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Verbatim Theater Sparks Conversation in Trenton

2-21-14

By Madeline Orton
Arts Correspondent

If the stories brought to life in Passage Theatre Company’s staged reading of Profiles are familiar to audiences, it’s because the dialogue in this new play about race in Trenton is theirs — literally. About 20 New Jersey residents offered up their stories about race and the role it’s played in their lives to be spun into a script.

“We wanted to get as close to the teller’s point of view as possible,” explains co-creator of Profiles and Passage Theatre Associate Artistic Director David Lee White. “We audio-recorded all the interviews that we did, and we sent them to transcribers and then I used that as my base text to edit. The words that are said are exactly the words that they said. We felt that this was a way to keep as much bias out of it as possible.”

White and co-creator June Ballinger see this verbatim style of theater as an ideal way to discuss a subject that’s not always easy to talk about.

“I think we should be having these conversations in the country. I think it’s important,” says Profiles director Rodney Gilbert. “That’s the way that we grow, that’s the way that we educate and maybe consider to see things slightly different, is through conversation.”

For interview subjects, the opportunity to share their stories was a meaningful one. “I think it’s so important that they bring this type of information and art into Trenton,” says Tamara Ramos. “I think that Trenton residents walk around — they don’t do things like this. Nobody knows what somebody else has been through or what’s going on. I really like that they put this together.”

Talkbacks on related topics are scheduled after each performance to keep the conversation going. “The actors participate, we all participate, and it has a momentum of its own,” says Ballinger.

“The purpose of theater, and particularly for this project, and something that I’m very interested in, is taking the private conversation and making it public,” says White.

“If you leave here differently than you came, that’s a good thing,” says Gilbert. “I believe that’s a blessed thing. I believe that it’s like the theater god is coming down doing its job.”

The next step for this staged reading has yet to be decided, but White and Ballinger hope to continue developing this work-in-progress by keeping an ear out for more stories to share.