PhD in Communication Sciences, BA in International Journalism
(An expert in Theater…)
While highlighting exclusive interviews with various experts from Brazil, France and the United States of America (U.S.A.), this article addresses the ways, especially in the present, that journalism relates to theater, namely in the spheres of live journalism, documentary theater and verbatim theater. This approach entails focusing on Art from several angles. The present work examines the mutual influences of journalistic and theater-related discourses as well as the multiple journalist- and audience-related aspects which contribute toward the success of live journalism.
Keywords: Art; communication; documentary theater; live journalism; verbatim theater.
The bibliographic / Web-based research as well as interviews with experts exclusively conducted for this article aim to reflect on relations, chiefly in the present, between journalism and theater. In this regard, it is relevant to address live journalism, documentary theater and verbatim theater. An analysis of all this implies raising issues surrounding Art.
The success of live journalism, in various parts of the world, such as Brazil, France and the United States of America (U.S.A.), on the one hand, naturally includes audience-related contexts and, on the other hand, it also relates to those going up on stage, considering, among other aspects, the current conditions of traditional journalism.
This interaction between journalism and theater also warrants highlighting in this article, as concerns possible repercussions in terms of journalism- and theater-related discourses.
Presently, though technology is revolutionizing the way stories are told, using, for instance, interactive books and virtual reality, there are those who are still interested in verbally conveying / listening to stories, directly and live (Meireles April 14, 2018). Live journalism blends journalistic, theater-related and storytelling techniques, with growing success in the U.S.A. and Europe (Gabriel February 14, 2018). This kind of journalism occurs at events, where people, on a stage, become actors and tell their stories, almost reporting them, with no journalist intervention (Gabriel February 14, 2018). On the one hand, the objectivity of live journalism is called into question, with the argument that it is based on personal experiences (Gabriel February 14, 2018). On the other hand, in the age of social media, people long for stories where they find something related to their own life experiences (Gabriel February 14, 2018). However, there are also instances where journalists take to the stage, at times making use of video, music and computer graphics to communicate with their audiences (Gabriel February 14, 2018).
Another designation for the journalism in question is documentary theater (Meireles April 14, 2018). This is linked to stage adaptations by Erwin Piscator, in the early 20th century, which is characterized by a direct relationship between the social reality of those who are on stage and those sitting in the audience (Giordano July 2013). The works of Piscator comprised aspects of daily life and used basic documentary sources (Giordano July 2013). Back in the day, Erwin Piscator already displayed audiovisual resources, for the purpose of using documents to confirm the depicted reality (Giordano July 2013). This playwright brought to the stage issues comprising current events in his day, while creating points of contact between theater and journalism, namely reporting (Giordano July 2013). In her Theater Theory & Dramaturgy Master of Arts thesis (University of Ottawa / Canada), Melanie Moore (2013, p. 13) considers that «Piscator's style of documentary plays develop his desire to engage audiences to reflect on socio-political issues and spur them to collective action.». Moore (2013, p. 21) believes that, «Though the means of relating art to truth are varied and subjective, documentary theater and its historical antecedents share in the belief of the socio-political power of theater; that the theater can and should be about more than 'art-for-art's sake'.». According to Moore (2013, p. 19), «Documentary theater asks critical questions directed towards a biased mass media.».
The topic of this article is also related to the expression “verbatim.” In the words of Bernhard Klein (2013, p. 209), «In a verbatim play, the dialogue is always wholly or partially collated from “authentic,” non-rehearsed speech, and quoted word-for-word on stage.». In this regard, Klein (2013, p. 209) adds, «The proximity to journalistic practice is clearly evident in such plays, and verbatim playwrights (who sometimes style themselves as “editors” rather than writers) are routinely held to account for the factual accuracy of their dramatic narratives. Verbatim theater presents itself as politically acute, socially revelatory and historically “real.”».
