The short read
To find out more about how the form works and its historical roots read Derek Paget’s article Verbatim Theatre: Oral History and Documentary Techniques (Free Download).
The long read
To get a range of perspectives from today’s theatre practitioners try Verbatim, Verbatim: Contemporary Documentary Theatre by Hammond & Steward (ed.) (Oberon Books, 2008).
In the mid-1960s Peter Cheeseman pioneered a new form of Social Documentary at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke that used verbatim theatre techniques to tell stories of real people’s lives and experiences in their own words. These stories were woven together with songs and factual information and were highly entertaining, engaging large audiences who were often not traditional theatre-goers. Mostly they were created and performed by professional theatre artists but in some instances local people performed alongside trained actors, and local stories were always at the heart of the work. Documentary theatre and verbatim techniques are a staple of today’s participatory theatre performance. Companies like Ice and Fire add a contemporary twist, and use the techniques to tell the stories of communities that otherwise often go unheard.