Certainly a project that takes the performance of the real on stage as its primary point of departure must be interested in verbatim theatre. (Verbatim theatre refers to the practice of using real world speech — usually gathered from interviews, court transcripts, or other oral or print sources. These words are then delivered “verbatim” by the actors performing the roles of the original speakers. The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project is perhaps the best-known contemporary example of the genre.) So my interest then is in the interplay between real words which are delivered inside a fictional context. How does the necessarily fictionalizing frame of theatre impact the reality status of actual- world elements presented in that frame?
Thursday, I had the opportunity to see Seeds by Annabel Soutar her company Porte Parole at the FTA. I can already see that this play will provide a rich example of the genre. Some points of interest:
In the case of Seeds, playwright Annabel Soutar inserts herself into the performance (represented by actor Liisa Repo-Martell). This strategy opens up an additional perspective in terms of the play’s reality as we not only hear the verbatim text but we are witness to Annabel’s interviews, to her encounters with her subjects. We hear her questions as well as the answers she receives. The real-world process of making verbatim theatre is interwoven with the results of that process. Another result of this strategy is that we are also witness to Annabel’s uncertainty — and her doubts become ours, keeping conclusions at bay.
When I get a chance to return to Seeds in more depth, (hopefully with a script in hand) I will want to consider the dramaturgical choices, looking specifically at how the verbatim text has been managed in the transition from life to art. How are the original speeches arranged in the interests of narrative? Typically “real elements” draw our interest as an attractive gimmick. What I want to do is to get beyond the gimmick of the real, to consider plays of this kind on their dramaturgical qualities looking at structure, repeated images, extra-textual references, narrative patterns, etc.
An unconnected thought: If we are not told explicitly that the play was a verbatim piece, and that the words have specific real-world sources, this aspect of the play could become invisible to us. The words would be understood as fictional — the imagined creations of the playwright — a play like any other. Significantly this is not true for actual objects on the stage — and here I want to give a “shout out” to the egg that appeared in Seeds. Brandished by one of the actors, quickly cracked into a pan and fried before our eyes (and shown live on the big screen), the reality of the egg need not be declared — and cannot be effaced. The egg is an egg. And we are thrilled (at least I am) when it behaves just like an egg. More on this to come…