New Theatre Quarterly

Research Article

Acts of Commitment: Activist Arts, the Rehearsed Reading, and Documentary Theatre

Derek Paget

Abstract

The past two decades have seen a remarkable resurgence in documentary theatre in Britain and America, with a growing emphasis on verbatim material. In this article, Derek Paget examines a distinctively twenty-first-century contribution to the tradition of activist theatre grounded in the last century. Using verbatim material, supporting a specific current cause, and often produced in association with an NGO or charitable organization, the ‘rehearsed reading’ apparently offers little in terms of theatricality even if it is clearly worthy and a valuable resource for activists. Documentary theatre has always been heavily context-based, and so tends to come to the fore in troubled times. In the present conjuncture, work like that of the ‘Actors for Human Rights’ group, analyzed here, seeks to be a force for social change through a focus on single issues and a reliance on verbatim speech. Derek Paget's interest in documentary theatre has featured several times in NTQ and his early intervention on Verbatim Theatre featured in NTQ 12 (November 1987). Research for the article was conducted as part of University of Reading's 2007–2010 ‘Acting with Facts’ project (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council). Derek Paget is Principal Investigator of the project, and Reader in Theatre and Television in the Department of Film, Theatre, and Television, University of Reading. The second edition of No Other Way To Tell It, his book on screen docudrama, is due for publication this year.