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Narrativising the facts: acting in screen and stage docudrama

Bignell, J. ORCID:, Paget, D. J., Sutherland, H. A. and Taylor, L. (2011) Narrativising the facts: acting in screen and stage docudrama. In: Tönnies, M. and Flotmann, C. (eds.) Narrative in Drama. Contemporary Drama in English (18). Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, Trier, pp. 21-52. ISBN 9783868213157

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This article presents findings and seeks to establish the theoretical markers that indicate the growing importance of fact-based drama in screen and theatre performance to the wider Anglophone culture. During the final decade of the twentieth century and the opening one of the twenty-first, television docudrama and documentary theatre have grown in visibility and importance in the UK, providing key responses to social, cultural and political change over the millennial period. Actors were the prime focus for the enquiry principally because so little research has been done into the special demands that fact-based performance makes on them. The main emphasis in actor training (in the UK at any rate) is, as it always has been, on preparation for fictional drama. Preparation in acting schools is also heavily geared towards stage performance. Our thesis was that performers called upon to play the roles of real people, in whatever medium, have added responsibilities both towards history and towards real individuals and their families. Actors must engage with ethical questions whether they like it or not, and we found them keenly aware of this. In the course of the research, we conducted 30 interviews with a selection of actors ranging from the experienced to the recently-trained. We also interviewed a few industry professionals and actor trainers. Once the interviews started it was clear that actors themselves made little or no distinction between how they set about their work for television and film. The essential disciplines for work in front of the camera, they told us, are the same whether the camera is electronic or photographic. Some adjustments become necessary, of course in the multi-camera TV studio. But much serious drama for the screen is made on film anyway. We found it was also the case that young actors now tend to get their first paid employment before a camera rather than on a stage. The screen-before-stage tendency, along with the fundamental re-shaping that has gone on in the British theatre since at least the early 1980s, had implications for actor training. We have also found that theatre work still tends to be most valued by actors. For all the actors we interviewed, theatre was what they liked doing best because it was there they could practice and develop their skills, there they could work most collectively towards performance, and there they could more directly experience audience feedback in the real time of the stage play. The current world of television has been especially constrained in regard to rehearsal time in comparison to theatre (and, to a lesser extent, film). This has also affected actors’ valuation of their work. Theatre is, and is not, the most important medium in which they find work. Theatre is most important spiritually and intellectually, because in theatre is collaborative, intensive, and involving; theatre is not as important in financial and career terms, because it is not as lucrative and not as visible to a large public as acting for the screen. Many actors took the view that, for all the industrial differences that do affect them and inevitably interest the academic, acting for the visible media of theatre, film and television involved fundamentally the same process with slightly different emphases.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:25066
Uncontrolled Keywords:Drama Performance Television Theatre Acting Docudrama
Publisher:Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier

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