Dramaturging the ‘Truth’ in The Exonerated: Ethics, Counter-Text, and Activism in Documentary Theatre (Kaitlyn)

*This article comes from the academic journal of Theatre Topics

My academic article looks at the question of ethics vs. historical truth for dramaturgs in documentary theatre, looking at a specific case. The author was presented with a dilemma while being on a dramaturgical project for a documentary theatre piece called The Exonerated, which used interviews to look at the cases of 6 people who were wrongly convicted of a crime. The production she was working on took place years after the original showing and in that time, one of the people presented in the play was pled guilty for a different crime. The dramaturg, along with the creative team, had to decide whether to bring this information into the world of the play or not, dealing with the possibility of the activist piece making less of an impact.

I have provided document below so you can read it in full. I chose this particular piece of academic writing because of its subject matter, since I am looking at documentary theatre as it evolved from the Living Newspaper, its academic but readable language, and its success in looking at the different issues that this question brought up.

Dramaturging the Truth in the Exonerated by Christine Bean


One thought on “Dramaturging the ‘Truth’ in The Exonerated: Ethics, Counter-Text, and Activism in Documentary Theatre (Kaitlyn)

  1. (Kirk writes:)
    First of all, notice the style the author chooses: first person, but focused on objective articulation of demonstrable events and documented facts. This provides an example of subjectively constructed, objectively directed academic work appropriate to theatre studies.
    Second, I’m fascinated by how the author describes the horns of two dilemmas – or perhaps the two horns of a single dilemma? One has to do with the construction and valuation of truth: that is, the dramaturg serves the critical ethical purpose (when collaborating with an artistic process) of negotiating the production’s relationship to facts and evidence, even (perhaps particularly) when these change. When a work is constructed to articulate a specific point of view, the dramaturge’s role becomes complicated if facts emerge that contradict or undermine (or distract attention from) that point of view. The other has to do with focus, or emphasis: what should be in the foreground of a work of documentary theatre? The moment and time of its initial gathering and production (like a scientific study), or the engaged community of the present involved in its revival? This is not specific to documentary theatre – any historical reconstruction must tackle this problem – but it becomes particularly acute when the form of production itself heralds its own authenticity as “document” (as opposed to, say, “entertainment” or “dramatization” or “re-imagining” … or even vaguer and more evasive terms).


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