Verbatim Theatre and a Dramaturgy of Belonging

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The general audience data3 revealed consistent statements of familiarity with the characters, a feeling of being personally reflected in the stories being performed,4 and a strong emotional connection to the narrative that gave the audience a sense of belonging to the world of the play.5 I suggest that this is due in part to the residual traces of the community immersion and interviewing process from which the play has been informed, and that the act of personal storytelling in this process creates material that aligns thematically and structurally with the concept of belonging. Hagerty et al. describe the defining qualities of a sense of belonging 'as the experience of personal involvement in a system or environment so that persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment'.17 This involves feeling valued or needed by others, and that people experience 'a fit or congruence with other people [and] groups ... through shared or complementary characteristics'.18 Similarly, Roffey suggests there are three factors that indicate belonging: 'a sense of emotional connection, shared values and interdependence'.19 This sense of belonging and sense of identity is narrated through stories that 'describe, share and confirm a sense of cohesion for our lifeworld' but can also include revelations about 'how we fail' to establish cohesion.20 When lived experiences cause a disruption to this sense of cohesion, identity narratives are used to 'justify or make coherent one's life choices'.21 Our sense of self and sense of belonging is always in transition, 'always producing itself through the combined processes of being and becoming, belonging and longing to belong'.22 This transition and the tension of being valued, finding a fit and being needed by others is depicted in theatre through the composition of plot, character relationships and social encounters that shift from awkwardness to comfortableness, ignorance to understanding and separation to connection. During the interview, the playwright performs a number of roles, oscillating between the traditional interviewer, a mutual storyteller to help prompt and encourage the sharing of experience, and playing the role of engaged audience member to the interviewee's story.24 Dolan suggests that one of verbatim theatre's 'challenges is to invite audiences into this mutual exchange of respect and care'25 that is developed throughout the community immersion and interviewing process. [...]when Nessa tells us with great pride that she has finally learned to sit (59), the audience can share in this moment as we too are sitting and being still.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-63, 341
Number of pages25
JournalAustralasian Drama Studies
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • community
  • narratives
  • emotional connection


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