Theatre Arts 275:  Topics in Theatre:  Documentary Drama

Professor Mazer

Spring 2010


519 Annenberg Center, 3-2659;

Office Hours:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, Noon-1:15, and by appointment


The purpose of this course is


A) to examine examples of “verbatim” theatre—theatre using documents to depict people or events.


B)  to generate a script for an original piece of verbatim theatre, which can be used to create a performance for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September 2010.


To allow us the flexibility to shape our readings and discussions to serve our progress on the piece we are creating, our readings will NOT be scheduled in advance for particular days, but are likely to follow the sequence below.


For each script we read, we will ask the following questions:


What is the nature of the documentary material?

What is the basis for selection?

What is the organizing principle?

What is the theatrical idiom?

Who is the intended audience or community?

What is the social or political purpose of the piece?

What is the nature of the actor’s presence?




I.  Theory:

Carol Martin, “Bodies of Evidence” (download from Blackboard site).

Attilio Favorini, “After the Fact:  Theater and the Documentary Impulse” (download)

Emily Mann, Introduction to Testimonies.


II.  Antecedents:

Charles Matthews, Trip to America, read and compare multiple accounts (download)


III.  The Living Newspaper:

Ethiopia (download)

Triple A Plowed Under (download)


IV.  Mid-century German experiments:

Bertolt  Brecht, The Trial of Joan of Arc at Rouen, 1431 (download)

Heinar Kipphardt, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (download)

Peter Weiss, The Investigation (download)


V.  Dramatizing Trials:

Emily Mann, Execution of Justice

(Other possible scripts:  Donald Freed, Inquest; Daniel Berrigan, The Trial of the Catonville Nine; Ron Sossi and Frank Condon, The Chicago Conspiracy Trial; Mame Hunt, Unquestioned Integrity.)


VI.  The Personal Voice:

Spalding Gray, Monster in a Box

David Hare, Via Dolorosa

Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, My Name is Rachel Corrie


VII.  The Personal Voice/The Voice of the Other:

Anna Deveare Smith, Fires in the Mirror (plus “‘The Word Becomes You,’ an interview with Carol Martin” [download], and Richard Schechner, “Anna Deavere Smith:  Acting as Incorporation” [download])

Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

Doug Wright, I Am My Own Wife (plus “‘We Love To See Power Subverted,’ an interview by Saviana Stanescu,” [download])


VIII.  Ways of Documenting:

Janelle Reinelt, “Towards a Poetics of Theatre and Public Events” (download)


IX.  Documenting v. Dramatizing:

Peter Brook, et. al. US/Tell Me Lies

David Hare, Stuff Happens


There will be TWO take-home writing assignments, at dates to be announced.  In addition, there will be a final project, which is likely to be EITHER a longer essay on a topic of your choice (subject to my approval) on either the subject of verbatim theatre or about the topic we have chosen to dramatize, OR a creative project involving the theatre piece we are building, OR some combination of the two, to be determined.


Books can be purchased at the Penn Book Center, 34th and Sansom; if there is a bulkpack, it can be purchased at the Campus Copy Center, 39th and Walnut.  Some reading materials may be placed on reserve in Rosengarten instead.


There may be theatre events in town that we will want to see.  In the meantime, mark your calendars for two events:  Anna Deavere Smith will be appearing at the Zellerbach Theatre, reading sections of her latest play, on January 26th (though it is not clear that tickets will be available to the general public); and The Vagina Monologues will be presented on campus as an annual “V-Day” observation. 


The listserv for this course is  You have been subscribed automatically.  If you do not seem to be on it, or if you drop the course and wish to be unsubscribed, please send a note to cmazer@english.


The syllabus for this course is available at  Make a bookmark on your web browser for this site.  There is a “Blackboard” web site for this course, to which you are automatically subscribed, which includes an electronic copy of the syllabus, and (under “Course Documents”) downloadable PDF files of several of the course readings.  We may discover other uses for this web site over the course of the semester.