Accepted paper:

'The witness and the replay': oral history and documentary theatre


Louise Owen (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Informed by Rebecca Schneider's groundbreaking analysis of performance and its 'remains' (2011), this paper offers a consideration of documentary theatre in terms of theatrical re-enactment, and the role of 'non-serious' theatrical processes in constructing and mediating the past.

Paper long abstract:

In Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Re-enactment (2011), performance scholar Schneider examines a series of representational practices seeking to document or re-animate past events. Documentary performance projects utilising ethnographic processes involve 'cross- and inter-authorships' by their very nature. This paper examines the conceptual basis and working processes of such documentary theatre projects, with a particular focus on London Bubble's community theatre practice. The company's oral history project Grandchildren of the Blitz (2010-2011) and the ensuing performance work Blackbirds (2012) explored the effects of the Blitz on Bermondsey and Rotherhithe in south London. It negotiated, in the first instance, encounters between young residents of the area as interviewers, and older residents, who had themselves lived through the Blitz as children, as interviewees. It thus invited its participants to become, effectively, ethnographers of a past to which they were not present. The paper enumerates the multiple forms of theatricality and re-enactment in play in the documentary theatre encounter - from research, to devising, to performance. In doing so, it attempts to account for "problems of ambivalence, simultaneous temporal registers, anachronism, and the everywhere of error" not as difficulties to be overcome, but precisely as functional to documentary performance, and which thus also shed light on upon contemporary political and historical circumstances - in this case, the re-articulation of WWII in a context of 'austerity'.

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'All the world's a stage': the social and political potentialities of theatre and performance