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In the Lurch

Verbatim Theater and the Crisis of Democratic Deliberation

Subjects: Theater and Performance, American Studies
Paperback : 9780472055746, 172 pages, 6 x 9, January 2023
Hardcover : 9780472075744, 172 pages, 6 x 9, January 2023
Open Access : 9780472903337, 172 pages, 6 x 9, January 2023
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A spirited examination of the changing cultural climate for a once-lauded theatrical form

Table of contents

Introduction: In the Lurch                                                                           
One: Democratic Deliberation and the Theatricalized Public Sphere         
Two: Debating in Utopia                                                                             
Three: Feeling Together                                                                              
Four: The Opposite of Empathy is Suspicion                                             
Coda: Nostalgia; or, the Pastness of the Present                                         


Some of theater’s most powerful works in the past thirty years fall into the category of "verbatim theater," socially engaged performances whose texts rely on word-for-word testimony. Performances such as Fires in the Mirror, The Laramie Project, and The Vagina Monologues have at their best demonstrated how to hold hard conversations about explosive subjects in a liberal democracy. But in this moment of what author Ryan Claycomb terms the “rightward lurch” of western democracies, does this idealized space of democratic deliberation remain effective? In the Lurch asks that question in a pointed and self-reflexive way, tracing the history of this branch of documentary theater with particular attention to the political outcomes and stances these performances seem to seek.

But this is not just a disinterested history—Claycomb reflects on his own participation in that political fantasy, including earlier scholarly writing that articulated with breathless hopefulness the potential of verbatim theater, and on his own theatrical attendance, imbued with a belief that witnessing this idealized public sphere was a substitute for actual public participation. In the Lurch also recounts the bumpy path towards its completion, two years marked by presidential impeachments, an insurrection, a national reckoning with racism, and a global pandemic. At the heart of the book is a central question: is verbatim theater any longer an effective cultural response to what can look like the possible end of democracy?

Ryan Claycomb is Professor of English and Theater and Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts at Colorado State University.

“There is a real sense of urgency to the book, addressing contemporary concerns in a very direct and insightful way . . . Its re-evaluation of verbatim theatre touches on extensive debates around what constitutes the political dimension of the theatre and will have salience for scholars and students well beyond the current ‘crisis’ that motivates the author.”
—Tony Fisher, University of London

- Tony Fisher

Is verbatim theatre dead? In an era when western liberal democracies ‘lurch’ toward the right, and when the ideal of open, pluralistic, even-handed discussion of issues is eroded, this book poses a timely and provocative question. Bright, smart, and immensely timely, In the Lurch draws on a wide range of voices and sources to illuminate this specific intersection between theatre and politics and makes an argument that is both persuasive and engaging.”
—Jenn Stephenson, Queen’s University

- Jenn Stephenson

"Poignant, self-interrogative, deeply informed yet engagingly written, Claycomb’s In the Lurch might be my book of the year. Perhaps all the best books are written out of exactly the combination of love and frustration, hope and despair."

- The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory, Hannah Simpson

Read: Blog post by Ryan Claycomb | January 17, 2023