There is a writer and director who points out the importance of the existence of an alternative to certain media: «‘‘We are besieged with a constant barrage of information”, says Belfield, “and different media platforms all barking for our attention and especially now, in the current climate of ‘fake news’, the integrity of that information is unclear. Verbatim theatre offers an antidote to all that and it’s at its best when it offers a voice to the voiceless.’’» (Paskett May 24, 2018). In an interview published in the journal «The Stage», Richard Norton-Taylor states the following:«I am primarily a journalist, and I have always believed that theatre as a platform is an extension of journalism. Verbatim, documentary theatre helps to explain things like a long-running dispute – a public inquiry that lasted 10 years and I put it into three hours.» (Snow June 6, 2016). In the said interview, Norton-Taylor provides further clarification: «People tend to read 300 words in a newspaper or a two-minute clip, and it’s hard to put all the evidence together like that, so if you create a 20,000-word essay and put it in front of a live audience, who are also reacting to each other, I think you’re putting things into context much better.» (Snow June 6, 2016). According to this interviewee, «People like the raw material, it allows those involved to speak for themselves when often people have forgotten what the evidence was.» (Snow June 6, 2016). In comparative terms, «Unlike newspapers, verbatim theatre slows down time, facilitating the contemplation that is often lacking in our treatment of news stories. Recent news is full of material ready to be transformed into fascinating theatre using the verbatim technique.» (Troy-Donovan January 21, 2014).
The attractive character of live journalism / documentary theater
Among several examples, «The Financial Times has been experimenting with telling its stories through theatre performance, aiming to see if creative, live approach to storytelling can engage audiences in new ways.» (Scott July 10, 2018). In relation to this project, the following aspect should be pointed out: «André Piza, producer and theatre director, People’s Palace Projects, said there is a similarity between how journalists and artists work: to put information in a coherent form for an audience who doesn’t have the opportunity to engage with all of the source material.» (Scott July 10, 2018). According to Piza, «When you have different opportunities to engage with people in a variety of formats, which is what both artists and journalists are doing, it gives the audience a much better rounded, and even poetic, perspective about the stories that they are having contact with – the narratives come through in many different ways.» (Scott July 10, 2018). Tina Antolini, a senior producer for Pop-Up Magazine (U.S.A.), provides an opinion on that which satisfies media members: «In my experience, journalists are interested in live shows because of the new creative frontiers they present, and the opportunity to tell a story in a new and impactful way.» («Exclusive Interview With Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018).
Marcos Soler, a researcher at the Communications and Arts School of the University of São Paulo (Brazil), underlines the good results obtained in live journalism / documentary theater, in terms of the public’s acceptance, as follows: «As I see it, in both Europe and Brazil, people base themselves on fiction to see their lives as one great big soap opera or like a long movie, as they create expectations dictated by the audiovisual references they soak in. In a way, we hearken back to Debord’s reasoning: the spectacularization of life.» («Exclusive Interview With Marcos Soler» December 4, 2018). However, according to Soler, there is another trend: «What is also happening is that we have artistic production going in the opposite direction: bringing elements of reality onto the stage. These days, people want a different relationship with reality because they are swamped with the fictionalization of the world; they are interested in that which runs counter to that.» («Exclusive Interview With Marcos Soler» December 4, 2018).
Still, could it be that the success of live journalism is also due to the public’s discontent in relation to traditional journalism? Florence Martin-Kessler, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Live Magazine (France), answers this question: «I feel that novelty is one of the reasons for success. It’s a way of achieving a direct link to the journalist while sharing something together at the same time. I believe that an important dimension of this is that everyone listens to the same story at the same time.» («Exclusive Interview With Florence Martin-Kessler» December 5, 2018). In the opinion of this French professional, «It’s not about discontent; it’s about changing the ways people soak in journalism.» («Exclusive Interview With Florence Martin-Kessler» December 5, 2018). As for the communication channel, Marcos Soler maintains, «We have printed, televised and radio journalism. We can also have journalism made for theater. In this case, theater becomes a medium.» («Exclusive Interview With Marcos Soler» December 4, 2018).
Tina Antolini agrees that «There is a hunger here for journalism that reaches beyond the traditional bounds of media.» («Exclusive Interview With Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018). She explains her viewpoint: «Thanks to the internet, contemporary audiences have so much news available to them on-demand, a near constant barrage of information. I think that's created an appetite for new and different experiences of non-fiction stories.» («Exclusive Interview With Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018). In this regard, «A live show requires an audience's presence and focus in a totally different way than perusing a web story or watching a video.» («Exclusive Interview with Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018). From the standpoint of this senior producer for Pop-Up Magazine, emotion is relevant: «I do think that live journalism offers audiences a different, more visceral, more emotionally impactful way of experiencing true stories.» («Exclusive Interview With Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018). Also concerning conditions for receiving messages, «The public shows maximum willingness and attention. People can spend two hours listening to stories. That’s rare for hard-copy or online newspapers.» («Exclusive Interview With Florence Martin-Kessler» December 5, 2018).
To be or not to be Theater
Journalism and theater in dialogue
There are those who feel that «The new journalism isn’t in newspapers – it’s on stage.» (Preston March 17, 2004). According to this standpoint, «Suddenly, in play after play, the link is everywhere and explicit. Suddenly, we're handed theatre as journalism - or journalism as theatre.» (Preston March 17, 2004).
