Theatricalizing oral history: How British and American theatre artists explore current events and contemporary politics in the journey from interview to performance
This dissertation explores the journey from interview to performance of four politically engaged plays—The Laramie Project, The Permanent Way, The Exonerated, Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom —created from interviews by American and British theatre artists. Originating in the world of professional theatre, the plays cast their creators (actors, playwrights, directors) in the role of oral historians as they conducted the interviews that were used to develop the plays. Each play represents a dynamic and complex set of negotiations and choices in a deeply collaborative process that began with the encounter between interviewer and interviewee in the "event of the interview" and culminated with the encounter between play and audience in the "event of the performance."
I examine how the artists transformed the interviews into performance by applying the language of theatre to the words of real people, or what I call theatricalizing oral history. Using interviews I conducted with artists involved in each play, as well as written accounts about each play's development, I analyze the text of each play, showing how the "event of the interview" not only provided dialogue, but also shaped the plays' structure, direction and performance. Moisés Kaufman and members of his New York-based Tectonic Theater Project created The Laramie Project from interviews they conducted in Laramie regarding the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. David Hare, working with director Max Stafford-Clark's Out of Joint Theatre, wrote the verbatim play The Permanent Way, which explores the impact of the privatization of Britain's railways using interviews conducted with people connected to four major train crashes. Actors-turned-playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen created The Exonerated, an examination of America's system of capital punishment, from interviews with six people who were exonerated after spending years on Death Row. Nicolas Kent, artistic director of the London theatre The Tricycle, commissioned novelist Gillian Slovo and journalist Victoria Brittain to write Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, which tells the story of several British citizens detained at Guantanamo using interviews with family members, lawyers, advocates, and a released detainee. My analysis reveals that though these plays deal with similar topics that were "in the news" and employ similar creative processes and dramaturgical strategies in their development, each play is a direct reflection and embodiment of the artists' unique journey of creation, from interview to performance.