Making theatre from recorded data

Feedback from our trial run.

The main task for this weeks rehearsals was to edit the phrasing of our audio. During the trial run one of the main comments that were given was that we had over scripted the audio and needed to be more suggestive with instructions rather than formal. The audio also apparently sounded quite patronising, which when listening back I can understand. We understood that we would have to guide the audience around with clear instructions, however I think we underestimated how free thinking they would be. We structured the audio far too much and it therefore the piece lost a lot of its freedom. Our whole concept was for the audience to feel as if they are in control and that whatever they believe it right. However due to the over-structred questions and instructions, it lost the essence of our original intentions.

How we built on the constructive criticism.

That night (after the trial run) we all sat around, deflated and feeling a little lost for ideas. We decided that because we were overthinking the audio, we shouldn’t overthink the rehearsal process either. So we started our evening with a casual chat and a gossip to lighten the mood and subsequently ideas for our audio began to flow. We tried writing down a mini scrip but we quickly found that we fell back into what I call ‘sat-nav mode’, where suggestions turned to instructions and we found ourselves back in the same position. We found that comments that we often said flippently and without much thought, ended up being helpful, yet we could never remember them to put in the audio. I then remembered a moment in a completely unrelated film that I had recently watched, Saving Mr Banks (Hancock, 2013). It tells the story of the making of Mary Poppins and I remembered that during the creation process of the film, all conversations during meetings were recorded so they could refer to them at a later date for inspiration. I then suggested the idea to record all of our meetings on my phone so no comments were lost, and that our thought process wasn’t broken when we stopped to write ideas down. This seemed to work brilliantly and was very beneficial. Below is a short snippet of audio from one of our meeting. You can hear the groups thought processes developing:

We then divided the audio into seven separate audios, and each took one or two home to transcript, and put a new script together. Below is the most recent audio:

After another trial run with the new audio, the comments we received back were much better. We also got a friend (who had nothing to do with our site performance) to trail run it for us as well. We followed a few steps behind him and took note of which directions he looked, where he seemed to get confused, if he went off track (which he didn’t thankfully) etc. This was really helpful as it brought a fresh perspective to the piece and highlighted any issues that an actual audience member would encounter.

Relevant research 

I was reminded of verbatim theatre during our tasks this week. Recording live, ‘real life’ conversations and creating a transcript for a theatre piece linked with the ideas and practices of verbatim theatre. Will Hammond and Dan Steward defined verbatim:

‘The words of real people are recorded or transcribed by a dramatist during an interview or research project’ (Hammond et al, 2008)

Despite the fact that we aren’t transcribing the recordings word for word, the creative process is extremely similar. Dramatists use verbatim because it portrays a sense of honesty and truth in the dialogue. This was also our intention as we found that we spoke in a more casual manner when talking between friends, and this friendship/companionship was something we really wanted to get across.


Hammond, W. Steward, D. (eds.) (2008) Introduction in Verbatim Verbatim: Contemporary Documentary Theatre. London: London Oberon Books.  

Hancock, J.L. (dir.) (2013) Saving Mr Banks. [film] Walt Disney Pictures.

A day of coincidence

This week we have focused on developing the specifics of our performance idea. For example we created a rough script of the audio that our designated speaker (Fleur) would record once finalised. This took us a lot longer than expected as we found it hard to create instructions that were not too patronising, structured or contained not enough information. After four painful hours in the library we finally completed the script, however in hindsight it would have been a lot easier to have written it in the site, saving us trying to imagine where the audience would stand. Despite the extra work we made for ourselves, we managed to complete the scrip ready for Rachael’s meeting.

Today we went to the site and conducted a trial run through of the script and pretended to hear it from the audience’s perspective. There were several little things that cropped up, such as ‘look to your left and you’ll see the statue’ is actually suppose to be ‘look to your right…’ etc. However whilst running through the performance a middle aged man, roughly in his 40’s, stood next to us whilst we were examining the judgment gates and suddenly said ‘I wonder who the women are on the archways, and why they’re headless’. This then sparked a very unexpected conversation between himself and our group about the headless statues around the entrance. Which is exactly what we were looking for in our piece. The complete irony of it all and the sheer perfect topic of conversation allowed us to see the site from even more of a different angle. Whilst talking to the guy he mentioned that a lot of the smaller statues around the archway are also missing a head. Despite staring at the gates twice a week for a month or so, we had never noticed this! All (except two) angels surrounding the statue to Jesus had no heads, and several of the smaller female ‘saint-like’ statues were also missing a head. The fact that only some of them had their heads removed made us really think? We know that the heads of the non-biblical saints were removed in the Reformation, but these were identical angels? Why are some headless and some not? This made the man suggest ideas/ stories why there were like this (again exactly what we’re basing our performance on). He suggested that one night in the Reformation a man crept up to the cathedral and was chopping the heads off the statues when he was caught half way through the job. This opinion from a complete stranger will be included into our piece and played to the audience as a valid perception of that’s site.