringing in the fourth stage, where the interviews, after being condensed and edited, must be evaluated, so that the play and dialogue paint a true picture on the stage, as well as to make the portrayal as accurate and as sensitive as the topic or event is. (Lauren Kirby, 2014)

During this process of creating the theatrical piece, if the play is expressed in an order which emphasizes the criticality and sensitivity of the topic, instead of sitting down on stage, and normally showing people being interviewed, the play will have a great emotional impact on the audience. It will certainly convey the experiences of people in a more convincing manner when it is flown through and organized well. For example, the Verbatim theater piece called, “Child Brides,” (Rachel McCue, 2016) is an exemplary piece of theatre, surrounding the idea of child marriage and abuse, especially for marrying off young girls as brides for money, because the parents might not have money to pay for her. This also steals the education, freedom and the childhood of the girl, as she has to take on the duties of a homemaker and work as a sex slave for the man she is married to. Seen as stigmatic, hard to talk about topics, these are the sorts of issues that verbatim theatre can tackle. The theatrical message and topic with the dialogues of people clearly spoken by the actresses and actors, play on very smoothly with the facts that they present, “…that’s one girl every 28 seconds.” And straight after there is a movement of a girl being given away, and slowly her side of the story, as in someone’s real life interview dialogue is played through the actress, “I was married when I was 14.” Continuing this, the play also uses repetition to emphasize their point, this can be seen as they get in a line, push each other in a domino effect, the person at the end falls, and he/she are pointed at from center stage left to downstage center. this can be seen as the introductory scene to bring on and show different girl’s anecdotes which were said in the interviews which they collected to create the verbatim piece.

As it can be seen, this piece of theatre, “Child Brides” has been stylized to create an atmosphere which is remorseful and melancholic, displaying the dark side of the world. It uses music, giving off a helpless tone. Further to stylize, a convention of drama which the group uses is the cannon effect which they use in multiple situations of the story, such as the part when they say, “It’s just the way it is…” One person says it, then two people say it together and after that everyone says it all together. Another drama convention that is incorporated throughout the play, is the one of melodrama, even if the interview stories are untouched and ‘verbatim’ as in the original words that are used, the flow through of their material and information as it is presented is exaggerated melodramatically, “My father told the school that I had died,” is one such line that is portrayed melodramatically as one person says it, then the rest of the group says it and falls to the ground, to emphasize the point. All in all, this verbatim theatre is very powerful and leaves a great impact on the audience because of the severity of the issue, and due to the reality of the truthful interview answers which they had captured, and portrayed on stage, each story per victim, and the real picture was portrayed. This realism emphasized the piece because the facts and the dialogue felt so real.

Verbatim theater surrounds experiences of real life, real events and real topics, which means that it must bring out the truth, and stand as a voice to the voiceless. It is also a form of theatre corresponding to documented events or interviews, which utilizes the precise words, actions, and emotions of the event in question to bring to life in theatre. The process involved in creating Verbatim theatre lies in the key of finding it’s script, thus the documentation period. In this documentation period, one needs to collate interviews, and snippets to observe and draw out questions to conduct interview(s) surrounding the specific topic in the piece one is to perform. And after this period is the stylizing period where the documentation is brought together and stylized to put together a greater piece. Which is finally wrapped up in the performance by the practice periods, where exact lines must be memorized to keep the piece of theatre, ‘Verbatim.’


Child Brides – Verbatim Theatre. (2016). Rachel McCue.

Dictionary, v. (n.d.). verbatim Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. [online] Dictionary.cambridge.org. Available at: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/verbatim [Accessed 5 Feb. 2017].

Dramaonlinelibrary.com. (2014). Verbatim theatre – Drama Online. [online] Available at: http://www.dramaonlinelibrary.com/genres/verbatim-theatre-iid-2551 [Accessed 4 Feb. 2017].

Kirby, L. (2014). ‘A Guide to Creating Verbatim Theatre’ | Birds Eye View Theatre Company. [online] Birdseyeviewtheatre.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk. Available at: http://birdseyeviewtheatre.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/05/26/a-guide-to-creating-verbatim-theatre/ [Accessed 5 Feb. 2017].

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