Acting with Facts: Actors Performing the Real in British Theatre and Television production since 1990

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Film Theatre and Television


Context: Political change domestically and internationally from 1990 has contributed to fact-based drama's (docudrama's) greater prominence. In theatre, Documentary Theatre has been revived, and in television, the blending of genres generally has affected conventions of documentary and created hybrids of documentary and drama forms. On stage and screen, these developments have combined with attempts to make rapid responses to political and social circumstances at home and abroad. Docudrama can be regarded as part of a cultural response to changed circumstances nationally and globally. The project adopts the date of the 1990 Broadcasting Act as its start-point for work on the practice and the ecology of performance in these fact-based cultural forms in theatre and television. It draws on the expertise of investigators drawn from Theatre Studies and Television Studies who are already colleagues in a cross-disciplinary department, and will employ a postdoctoral researcher whose experience lies in aspects of both media.

Aims and objectives: The project will investigate the performance methods used by actors in British stage and television docudrama. The investigation will cover the period from 1990 to the present day. It will focus on selected actors' experiences of and expertise in theatre and television docudrama, with contributions from selected production personnel (directors, producers). Its primary research method will be face-to-face interview. There will be a detailed investigation of actors' creative responses to the specific challenges of factual drama. The overall aim is further to understand the balance effected in docudrama between actors' 'creative' impulses (articulated through the disciplines of artistic training and previous experience in fictional drama), and the constraints arising from the docudrama's form and history (its fact base; the generic and industrial factors affecting production; the fear that it 'blurs boundaries'). The study will thus chart the recent history of the form and further analyse its importance in current British culture generally and for the development of production in British theatre and television in particular.

Applications and benefits: This project responds to significant recent developments in docudrama and will document, analyse and disseminate results based on original primary research as well as conventional scholarship. It will add new insights to existing theoretical and textual studies of docudrama as a hybrid form (a field in which Paget is already a leading figure) and generate new research interactions between academics and the creative industries. It will present results to academics and professionals concerned with making docudrama, producing theoretical and evidence-based answers to the project's research questions.


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