Verbatim Theatre is not known for it's theatricality, instead it centres on the language drawing truth from interview transcripts or other relevant documents. When I began teaching Verbatim Theatre my students struggled with the dryness of the words on the page. I needed to crack open this form of theatre for them.
Here I share with you a few simple workshop ideas for opening up the world of Verbatim for your students. I have also included two workshops that introduce the plays Embers by Champion Decent and Parramatta Girls by Alana Valentine. Hopefully, they will be of some use to someone out there! Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
Workshop 1 - iPads or other recording device, headphones.
Workshop 2 - Cronuts (or other food related item!), A3 paper, textas, scissors, music, images of cronuts (or other food related item!)
Workshop 3 - Photo images of the 2003 Victorian Bushfires, newspaper articles from The Age about the 3002 Victorian Bushfires, A3 paper, recording devices. the text.
Workshop 4 - String, pegs. a projector, a computer or other device, a bench or similar (a drama box would do!), butcher's paper, black and yellow textas, red paint and brush, A3 paper, the text.
Workshop 1 - An Intro to Verbatim through the Universal Theme of Love: Think of a time when you have felt love. Recall this situation remembering as much detail as you can. Find a partner. In pairs interview each other about a time you have felt love. Record your partners response using the iPad. After you have finished recording your partner, transcribe the interview word-for-word. Write pauses, um’s, and grammar the way it was said in the recording. Note any physical shifts during the interview.
You are now going to recreate the telling of this story verbatim. You are going to play your classmate, respectfully, truthfully, and authentically. You must deliver word for word their story. Rehearse your performance. As a class, take a position on stage as your character (classmate) and one by one perform your moment of love. Your teacher will use music as transition from story to story.
What is the result? Was your performance authentic? Were your classmates performances authentic? Did you believe these stories of love? Why? Link into introductory notes on Verbatim Theatre.
Note: This activity could be run using Headphone Verbatim techniques if preferred.
Workshop 2 - Cronut Verbatim: (Any food could be used… but who doesn’t like cronuts!) Sit in a circle with a piece of A3 paper and a pen. Try to have a different colour pen to everyone else. Your teacher will give you a cronut on a plate.
Look at the cronut. Write down what you see. (Take a new line for each sentence.) Smell the cronut. Describe how it smells. Taste the cronut slowly, paying attention to the flavours, the texture, the feeling of it in your mouth. Write down the details before taking a second bite. Continue to describe the cronut in as much detail as possible.
When you are done, cut up your paper into sentence strips. Bring the sentences back to the whole group. Lay out the sentences on the floor and arrange them into a piece of text with meaning. Remember to play with the elements of drama particularly contrast, tension and mood.
Once the text is laid out in order, perform the text as a group with each person delivering their colour lines. Layer this dialogue with projections of cronuts and possibly music at different points. Try and make the performance as engaging and authentic, as possible.
How was the text layered to create dramatic meaning? Compare our performance to Verbatim plays. How do the playwrights of these texts layer dialogue to make truthful stories theatrical?
Note: There was a student in my class who was allergic to nuts. Her transcript was very funny and created an excellent contrast to the other pieces of writing. She shared how unfair life was that she could not eat the cronut!
Workshop 3 - Introduction to Embers: Look at the images taken during the 2003 Victorian bushfires. Using the post-it notes, quietly respond to the images. What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? What words come to mind?
Choose one of the images that really draws you in. Explain to the class why you were drawn to that image. Take this image and write a creative story (on A3 paper) from the perspective of the photographer. Explain who you are, where you are, why you are there and what compelled you to photograph that moment. When you are finished read your story to the class. Post the images and stories on a collaborative work space.
Your teacher will then give you a newspaper article from The Age newspaper at the time of the bushfires. Highlight three phrases from your article that move you or capture your attention. Read these phrases to the class. How does this language differ from the language in your stories? Who are the people that are spoken about in your articles? Post your highlighted articles on the collaborative space.
