Compliance of Scattered Lives with Verbatim Theatre Style
Verbatim Theatre is a relatively modern style of theatre, where performances are based on real events and the personal experiences of real people (Eckersley, 2015). The emerging style is “one of the most incisive forms of political theatre” and “has arisen as the medium chosen to depict major societal issues” (Cantrell, 2012). The performance Scattered Lives was written and directed by Sally McKenzie and was first performed by La Boite Theatre on 30th April 2001, Brisbane with Pip Boyce and Sandro Colarelli as the female and male roles respectively (McKenzie, 2000). The highly emotive and politically provocative performance was rightfully nominated for a prestigious AWGIE writing award in 2002, due to its significance in sharing the lives of refugees (Writer Performer, 2016). The performance impressively manipulated the conventions of Verbatim Theatre and the elements of drama to masterfully facilitate dramatic action and communicate meaning to audiences. Through the exploitation of episodic structure, shared story and tension, Scattered Lives has effectively conveyed the personal experiences of Australian refugees through the production of an informative and empowering performance.
Scattered Lives follows an episodic structure throughout, which links the individual sufferings of refugees and their families to the holistic experience of refugees worldwide to instil sympathy and inform the audience. “The episodic plot structure is made up of a series of chapters or stories linked together by the same character, place, or theme but held apart by their individual plot, purpose, and subtext” (Lincoln Consolidated Schools, 2016). The performance consisted of sixteen scenes featuring twenty-four characters and two narrators with multiple genres including narration, monologue, duologue and small group. These decisions allowed for the successful juxtaposition of similar experiences to heighten the audience’s understanding and evoke an emotional response as a consequence. A prime example of episodic structure was the transitions between scenes, which was assisted by narration and projected image. At the beginning of each scene, one of the narrators would announce the country and year in which the story took place by saying, “This story beings in (country), in (year)” (McKenzie, 2000). In addition to this, the country and year was projected onto an opened suitcase, which was strategically positioned upstage right. The combination of auditory and visual elements throughout the performance communicated the time and distance shift to audiences and created clean, effective transitions.
A supporting example of the appearance of episodic structure in Scattered Lives is the use of music to transition between scenes throughout the performance. The transition between Scene 1 and Scene 2 was marked with upbeat guitar music, which represented Chilean culture, where the story was set. Contrastingly, instrumental march music was used between Scene 2 and Scene 3 to identify European countries, such as Czechoslovakia. Both projected image and music were utilised in the performance to make scene transitions obvious and assist in the identification of contrasting cultures. Episodic structure empowered refugees by informing the audience of the experiences of different cultural groups, whilst maintaining cohesion.
Scattered Lives has proven to be an exemplary Verbatim Theatre performance due to its employment of shared story throughout the performance, which encapsulated the holistic experience of Australian refugees. This convention was used effectively by implementing several instances of dramatic action, which were all interrelated and expressed one over-arching message, which supported the aim of Verbatim Theatre. A fantastic example of shared story from Scattered Lives appeared in Scene 10 – Speak Australian! What’s Australian? where two actors portrayed the everyday struggles of refugees to adapt to Australian culture and the accompanying lifestyle. In particular, the actors expressed the challenges of cooking with Australian foods, settling into schools, learning English, understanding rhyming colloquialism, tolerating flies and extreme heat and interacting with Australian citizens. To communicate meaning to the audience, the actors referred to the pieces of paper, which were scattered across the stage; these papers were implicitly understood to be the individual stories of refugees. When one actor read from the page, the other collected another story and moved forward to deliver it to the audience, and so at the completion of one story, the actors would move in a circular motion to bring a new story to light. This achieved the purpose of Verbatim Theatre because several individual stories of refugees were brought to life with only few actors.
A second example of the creative use of shared story in Scattered Lives is evident in Scene 14 – Afghanistan and the Taliban in part 4 where Hamid was interviewed by the Detention Centre Official. While the Official was temporarily removed from the focal point of the stage, Hamid retrieved a tape-recorder from his satchel and described his situation and moral dilemma. Upon the Official’s return, Hamid was asked, “Is there anything we can do for you?” to which he responded, “Please. Listen to my story” (Scattered Lives, Pg. 39). Hamid then removed the tape from the recorder and handed it to the Official, who placed it on the sound panel. Moving images of Hamid’s homeland, Afghanistan, were projected onto the suitcase while voice-overs of his journey played simultaneously. Hamid’s plea highlighted the desperation of refugees to have their stories heard and to be recognised for their suffering. The playing of the tape aimed to inform the audience of Hamid’s background and the tribulations he faced in his country to empower them to initiate political change. Shared story was employed successfully in Scattered Lives to express the everyday struggles of refugees and to communicate their sufferings to the witnesses, who were the audience to the performance.
Scattered Lives utilised tension proficiently to create dramatic action through the combination of several dramatic elements, which heightened the element of tension. Tension of the task was notably observed in Scene 14 – Afghanistan and the Taliban in part 2 when Omyra’s task was to protect her children while they were on a fishing boat. Tension was build throughout the scene as the intensity of a stormy sound effect increased, the volume of Omyra’s voice escalated and her movement accelerated.