That which is presented on stage, just like what takes place, for example, with Pop-Up Magazine, can also undergo a journalistic process, where a story is verified, facts are confirmed and the text is edited (Gabriel February 14, 2018). This way, «As a so-called “live magazine”, Pop-Up presents nonfiction stories narrated onstage. (…). Since it was founded in 2009, Pop-Up has been a huge success. Its shows routinely sell out, usually in under 30 minutes.» (Sillesen, March / April 2015). Taking into account the digital age in which we live, «If print journalism is dead, Pop-Up Magazine is trying to resuscitate it. The “live magazine” show takes exceptional journalism and performs it onstage. Stories on everything from politics, pop culture, sports, and food are infused with breathtaking visuals and instrumental vigor.» (Rivera October 31, 2017). Within this context, art and journalism can come together (Moraes December 6, 2016). In this respect, Tina Antolini gets to the point: «I think Pop-Up Magazine is very intentionally hybridizing journalism with theater arts. I think that regardless of the medium, journalism can be presented artfully. That's true in theater, and in radio, and film, etc. etc. » («Exclusive Interview With Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018).
We need to delve deeper into the issue of relations between journalism and theater / art. Marcos Soler explains: «The journalist’s main purpose is to inform and not to show an esthetic concern as the central aspect. When the focus of live journalism lies in the esthetic issue, it becomes part of documentary theater.» («Exclusive Interview With Marcos Soler» December 4, 2018). This scholar points out: «It is not enough for live journalism to comprise some theater-related features in order to be regarded as theater. Live journalism largely depends on those main concerns and intents that determine whether or not it is theater. It’s not enough to get up on stage. We mustn’t trivialize that which is theater.» («Exclusive Interview with Marcos Soler» December 4, 2018).
Concerning this, Perrine Maurin, theater director and founder of Cie Les Patries Imaginaires (France), also maintains that «Theater is an art of expression; journalism is a social practice, an occupation aimed at providing information. The goal of theater is not to provide information. Historically, perhaps theater has managed to be mistaken for journalism, as part of certain types of documentary theater.» («Exclusive Interview With Perrine Maurin» December 8, 2018). This expert builds upon her ideas as follows: «Maybe we need to ask ourselves whether journalism «talks about» or «expresses». I think that, depending on the practices and authors, the distinction is not obvious. However, we could believe that, instead, journalism’s mission is to «give account», while that of theater is to «cause to experience». Journalism, «talking about»; theater, «expressing» («Exclusive Interview With Perrine Maurin» December 8, 2018).
José Jorge Filho, journalist and Theater expert, considers that, «Just as there are differing views as to the role of art, so, too, are there differences in relation to the role of journalism.» («Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018). This Brazilian journalist does not generalize when stating the following: «If journalism aspires to be art, it, thus, depends on what journalism proposal we are talking about. Standard journalism has its advantages, for day-to-day journalism. However, chronicles, in-depth reporting, among other types, may avail themselves of art resources in order to better express certain aspects of the topic being addressed.» («Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018). On the one hand, as concerns certain characteristics, «In Brazil, in the mid-20th century, the consolidation of the mainstream press enabled setting a standard for journalistic texts and procedures that seek to conceal the narrator’s hints of subjectivity, with strict boundaries between factual and opinion-based types and the standardized text format that were imported from a U.S.A. model.» («Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018). On the other hand, «There have always been strong exchanges between journalism, literature and art.» («Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018). In relation to Brazil’s political context after 1964, Jorge Filho points out: «It’s interesting to note that, just as realistic dramaturgy approaches journalism to engage in a protest, so, too, does journalism approach the arts to, likewise, engage in a protest.» («Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018).
When a journalist writes for theater, can he / she be influenced by the journalistic narrative style and, by contrast, can he / she also show a journalistic discourse influenced by writing for theater? Jorge Filho provides an answer: «Yes, both influences occur in the cases that I have examined in my research. An example of the journalistic style’s influence on theater can be clearly observed in the work of Millôr Fernandes.» («Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018). Also in relation to Brazil, this expert develops his perspective: «To me, while influences in the opposite direction, from theater to journalism, appear less frequent and less obvious, they also occurred, chiefly since 1968» («Exclusive Interview with Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018). To exemplify: «Throughout the 1970s, Plínio Marcos wrote for several Brazilian newspapers and magazines, including the magazine «Veja» and the newspaper «Folha de S.Paulo», on a variety of topics, such as football (soccer), using the same informal language full of popular expressions that had already made him famous in dramaturgy.» («Exclusive Interview with Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018).
