Fall 2005

Documentary Theatre and Acting

Cantor,Daniel A.

09/12/2005 - 12/17/2005
Monday -

In this class, we will explore "documentary" or "journalistic" performance techniques, to create and perform works of documentary theater. In the 1990s, a new and powerful form of theater emerged from its more marginalized roots to gain widespread recognition. Documentary theater, largely pioneered by actor and teacher Anna Deveare Smith, and further developed by such artists as Danny Hoch and the Tectonic Theater (The Laramie Project), took its place within the craft so fully, that it seemed difficult to imagine how the world of theater once existed without it.

Performance in this style of theater is the culmination of an actor studying people closely, interviewing them, and then acting them using their voices and their words. Performances are literal reproductions of the subjects of the in-depth study. This method of performance contained a revolutionary idea. After decades of actors acting by filtering their own life experiences through the prism of their characters, they now could reveal another person through the filter of that person's life experiences. For actors, the work is transformative. In a culture steeped in self-involvement, the work can be redemptive, taking the radical leap of recognizing the "other" before the "self"--as Anna Deveare Smith writes, "saying 'you are' before 'I am'." Documentary theater serves another purpose--it is a vessel for exploring current events and critical issues. Smith's work on the Los Angeles and Crown Heights riots, The Laramie Project, and The Exonerated (recently on Broadway) are powerful testaments to this artistic phenomenon.

Students in this class will explore various aspects of documentary theater. We will begin with life studies--subjects that we silently observe and then re-create physically. We will move on to interview subjects, first someone we know, and then a stranger, re-creating our subjects via their words and vocal rhythms. From this we progress to issue-oriented documentary theater. We will choose either a local or national issue/event, and interview the principal subjects surrounding that issue. Then, we will select materials from those interviews and reproduce them in a larger dramatic piece (possibly for an invited audience!)

Sources of study include: Anna Deveare Smith, Fires in the Mirror; Tectonic Theater Co., Laramie Project; Anna Deveare Smith and Danny Hoch, Recorded Performances; plus additional articles.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of their performance work and the growth they make within this specific medium. Students will keep transcripts of their subjects, and hand in their edited transcript selections. Students will also keep a journal chronicling their experiences in documentary theater.

Students must have or purchase a portable recording device. No previous theater experience is required; enrollment is limited to 14.

Daniel Cantor (B.A. Wesleyan University; M.F.A. American Conservatory Theater) is visiting assistant professor of theater. He has performed in the independent films "The Auteur Theory" (Showtime), "Justice," "Strutting Into Chaos," "Alchemy," and on TV in various guest spots on "Law and Order," "The Sopranos," "Nash Bridges," "Loving," and in the Korean TV Movie "Asphalt Man." His theatrical performances include: Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight and Strictly Personal (Off Broadway); Tuesdays with Morrie (world premiere), and as Picasso in the national production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 14

Texts to purchase for this course:
Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, THE EXONERATED: A PLAY (Faber and Faber), Paperback

Moises Kaufman, THE LARAMIE PROJECT (Vintage), Paperback

Anna Deavere Smith, FIRES IN THE MIRROR (Anchor), Paperback

Anna Deavere Smith, HOUSE ARREST AND PIANO: TWO PLAYS (Anchor), Paperback

Anna Deavere Smith, TALK TO ME: TRAVELS IN MEDIA AND POLITICS (Random House), Paperback

Joshua Sobol, GHETTO (Theatre Communications Group), Paperback


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