Transcript to Script:
Turning oral history into plays
for stage and radio

This one-day course, organised jointly by National Life Stories at the British Library and the Oral History Society will present a brief history of the genre and an overview of the various forms which oral history theatre can take, such as strict documentary (or ‘verbatim’) theatre using named individuals, the creation of a set of fictional characters using ‘actuality’ dialogue, the use of oral history as research material for scripting, and improvisation around memory without transcript. Using illustrations from various productions, there will be an examination of the ground rules for turning verbatim into dialogue, of the use of music, song and non-verbal storytelling in oral history theatre, of the incorporation of documentary history (as opposed to oral history) elements into the script, of the overall shaping of the work and of the contract with the audience. The course will involve practical activity, actually turning transcript into dialogue and action. By the end of the day participants should have a clear idea of the options open to them for creating theatre from oral history and have acquired some of the basic skills for putting together such a script. In addition participants will have learned about the major artistic, ethical and legal issues involved. No previous experience as a playwright is necessary and previous attendance at the oral history basic training course, while desirable, is not required. The tutor, Rib Davis, is an OHS/BL-accredited trainer and over the past thirty years has been interviewer/writer/director for many oral history-based community plays and radio drama productions.

Course Structure

10.00-11.15 – Introduction to oral history-based theatre

  • Brief history of genre including the Radio Ballads, Victoria Theatre in Stoke, The Living Archive, Age Exchange, the National Theatre and recent BBC productions
  • The forms available
  • Oral history as research material only
  • Fictional characters but words from the tape
  • Non-fictional characters: strict and loose forms of documentary/ ‘verbatim’ theatre
  • Improvising around memory without transcript

11.15 – 11.30 – Coffee

11.30-12.45 – Telling the story

  • Planning the interviews and other research for the project
  • Deciding upon what the story actually is
  • Shaping the script
  • Ground rules for turning verbatim into dialogue
  • Use of direct and indirect speech
  • Use of music, song and non-verbal story-telling
  • Incorporation of non-oral documentary material
  • The contract with the audience
  • Writing for radio, writing for stage

12.45-13.45 – Lunch

    • 13.45-15.00 – Practical session: turning supplied material into part of a script
    • 15.00-15.30 – Further examples of creating dialogue
    • 15:30-15.45 – Tea
    • 15.45-17.00 – Comparing results of practical session
    • 17.00-17.30 – Legal and Ethical Issues & Archiving the Script
    • 17.30 Close

Course prices

Full attendance fee: £130.00
OHS member fee: £95.00
Concessionary fee (student/retired/unwaged) fee: £95.00

How to Book

Please note:

  • There will be no refunds for cancelled places
  • Due to high demand and in order to ensure that each course has attendees with a variety of interests and backgrounds, a maximum of two people from any one institution may attend each course.

The following OHS training dates are available:

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We apologise if this has happened to you, we’ve had a glitch in the online system and may have missed some bookings. Please contact us if you’ve experienced a problem or not received a booking confirmation email within five working days: Michelle Winslow, Oral History Society Website Coordinator: m.winslow@sheffield.ac.uk