Beyond documentary theatres: shifting iterations of documentary practices


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Lennon, Andrew G. ORCID: (2022). Beyond documentary theatres: shifting iterations of documentary practices. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis differentiates “documentary practices” from canonical notions of “documentary theatre forms” to demonstrate that the malleability and responsiveness of documentary practices are fundamental traits that underpin their perennial utility within shifting historical circumstances. I make the case that these traits enable the productive re-engagement with aspects of the documentary theatre canon, but also that they facilitate an increasingly expansive mobilisation of documentary practices beyond the confines of established documentary theatre forms. In this way, my thesis uncovers how documentary practices are expansively mobilised within theatrical models that resist neat classification as examples of documentary theatre, particularly within the historical context of what I term digital times. I propose that these expansive new mobilisations inextricably owe a debt to the documentary canon, but that they can be productively engaged in examining how reality and the real are experienced, understood, and communicated in the contemporary moment.

Chapter One examines the productive malleability of documentary practices in the early period of canonical documentary theatres – from Piscator to Weiss. Chapter Two investigates the neo-avant-garde performance practices of the Living Theatre and Spalding Gray to examine how contextual pressures became a focal point for the mobilisation of documentary practices, particularly in work that troubles the cohesive notions of documentary theatre forms. In Chapter Three, I consider the resurgence of documentary theatre in the new millennium. I suggest through examinations of definitions and conflations that certain ambiguities occur between source and notions of fact and fiction. In a detailed analysis of Chris Goode’s Weaklings (2015), I then evaluate how such ambiguities, while seemingly appropriate in respect of the performance of self-online, can be unproductive if mobilised in the process of reflecting modes of communication in digital times. Specifically, I investigate how Goode imbricates documentary and non-documentary practices in the promotion of what appears to be a total collapse between fact and fiction, both online and offline. Chapter Four foregrounds a recent trend in solo documentary storytellers via Complicité’s The Encounter (2015), Unlimited Project’s Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (2013), and Chris Thorpe and Rachel Chavkin’s Confirmation (2014). I examine how the malleability of the documentary practices in these examples creates ‘particular relationships’ with the spectators, which enables the storyteller to foreground their embodied testimony over and above all other documentary evidence. The positioning of this individual as the fulcrum of trust in these works provokes scepticism not only about what is being communicated, but also by whom, and why, and speaks to an accelerated spectacle of individualised communication in digital times.

I contend that these examples differently but strategically deploy iterations of documentary practices in response to shifting political agendas, social change, and changing appreciations of the real propelled by technological developments. I argue that deployments of documentary practices outside of normative confines of documentary theatre forms provokes thinking about the future of documentary praxis and facilitates an expansive analysis of the social, cultural, and political implications and anxieties that exist in digital times.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of Drama and Theatre Arts
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater


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