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


This course is being delivered online during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This 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 course 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 dates

Day 1: Wednesday 16 September 2020, 9.30am – 1.15pm
Day 2: Wednesday 23 September 2020, 9.30am – 1.15pm

Course Structure

This online training course is delivered over Zoom video call. Each course is run over two morning sessions, 9.30am – 1.15pm, with half hour breaks mid-morning. The two training sessions are separated by one week. The programme for the course is as follows:

    First day: 9.30am – 1.15pm
    09:30 – 09:45 Welcome and introductions
    09:45 – 11:00 Introduction to oral history-based theatre:
  • Brief history of genre in UK including the Radio Ballads, Victoria Theatre in Stoke, The Living Archive, Age Exchange, the National Theatre and BBC productions
  • 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
  • 11:00 – 11.30 Break
    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 creation of documentary 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
  • Combining sources: oral history and documents
  • Writing for radio, writing for stage
  • 12:45 – 13:15 Creating the script
  • An example of oral history as central research for drama
  • An example of documentary theatre
  • Introducing material to be turned into scenes.
  • Between days 1 and 2 participants write documentary scenes using transcript extracts provided, and then send them to course administrator.

    Second day: 9.30am – 1.15pm
    09:30 – 10:30 Some examples of verbatim theatre
    10:30 – 11:00 Reading and comparing scripts prepared by the group
    11:00 – 11.30 Break
    11:30 – 12:30 Reading and comparing scripts prepared by the group, continued
    12:30 – 13:15 Legal and ethical issues, and archiving the script

    Course prices

    Full attendance fee: £140.00
    OHS member fee: £100.00

    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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For all questions relating to training (including further clarification of course content and reduced rate eligibility) please contact our training administrator.

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