Allen Hall | August 22 - 25 at 7:30pm | $10 for students.

In the past few years, Allen Hall Theatre has made a name for itself in the verbatim theatre world. Hilary Halba and Stuart Young have championed this contemporary theatre form in Otago, recently showcasing a trilogy of incredibly touching works: Gathered in Confidence, Hush, and Be | Longing. This year’s 400-level Documentary Theatre class, one that is only offered every four or five years, brings their latest creation to the stage. Passages tells the story of a variety of people, from children to parents, reflecting on moments of transition in their lives: “We just said, ‘Tell us about a right of passage in your life,’ and people have just come up with so many different things.” I met with some of the actors in the piece, Alayne Dick, Jakub Green, and Olivia Kelsey, to discuss the ins and outs of this refreshing new genre, and the challenges they faced in performing something so original.

“It is a very new form [of theatre]. I think the earliest official documentary theatre only came out in the sixties, and that’s not what we’re doing now. We’re using iPods and you have to memorise everything they say and how they say it. Every mannerism, you have to do it perfectly,” Green says.

On those people who don’t understand why one would choose theatre over film, Kelsey explains: “I personally love [film] documentaries, and I didn’t really know much about documentary theatre. I think when you get to 300-level theatre you’ve studied a lot of Stanislavski, you’ve studied a lot of Chekhov, and they kind of morph in to one type of acting, whereas this is almost completely contradictory. It’s completely technical, which is something we haven’t really explored before with theatre.”

Green agrees: “Collecting information and thinking of a topic is similar to doing a film, but when it comes to acting documentary theatre, it’s very different to acting out any other type of theatre, because things that you are previously taught about getting in touch with the emotion of your characters, spontaneity, improvisation, are not things that apply at all, or certainly not to our type of documentary theatre.”

This style of acting is vastly different to “normal” acting. Kelsey comments, “You press play. That’s how you get in to the character. It’s an incredibly draining rehearsal process. Everything is incredibly specific, like where is this finger in relation to the other one? Personally, I can’t do it for more than 20 minutes because I get too drained.” Preparation for the production has been lengthy, starting in February, so it’s no wonder it’s exhausting. “Sometimes it’s easy to get pedantic, but then other times it’s like Chinese water torture, and it’s really hard to put up with it for too long.”

However, Kelsey assures us there’s a rewarding side to it as well. “I’ve seen it a million times, but every time we watch it it’s still interesting to me and I still laugh at the bits that are funny. Even though it’s very technical it still has the power to affect us. You’re playing with peoples’ lives. It’s not a character that’s been written by a playwright, that’s an actual person. And you’ve got to be careful.” It’s an understandable concern, but I’m certain this talented group of actors will put on a tasteful and entertaining piece of theatre for us to enjoy. How will verbatim theatre progress at Otago? Watch this space!
This article first appeared in Issue 21, 2012.
Posted 4:26pm Sunday 19th August 2012 by Bronwyn Wallace.