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Documentary Theatre

“Documentary theatre … goes beyond pure documentation: it’s about questioning the meaning and significance of truth and information,” writes Mona Mehri in “Staging ‘the Document’ at the Avignon Festival.” Documentary theatre uses existing nonfiction sources—interviews, oral histories, articles, governmental reports, etc.—to create works of performance. In this section, you’ll find content about pieces created this way and thoughts from artists working in this form.

The Latest

Livestreaming The Voices of Afghanistan
Video
Livestreaming The Voices of Afghanistan
A Verbatim Theatre Piece from the LA Writers Center
Saturday 25 September 2021
Los Angeles, California
Organizing History in the Alliance Theatre’s Working: A Musical
Essay
Organizing History in the Alliance Theatre’s Working: A Musical
by Margarita Kompelmakher
17 August 2021
In Search of Complexities
Essay
In Search of Complexities
Documentary Theatre in Today’s Russia
by Anastasia Patlay
13 May 2020
The voices of afghanistan event poster.
Livestreaming The Voices of Afghanistan
Video

Livestreaming The Voices of Afghanistan

A Verbatim Theatre Piece from the LA Writers Center

Saturday 25 September 2021
Los Angeles, California

LA Writers Center is interviewing Afghan and Afghan-American citizens about the situation in their homeland and how it has effected their lives and the lives of their loved ones. We consider this a call to action, and we are eager to share these voices with you. Livestreaming on the commons-based, peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv Saturday 25 September 2021 at 11 a.m. PDT (Los Angeles, UTC -7) / 1 p.m. CDT (Chicago, UTC -5) / 2 p.m. EDT (New York, UTC -4).

Actress Tawana Montgomery playing Deborah Scott. Photo credit: Greg Mooney
Organizing History in the Alliance Theatre’s Working: A Musical
Essay

Organizing History in the Alliance Theatre’s Working: A Musical

17 August 2021

Margarita Kompelmakher details the Alliance Theatre’s process of adapting Working into a community-engaged production that both modeled grassroots organizing and told the story of the work of organizers in the city.

an actor onstage with a large projection behind her
In Search of Complexities
Essay

In Search of Complexities

Documentary Theatre in Today’s Russia

13 May 2020

Anastasia Patlay talks about creating documentary theatre with the Moscow-based company Teatr.doc.

two actors onstage
The Power of Transcripts
Essay

The Power of Transcripts

Waterwell and Immigration

22 April 2020

Lee Sunday Evans, the artistic director of New York City’s Waterwell, discusses the power of transcripts in performance, the topics of immigration and deportation, and the urgent attention that needs to be paid to the United States border right now.

three actors onstage
Stories from America’s Death Row
Essay

Stories from America’s Death Row

A Conversation with Lynden Harris

29 January 2020

Summer Robinson interviews playwright Lynden Harris about her work creating theatre with men on death row across the United States.

an actor onstage
How the way she spoke Resuscitated the Power of Storytelling Through Minimalism
Essay

How the way she spoke Resuscitated the Power of Storytelling Through Minimalism

10 November 2019

Sean Anthony Chia examines the impact of a powerful story—one without spectacle—through the lens of Isaac Gomez’s the way she spoke.

three actors onstage
Raising the Dead and Staging the New
Essay

Raising the Dead and Staging the New

Democracy and Identity at Finland’s Tampere Theatre Festival

7 October 2019

Sam Williams dives into several of the productions at Finland’s Tampere Theatre Festival, which ran between August 5 and 11 and which was curated based on the theme of bravery.

four actors in rehearsal
We Didn’t Have Any Role Models
Essay

We Didn’t Have Any Role Models

An Interview with the Founders of Wry Crips Disabled Women’s Theatre Group

21 August 2019

Michaela Goldhaber, current artistic director of Wry Crips, talks to the founding and early members of the disabled women’s theatre group about their history.

close up of an actor playing the cello
The Search for Truth in Putin’s Russia
Essay

The Search for Truth in Putin’s Russia

How Teatr.doc’s “Civil Theatre” Is Exposing Injustice

4 June 2019

verity healey looks at Teatr.doc’s latest show, Torture, and the vital need for “truth-telling” theatre.

actors on stage dressed as military
A performance of The Telling Project
Video

A performance of The Telling Project

by Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College

Thursday 4 April 2019
Keene, New Hampshire

Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College presented a performance of The Telling Project livestreamed on the global, commons-based peer produced HowlRound TV network at howlround.tv on Thursday 4 April at 4:30 p.m. PDT (San Francisco) / 6:30 p.m. CDT (Chicago) / 7:30 p.m. EDT (New York).