In fact, live journalism is currently enjoying success on stages in various parts of the world, such as Brazil, France and the U.S.A. This might or might not amount to theater, depending on the main goal, according to some experts. Whereas, above all, the idea is to inform, this is journalism, using a medium that is the stage. When esthetic and emotional concerns outweigh the purpose of informing, we have an artistic work. In this case, live journalism can be considered documentary theater.
The public’s and even journalists’ attraction to live journalism / documentary theater is due to several factors, such as the following: journalists’ development of creativity; relative to traditional journalism, valuing an alternative where there is a direct, face-to-face encounter between those on stage and the audience. In this regard, we should research the interest that the mainstream media might have in organizing events linked to live journalism.
It is possible to obtain mutual influence between journalistic and theater-related discourses, naturally because there are journalists who also write for theater and derive certain aspects of one domain to positively apply it to the other field. We need to pay attention to the way things evolve…
Gabriel, R. (February 14, 2018). Jornalismo Ao Vivo: Um Gênero Que Mistura Reportagem e Teatro. Retrieved 17.9.2018 from https://epoca.globo.com/cultura/noticia/2018/02/jornalismo-ao-vivo-um-genero-que-mistura-reportagem-e-teatro.html
Giordano, D. (July 2013). Breve Ensaio Sobre o Conceito de Teatro Documentário. Retrieved 26.9.2018 from https://performatus.net/estudos/teatro-documentario/
Klein, B. (2013). ‘‘Stuff Happens’’: David Hare and Verbatim Theatre. In M. Hologa, C. Lenz, C. Piskurek, S. Schlensag (Edited by), Cases of Intervention: The Great Variety of British Cultural Studies. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
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Moore, M. (2013). Exhibit A: An Application of Verbatim Theatre Dramaturgy. Retrieved 5.10.2018 from https://ruor.uottawa.ca/bitstream/10393/24118/1/Moore_Melanie_2013_thesis.pdf
Moraes, F. (December 6, 2016). Literatura, Games e Teatro: O Jornalismo Cada Vez Mais Próximo da Arte. Retrieved 15.10.2018 from https://jornalismonobrasilem2017.com/literatura-games-e-teatro-o-jornalismo-cada-vez-mais-próximo-da-arte-73f5c3d74792
Paskett, Z. (May 24, 2018). Why Verbatim Theatre Gives a Voice to the Voiceless. Retrieved 3.10.2018 from https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/theatre/why-verbatim-theatre-gives-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-a3847026.html
Preston, P. (March 17, 2004). Extra! Extra! Retrieved 5.11.2018 from https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2004/mar/17/theatre.pressandpublishing
Rivera, E. (October 31, 2017). Pop-Up Magazine Revolutionizes Journalism by Bringing It to the Stage. Retrieved 15.10.2018 from http://www.citypages.com/arts/pop-up-magazine-revolutionizes-journalism-by-bringing-it-to-the-stage/454151453
Scott, C. (July 10, 2018). The Financial Times Mixes Journalism With Performance to Engage Wider Audiences. Retrieved 6.11.2018 from https://www.journalism.co.uk/news/the-financial-times-experiments-mixing-journalism-with-performance-to-engage-wider-audiences/s2/a724520/
Sillesen, L. (March / April 2015). The Power of Pop-Up Magazine’s Live Journalism. Retrieved 8.10.2018 from https://www.cjr.org/the_feature/the_power_of_pop-up.php
Snow, G. (June 6, 2016). Richard Norton-Taylor: ‘I Have Always Believed that Theatre As a Platform Is an Extension of Journalism’. Retrieved 3.10.2018 from https://www.thestage.co.uk/features/interviews/2016/richard-norton-taylor-always-believed-theatre-platform-extension-journalism/
Troy-Donovan, A. Telling It Like It Is: The Word On the Street On the Stage. Retrieved 5.10.2018 from https://www.oxfordstudent.com/2014/01/21/telling-it-like-it-is-the-word-on-the-street-on-the-stage/
«Exclusive Interview With Florence Martin-Kessler» December 5, 2018.
«Exclusive Interview With Jorge Filho» November 23, 2018.
«Exclusive Interview With Marcos Soler» December 4, 2018.
«Exclusive Interview With Perrine Maurin» December 8, 2018
«Exclusive Interview With Tina Antolini» December 5, 2018.
Photo by: Jorge Marinho
Published by Marinho Media Analysis / December 23, 2018