Turn Your Conversations Into Art

 “ Anyone – no matter what their background is – can take a tape recorder and go out and ask some questions,” says Saskatoon-based artist Joel Bernbaum, who will be in the Yukon this weekend holding verbatim theatre workshops with Whitehorse’s Open Pit Theatre.

“ Verbatim is a fancy term but it actually just means making a play out of interviews or transcripts. Some people also call it documentary theatre , ” Bernbaum says. “It’s an exciting and appealing art form because anybody can do it.”

Which is exactly what drew Open Pit to invite Bernbaum to the Yukon to teach a series of three workshops on the genre.

“ It’s useful for any form of art – – filmmaking, poetry, songwriting,” says Geneviève Doyon, Open Pit’s co-artistic producer. “It isn’t just for theatre artists. It’s about seeking the content of your art form in people’s words – – you can play with the container.”

Doyon has been working with Bernbaum on her own upcoming verbatim theatre piece, which has so far involved interviewing Yukoners across the territory.

“ I ask people what they think of home and land and the Yukon. Nowhere in the play is there my interpretation of what they say. It’s not putting your vision on someone else’s words.”

Bernbaum, who has a masters degree in verbatim theatre, recently premiered his verbatim play , Home is a Beautiful Word, at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre. He interviewed over 500 people on homelessness for this piece, asking them all the same question: Can you finish these thoughts: homeless is…home is…

“ It’s a worthwhile form of investigative journalism,” says Bernbaum, who is also trained as a journalist. “I came to verbatim theatre to find a residence between my two passions. I’ve always thought theatre was journalism – – it’s looking at the world around us”

Verbatim theatre is also in the business of creating space for conversation, giving audience to voices we might not otherwise hear.

“ Traditional media, because of the time constraints on traditional journalists, very rarely get to go into situations where they can ask open-ended questions. Whereas verbatim theatre’s goal is to ask open-ended questions. We are seeking information we don’t have yet, as opposed to looking for a certain answer.”

“ It goes towards creating dialogue,” says Bernbaum. “As a verbatim theatre artist you are going out and harvesting a diversity of opinions and arguments.”

How exactly does one transform interviews into a play? That’s what Bernbaum will help workshop-goers find out. Over the weekend of January 17 and 18, Open Pit is hosting three workshops, and heartily encourages interested participants to sign up for all three.

The first, Intro to Verbatim, promises to have participants working on their feet exploring the tools and secrets of verbatim creation.

In the second workshop, Making Verbatim, participants will actually make – – and share – – a short verbatim piece.

The final workshop, Acting Verbatim, will focus on how to interpret, explore, and perform verbatim theatre text.

Each workshop is $30 with incentives for taking more than one – $50 for two, $70 for all three.

Participants are asked to bring their own portable recording device (most cellphones have one built-in) but there will be devices available for those who can’t.

And there’s absolutely no experience required.

“ Just a desire to try something new,” says Bernbaum.

“ Everyone has something to say,” says Doyon. “It’s in the way they say it exactly.”

Visit Open Pit’s website (openp.it) to register or for more information.

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