As a class, discuss any experiences you as a group have had in relation to bushfires. Your teacher will write on A3 paper any key phrases/significant quotes from this discussion. This is placed on the collaboration board. You are then asked to interview three people outside the classroom. You must ask them two questions - If your home was threatened by bushfires would you stay and defend your house or would you evacuate? Why? AND If you did flee, what would you take with you? Why? Document your interviews by recording them on your phones or other devices. Write the most interesting interview out verbatim and place it in the collaboration board with other interviews from each of your classmates.
As a class read the poem ‘Bushfire’ by Peter Salom. Decide on three key phrases from the poem that really capture your imaginations as a class. Place these key phrases on the collaboration board.
Take time to really look and engage with the collaboration board. As a group devise a performance about the 2003 Victorian Bushfires only using words, phrases or quotes from the collaboration board. Think about the structure, the setting and the various dramatics techniques you could use to layer this text. Rehearse and perform your piece.
What similarities does your performance have with the play Embers? What were the differences? What verbatim techniques did you use to create your performance? What impact did your performance have on the audience? What verbatim techniques does Embers use? What impact does this have on the audience? What themes and issues were evident in your performance?
Workshop 4 - Introduction to Parramatta Girls: After watching the play, work as a class to identify the six most significant moments of the text based on the impact these moments had on you as an audience member. Chart them on a timeline of the play. Justify each decision to your teacher. Once decided return to each scene and find one word or phrase that captures the essence of that moment. It might be as simple as ‘Hope’ or symbolic such as ‘When a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, would it be heard?” Create a tableau freeze for each moment in the play. Transition from freeze frame to freeze frame with one character layering the word or phrase over the image. Keep these images and words at the forefront of your mind as we will be returning to them.
Find a partner to work with. Each pair will be given one large piece of butcher’s paper and a black and a yellow texta. Lie on your butcher’s paper and ask your friend to trace your outline. Inside your outline use your yellow texta to write down your hopes and dreams for the future. Think about your future relationships, career, home, travel plans etc. Dream big. When you are done share some of these hopes and dreams with your classmates. Swap your outline with someone else in the class. Once you have a new outline, choose a character from the play that engages or interests you. Write this characters name above the outline in your black texta . Using information from the play and your notes, as well as quotes said by and about the character, fill the outline with words, phrases etc. that define your character. Feel free to write over the hopes and dreams your classmate wrote in yellow. The more information about this character the better. Once you have finished, hang your character on the makeshift clothesline your teacher has created. One by one, your teacher will discuss each image, stripping it of it’s name and replacing it with a number, smearing it with red paint in the places your character was abused. By this stage the hopes and dreams are invisible. This becomes the set for your performance today.
The teacher begins to project the footage of the 60 minutes interview with the Parramatta Girls onto the figures. Respond to the imagery using the prompts - I see, I think, I wonder. Place these statements on or around the clothesline adding to the set. Your teacher will then read these theatrically as they will most likely parallel the reaction and thoughts of the audience to the original text.
Return to your character which you were focussing on and complete these two tasks by yourself - 1. Write a letter to the Australian public telling them all you want them to know about life in the Parramatta Girls home. 2. Choose a moment in the text that defines your character. It might be a line or a small paragraph. Prepare this moment for performance.
Once completed we will prepare for a performance on the stage. The set will be the clothesline of outlines, projected images and a bench. You will begin by each getting up and performing the significant moment for our individual characters in a continuous stream. This will be followed by our tableaus from the first activity and then by individual chunks from your letters to the Australian public. The performance is continuous.
After the performance unpack the workshop and the final product. What did you see? What did you hear? What did you feel? How was drama tension created? What was the mood of the final piece? Where was the focus in different scenes? How was language and symbol manipulated to create dramatic meaning? How were the themes and issues of the play represented? What impact did it have on you when you were in the audience? What impact would the full play have on the audiences watching? Why?
Note: This can be quite a heavy workshop due to the content of the play. Feel free to split the workshop in half if need be and undergo the second half at a later date.