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 5 May 2021
Day 2: Friday 7 May 2021

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. In between the two sessions participants complete a practical script-writing exercise. The programme for the course is as follows:

Course structure

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:

May 2021
No event found!

If there are currently no dates found for courses please contact the training administrator if you would like to be notified of any future dates

Scroll to Top