Aural/Oral Dramaturgies: Post-Verbatim, Amplified Storytelling and Gig Theatre in the Digital Age

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Central Sch of Speech and Drama
Department Name: Faculty


In the 21st century, contemporary live performance and theatre are increasingly concerned with exploring the potential of speech and sound. This project' focus on the aural aspects of speech, sound, voice and sound design replaces the late 20th century dominance of literary textuality (new writing) and/or corporeality (physical theatre) as the primary dramaturgical motors in live performance. Some notable works that illustrate this trend include Robert Lepage's Lipsynch (2008), Simon McBurney's The Encounter (2016) but also, more symptomatically, the works known as 'gig theatre' in the UK (by artists such as Kate Tempest, Christopher Brett-Bailey, Kieran Hurley, Rash Dash, Middle Child etc). The trend emphasising aurality/orality has an international dimension and can be detected in its various manifestations in the works of, for example, Taylor Mac in the US, Lola Arias in Argentina, Valentijn Dhaenens in Belgium. Other noteworthy examples that privilege the dramaturgical rather than a merely utilitarian or decorative use of sound in live performance include forms such as headphones theatre (Rimini Protokoll, Rotozaza, ZU:UK) ordinarily considered a form of immersive or participatory theatre.

Taking a broad spectrum approach, but at the same time focusing on examples found at the intersection of orality, aurality and contemporary performance-making, the project seeks to also connect this trend to verbatim theatre of the early 2000s and to argue that the renewed interest of makers in speech and sound should be viewed together as a part of a paradigm shift, rather than as isolated phenomena or unrelated sub-species of contemporary performance. These trends can be understood as belonging to the same paradigm as they seek to engage the audience primarily, though not exclusively, through an act of listening.

The project will provide leadership by taking an interdisciplinary approach to the topic bringing together insights and expertise from ethnography, philosophy, digital humanities, musicology, museology and voice training as well as dramaturgy, performance and theatre studies. It will involve original field research as well as networking and public engagement activities. A two-tier international research network consisting of a pre-appointed Steering Group and an Advisory Group yet to be convened will be engaged to support various leadership and public engagement activities. The Fellow will co-commission new work with Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), which will form part of primary research together with a series of interviews with a range of performance-makers and experts on speech and sound from other disciplines. The research will be disseminated through a podcast, an international project conference, a special journal issue, a monograph, a workshop and a professional practice document for curators.

As an example of innovative collaborative research activity, the Fellow will work with sound producer Tim Bano, members of the Research Network and in partnership with BAC and Digital Theatre Plus (DT+), on creating a 12-part podcast series ('Lend Me Your Ears') to be hosted by the DT+ website as an open access feature, dealing with the research topic of the project in a way accessible to publics outside of academia. In order to foster wider impact, the Fellow will also work with voice coach Jane Boston on creating a public speaking workshop based on the research generated through this project. Additionally, she will engage in relevant knowledge exchange with V&A's curators to investigate together ways of developing use of aural dramaturgies in curatorial practice.

All these activities will serve to generate different kinds of knowledge and/or research outcomes suitable for widest possible dissemination.

Planned Impact

The main benefit of the research, which has the potential to create impact beyond academia is contained in a heightened understanding of the specific features, advantages and limitations of composition privileging speech and sound over writing. This represents an important challenge to a historical hegemony of the written word and can therefore have an empowering and democratising effect. Linked to this will be aspects of technical 'how to' knowledge derived from various research activities integral to the project. The main non-academic beneficiaries will be:

1. Artists and Cultural Producers (Performance-Makers, Writers, Museum Curators, Tour Guides, Arts Journalists, Podcasters) - The project will directly benefit three international artists co-commissioned with BAC, whose work will be supported under the banner of 'aural/oral dramaturgy', thus legitimising this vocabulary in a professional context and influencing ways in which the artists can frame their work with regards to histories and theories of performance. Similarly, the project will directly involve and further develop the practice of podcaster and radio producer Tim Bano, and of the curatorial team at V&A.

Other users interested in performance-making can access the research findings through the podcast hosted as an open access resource on DT+ as well as associated articles in Exeunt, The Theatre Times, The Stage etc, and through the monograph written in a way accessible to non-academic as well as academic readers. Users will benefit by gaining deeper understanding of why and how potential and actual uses of speech and sound yield specific advantages (and disadvantages) in performance-making and where the opportunities might be for further exploration and experimentation.

2. Non-academic users of public speaking - Additional findings concerning the intersections between speech, sound, music and rhetoric will be more widely applicable especially in terms of creating the public speaking training package which will be of use to professionals whose work involves public speaking - politicians, teachers, lawyers, business-people - as well as to those interested in enhancing their public speaking skills in social situations.

These findings will be disseminated mainly in the form of a training package. The Fellow will devise and then launch the training package in collaboration with voice coach Jane Boston as a workshop at the project conference (which will be organised with the stipulation that reading of papers will not be acceptable). The workshop and any accompanying materials will be offered to conferences in other related fields as well as being aimed at a broadest cross-section of users targeted through the Research Network convened by the project and by other means. The workshop will be filmed and made available through DT+ and/or Central website. Based on the premise of challenging the hegemony of the written word, the workshop will distill the key research findings in the form of training geared towards voice maintenance, composition exercises and technical public speaking skills.

3. Users of the digital domain/ general public - More contextual findings concerned with the relationships between digital technology, performance and authorship will benefit the publics interested in the effect of the digital age on our cognitive processes and presentational skills and our cultural consumption. Further benefit of this research to general users is contained in the implicitly empowering effect of the legitimisation of the oral and aural over the written.

Drawing on the contacts and expertise available within the Research Network, opportunities will be sought to disseminate aspects of the research to publics outside of academia by promoting the podcast through social media, and other relevant platforms.


10 25 50