Polio Lives - Translating ethnographic text into verbatim theatre

By Sonali Shah

Increasingly, in today’s text-based society, there is a call to adapt and translate academic research into forms that are accessible to a diversity of stakeholders in order to accelerate its impact beyond the academic gates. Such thinking informed the Polio Lives study - a two stage pilot study which explored the potential of interdisciplinary methodologies to exchange and communicate knowledge, about the social history of polio, to different communities in creative ways. The first stage involved conducting five life history interviews with survivors of childhood paralytic polio, contracted during the U.K. polio epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s.  Selected quotes from these transcripts were used to illustrate various points throughout the paper. The second stage of the study involved collaborating with Birds of Paradise theatre company to run two workshops to explore how to tell the story of polio through recorded delivery verbatim methodologies.

For the purposes of the blog, I will omit all the theoretical debates around the use of drama as a tool to educate contemporary audiences about historical diseases which are unfamiliar to them. This can be read about in my journal paper which should be available this year. Instead I urge you to watch the short documentary, Polio Monologues, which explores how the life stories of polio survivors (specifically those with paralytic polio since childhood), collected by a social scientific disability researcher (myself) can be embodied and staged using the verbatim theatre technique recorded delivery.

Recommended Citation
Sonali Shah (2016): Polio Lives - Translating ethnographic text into verbatim theatre. In: Public Disability History 1 (2016) 7.

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