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

This course is being delivered online.

This course presents a brief history of oral history theatre and an overview of the various forms it can take, including strict documentary theatre using named individuals, verbatim theatre, 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 a transcript.

Using illustrations from various productions, there will be an examination of the ground rules for turning transcript material into dialogue, of the use of music, song and non-verbal storytelling, 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 transcripts 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.

Participants do not need to have experience as a playwright, although it would be useful to have read some theatre scripts, if only to have some idea of presentation on the page. Previous attendance on the Introduction to Oral History training course, while desirable, is not required.

Pre-course reading (optional)

As part of the training, course participants will read and analyse extracts from a published script. For courses taking place in 2022 the script will be ‘Talking to Terrorists’ by Robin Soans. Participants are invited to read the script in advance of the course.

Course tutor

The tutor, Rib Davis, is an OHS/NLS-BL accredited trainer and over the past thirty years has been interviewer/writer/director for many oral history-based plays and radio drama productions. This course is organised jointly by National Life Stories at the British Library and the Oral History Society.

Course dates

Day 1: Tuesday 18 October 2022
Day 2: Friday 21 October 2022

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: £145.00
OHS member fee: £103.00

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:

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

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