Q & A with Domenick Scudera
We sat down with Professor Scudera to learn more about documentary theater.
What is documentary theater? What are its distinctive elements?
Documentary theater is theater derived from source material of various types of documents (first-person interviews, court transcripts, etc.). Artists creating documentary theater use these documents as the raw material from which to craft their plays. It is distinct from documentary film in that the artists creating the work become the “characters” which they have researched and/or interviewed. The words of real people are embodied by the artists.
What draws you to it as a form or genre? Why do you think so many people resonate with it so strongly?
Documentary theater often takes controversial or “hot button” issues and puts them on the stage. However, rather than creating an environment that might reinforce polarized views on the topic, documentary theater allows the audience to experience these views with empathy. As an audience, we witness different people through the lens of artists – and that double layer allows us to be more objective. Documentary theater allows us to listen to each other carefully, thoughtfully, and caringly.
Can you tell us a little bit about the trajectory of your work (both past and present) in theater, and how documentary theater connects to it?
I am a stage director. In my career, I have tackled different genres and styles of theater, learning something new each time I start a project. What I value most is when my work has meaning, some purpose beyond entertainment. The work is more satisfying when audiences are challenged to think and to respond. The theater is one of the few spaces today where a disparate group of people gather to experience something together – so why not make that experience memorable and transformative? One of the theater artists that I admire the most is Anna Deavere Smith, arguably the greatest practitioner of documentary theater. Deavere Smith’s theater is theater with a purpose. She wants her audiences to empathize and to connect. She aims to heal our wounds created by conflict and polarization. I am inspired by her work and attempt the same commitment and craftsmanship in my own work.