We believe, as the Greeks did, that theatre’s function is to keep society healthy by providing a platform for public conversation about eternal human issues – hubris, fear, vengeance, power, love. One of the reasons the theatre is so well-suited to this conversation is that narrative theatre has at its heart the process of empathy. The very experience of watching a story unfold in the theatre triggers identifications – these new identifications crack open our comfortable, sedimented everyday identities and generate reactions and questions – and when a culture grapples with these questions together, it begins to change.
Reality television and cable news don’t ask us to identify: they ask us to judge, to stand outside what we are watching, even while we indulge in and are entertained by the spectacle of it all. Narrative theatre asks us to stand inside, to identify with the characters at the heart of the story, to see those characters in ourselves and ourselves in them. If we do what the play asks of us, we are automatically involved and implicated in the story we are watching. And when the story we are watching is based on truth – as it is in verbatim theatre – we are implicated even more. This, we believe, is why verbatim theatre can bring about social change. Not because it pumps its fist and warns us all of the grave dangers our society is facing. But because if you tell a story in the theatre, and tell it well and clearly, the audience will empathise; and if the audience empathises, they are implicated and involved. Done right, verbatim theatre can involve us all on an immediate, human level, in stories that are happening all around us, in reality, every day; stories we might think are not our responsibility but which in fact affect all of us. Verbatim theatre can show us – as long as it refrains from telling us – that this is true, and in so doing can help raise all kinds of questions that we desperately need to be asking as a society.
Our first step will look at the article “When Haiyan Struck” as a means to devising a short piece.
You will perform your piece Friday, November 22nd.