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Volume 33, Number 1 (2012)

Verbatim Theatre and Social Research: Turning Towards the Stories of Others

May 17, 2013


This paper analyses the convergence of ethnographic research and Verbatim theatre in both the context of an urban secondary school drama classroom and in two professional theatres in the city of Toronto. This four-year international, digital, collaborative ethnography focuses on performance and its relationship to youth engagement. As part of the larger project, this paper analyses data gathered in the school research site that charted youth reactions to a Verbatim theatre workshop and performance of The Middle Place, a powerful Verbatim play about shelter youth, created by the socially committed theatre company, Project: Humanity. Additional digital data included the subsequent videotaped youth-created Verbatim monologues. The research team also followed Project: Humanity into two professional theatres in Toronto (Theatre Passe Muraille and Canadian Stage) where youth and adult audiences, fresh from seeing The Middle Place, were interviewed about the play, cultural representations of youth, and theatre as a form of social intervention. The third data set occurred back in the classroom of our school research site, where the The Middle Place filtered back into student drama work in surprising ways. To analyse these data, we bring performance theory, Brechtian theory, relational art theory and Foucault’s concept of ‘parrhesia’ to address the ethics of representing trauma and the possibility of ‘fearless speech’. In responding theatrically, these youth offered our research valuable glimpses into the subcultures of urban youth and their theatre-making practices.