Documentary theater tips?
January 23, 2009 8:55 AM   Subscribe

HighSchoolDramaTeacherFilter: Any tips for doing documentary theater with students?

I'm teaching a new advanced high school drama class this year. We spent first semester studying and doing a production of a Shakespeare play. I'd now like to switch gears into something completely different: documentary theater in the tradition of The Laramie Project, The Exonerated, and the work of Anna Deveare Smith.

Has anybody out there done documentary theater work with high school or college students? I've found a syllabus or two online, but does anybody have concrete tips? Articles on the topic that students might find particularly engaging? Tips and pitfalls? Ethnographic/oral history interview advice? Anything whatsoever? I know I'm being broad here, but though I've done plenty of theater work, documentary theater is something I've only experienced as an (enthusiastic) audience member.
posted by HeroZero to Education (3 answers total)
Clarifications: I'd like the students to ultimately create a project based on interviewing stakeholders either in the high school itself or in the surrounding neighborhood.
posted by HeroZero at 9:09 AM on January 23, 2009

Some things to consider:

1. You will generate a lot of material. How will it be collected? How will it be transcribed? When transcribing, what is the accepted rule for umms and ahhhs etc. (Personally, I would include everything and then edit out as needed.)

2. Especially important in a youth collective creation - Who will be in charge of what goes in and what doesn't? Who will have the last word in artistic differences for inclusion? This person does not necessarily have to be the director. It could be a student or a group of students assigned with a script focus.

3. Do you want an open-ended process (the interviews determine the content of the show) or do you want more focus in the line of questioning (will help whittle down the material)?

4. What is the deciding process for the material? I would have youth in groups edit some material and present it to each other 'auditioning' it. Is it dramatic? Do the pieces relate to each other?

5. Please obtain permission to use the interviews for a production. A simple release will do.

That's all that I can think of right now.
posted by typewriter at 9:38 AM on January 23, 2009

This sounds like a great project.

Have you taught them Stanislavskian acting techniques? If I was doing this with any age group, I would spend some time collecting raw interviews. Then I'd work with the group to discuss the interviewed people as dramatic characters: what do they want? What are they trying to achieve? What are the obstacles in their way, etc?

This could lead to some fascinating discussions about adapting real-life material into a narrative: when is dramatic license okay? Is it okay at all? What can you cut? What must you leave in? Is a documentary a story or a report? Or somehow both?

There also might be technical work to do in terms of dialects and movements. High-schoolers might take to the International Phonetic Alphabet. It would be fun to talk them trough vowel substitutions and the like.
posted by grumblebee at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2009

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