University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Representing Private Citizens in Contemporary British Theatre: The Legal and Ethical Challenges

Brockie, Alexander (2022) Representing Private Citizens in Contemporary British Theatre: The Legal and Ethical Challenges. Masters thesis, University of Worcester.

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Among the considerations within UK law when determining what can or cannot be written or expressed about a person, there is a clear distinction between a private citizen and one whose life is in the public domain (Defamation Act 2013). Given that the law recognises this distinction, and that biographical work about well-known people is more prevalent and subject to scrutiny, there are fewer models for the process of successful collaboration with, and representation of, people who are not public figures.

Creating theatre based on the ‘facts’ of somebody’s life requires a degree of selection, enhancement and / or invention which is further complicated when the subject is living. Their capacity to change over time presents significant challenges. Similarly, the malleable medium of theatre itself, described in the Analysis of Theatre in England report (Arts Council, 2016) as being “responsive to time and place, circumstance and situations”, further complicates the process. This research project aims to test and demonstrate the issues involved in reconciling the ethical, legal and practical problems inherent in creating drama from the shared personal narrative of a private individual.
The ‘Reality Theatre’ modes, as categorised by Caroline Wake (2010) - such as documentary, verbatim and biography - demonstrate and exemplify different ways in which theatre can become a vehicle for the representation of personal narrative. With specific reference to verbatim theatre, Amanda Stuart-Fisher (2011, p.200) acknowledges that “there seem to be very few examples of playwrights evaluating their projects by consulting those whose stories generated it”. This thesis argues that consultation and transparency of practice for working in any of the ‘Reality Theatre’ modes, where living subjects are involved, is essential to successful collaboration and for reducing what Mary Luckhurst describes as “ethical stress” (2011, p.135) for those involved in the creation of such work. With a view to raising and illustrating these issues, it seemed appropriate to explore how different theatrical modes could impact on the choices and decisions made in how to interpret a ‘told’ story.

With the intention of exploring what this might mean in practical terms, I invited the collaboration of a person whose life is not in the public domain, and with their consent documented a series of interviews which contributed to, and culminated in, a performance based on events in their life. Suneet, a Psychology Lecturer with whom I professionally worked at the time, agreed to be involved in this project as a research participant (RP) and together we collaborated on the creation of an original ‘Reality Theatre’ play entitled Suneet’s Story. This short play follows a simple narrative structure based loosely on Gustav Freytag’s ‘Pyramid’, adapting each of the plot points to correlate with shifts in presentational style through the ‘Reality Theatre’ modes: documentary, verbatim and (auto)biography.

The ensuing investigation explores, through Practice as Research (PaR), the challenges and opportunities for contemporary theatre makers wishing to represent living private citizens in their work by considering issues surrounding the ethics and legality of approaches to research, ethical value, the generation and ownership of material, social and political intent, notions of personhood, truth and truthfulness, and the degrees to which lived experience can ever be authentically represented. All aspects of this study are to be transparent and held up to scrutiny in order to generate findings that will inform future theatre-making practice.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirements for the Degree of Master of Philosophy. University of Worcester, September 2022.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Actor, Authenticity, Authorship, Autobiographical, Autobiography, Biographical, Biography, British, Director, Drama, Documentary, Ethical, Ethics, Law, Legal, Legality, Ownership, Personhood, Playwright, Practice, Real, Reality, Representation, Stage, Theatre, Truth, Truthful, UK, Verbatim
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Arts
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Depositing User: Janet Davidson
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2022 12:05
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2022 12:05

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