The Revolution is Here and Now
Essay

The Revolution is Here and Now

The Revolution is Roma, Queer, and Feminist

12 March 2019

Arman Heljic uses the play Roma Armee to discuss how European Roma are rejecting their colonial legacy and reclaiming their narrative.

group of people onstage
The Other Role
Essay

The Other Role

On the Representation of Roma on the Hungarian Stage

11 March 2019

Katarzyna Pabijanek reflects on Roma presence in Hungarian theatre, both throughout history and today.

Seven Romani actors sit together looking at the camera
From Cultural Appropriation to Self-Representation
Essay

From Cultural Appropriation to Self-Representation

A History of Roma Theatre in Romania

10 March 2019

Mihaela Drăgan looks at the way Roma are and have been portrayed in theatre in Romania and how Romani artists are working to reclaim their stories.

group of actors posing onstage
Staging “the Document” at the Avignon Festival
Essay

Staging “the Document” at the Avignon Festival

23 January 2019

Mona Merhi reflects on four productions at France’s 2018 Avignon Festival that were created based on real-life events, people, or documentary material and questions whether staging documents is an ethical process.

Creating Theatre From Reality
Essay

Creating Theatre From Reality

The Challenge of Documentary Theatre

7 March 2018

Anthony Dvarskas discusses the process of researching and creating America is Hard to See, a documentary theatre piece detailing the lives of a small community of sex offenders, and the town that had to adjust to their new neighbors.

When the Playwright Has an Agenda
Essay

When the Playwright Has an Agenda

2 November 2017

Jonathan Mandell takes on two recent plays based on real events, considering productions of Ferguson and The Siege.

Ethnodrama and Her Opponent
Essay

Ethnodrama and Her Opponent

 The Drama in the Data

26 May 2017

Holly L. Derr looks at ethnodrama and Her Opponent, a restaging of excerpts of the 2016 presidential debates with gender-reversed casting.

Collidescope 3.0
Essay

Collidescope 3.0

Adventures in Pre-and Post-Racial America

20 May 2017

Yuko Kurahashi talks about the Collidescope 3.0 project, which uses movement, video projections, and soundscape to explore black and white relations in American history.

Imagining Theatre as a Town Hall Meeting
Essay

Imagining Theatre as a Town Hall Meeting

2 May 2017

Director Alex Hare discusses using a town hall format for Chains Don’t Rattle Themselves, a song cycle performance about incarceration and how it affects individuals and their families.

A Creative Compass
Essay

A Creative Compass

How Documentary Theatre Can Lead Us Forward Post-Election

21 January 2017

Documentary theatre artist Melissa Bergstrom advocates using documentary theatre practices to listen and create new work in today’s social climate. 

Death and Disenfranchisement
Essay

Death and Disenfranchisement

Anna Deavere Smith’s Notes from the Field

8 November 2016

Jonathan Mandell reviews Anna Deavere Smith’s latest solo performance piece, which presents seventeen real-life characters to establish a connection between school failure, the prison system, and police killings.

History Repeats Itself
Essay

History Repeats Itself

Hallie Flanagan in the Twenty-first Century

4 October 2016

Amy Brady interviews Michael Arve about Dangerous Theatre, a piece he’s directing based on Hallie Flanagan’s 1938 testimony to the Special Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities.

The ATC Youth Ensemble Deconstructs This Beautiful City
Essay

The ATC Youth Ensemble Deconstructs This Beautiful City

24 September 2016

Neal Reynolds writes on the power of This Beautiful City, performed by high school students at American Theater Company.

Unaccompanied Minors Seek Shelter
Essay

Unaccompanied Minors Seek Shelter

28 June 2016

Susan J. Terrio reflects on Marissa Chibas Preston’s new play, Shelter, about journey of unaccompanied minors from Mexico to the US, directed by Martin Acosta.

Another Word for Beauty
Essay

Another Word for Beauty

Finding Freedom in The Moment

10 March 2016

David Dudley on The Goodman Theatre production of José Rivera’s Another Word for Beauty, directed by Steve Cosson in Chicago, Illinois.