Saturday was a fascinating day at Richmond Theatre working with Rib Davis from the Oral History society - looking at approaches to interviewing and transcribing work for reminiscence and verbatim theatre projects.
A number of really interesting issues came up - not least the notion of accuracy and neutrality. We looked at trying to interview each other - with the aim of not allowing the process to become a chat or sharing, but rather an open ended opportunity to allow the interviewee the space in which to tell a story. It was really difficult - particularly as all of us found ourselves manipulating or working on the material of the story as soon as it was told. In someways this is the essential difference between the oral history and the theatrical process. The former will always look to be accurate and the latter poetic. Where factual detail is important in the first, the second is always looking for a shape, a metaphor, an edit or a narrative sweep to hang the individual stories around. It's a different definition of 'the truth.'
Some verbatim theatre playwrights - David Hare in The Power of Yes and Gregory Burke in Blackwatch have overcome the neutrality issue, by including themselves in the action, revealing in the process their own flaws, naivete and struggles with turning primary source into poetry. In doing this they've also freed themselves to enter discussion rather than purely record testimony during the encounters they've had with their interviewees. Essentially I think they'd both want to argue that drama is more a Socratic dialogue than a confessional. The key is knowing when to interfere and when to allow the material to generate itself.
Our work for the 110th birthday project will need to take today's training a step further and begin to explore the theatrical languages that lie beyond the initial interviews. For now though it's great to have a firm structure from where we can build our research.