kimberley crofts


an information and communication designer living in London

History of Living Newspapers

The Living Newspaper is a piece of theatre created to dramatize current events and issues and thereby make them public (Audiohistory). It is thought to have started in Italy with the publication of a Futurist Manifesto by Marinetti that proclaimed that theatre should be “born of improvisation, lightninglike intuition, from suggestive and revealing actuality. We believe that a thing is valuable to the extent that it is improvised, not extensively prepared” (Drain 1995). Interestingly within the same manifesto there is this “It’s stupid to pander to the primitivism of the crowd, which, in the last analysis, wants to see the bad guy lose and the good guy win”. So perhaps Marinetti et al did not exactly have the public in mind!

The tradition of dramatizing the news continued in Soviet Russia where a Communist Party decree brought forth public readings of the news in order to make their propaganda reached those with poor literacy (Casson). The Blue Blouses theatre group produced works in Russia from abotu 1923 to 1927 and performed to over 80,000 people in the first two months of existence (Drain).

From there the idea of the Living Newspaper spread through Germany and Austria and eventually found its way to America through Moreno who produced shows from 1931 that were impromtu dramatizations of the news events of the day. Americans who had seen the Blue Blouse Theatre founded the Federal Theatre Project in 1935: a government-funded scheme that got theatre workers back into work as part of the New Deal’s Work Projects Administration.Unlike Moreno’s work, the Federal Theatre Project pieces were scripted in advance (arendt said that this type of work could not be dashed off in a matter of hours – see Living Newspaper p113).

A communist V.J. Jerome is credited with being the first person to bring the Living Newspaper to Britain. His poem was performed by the Rebel Players in 1935, the same year that the Unity Theatre began. Their work was interesting in the way that the stage was set, at times divided into sections that almost echo the way that modern newspapers are “sectionalized” or chunked into thematic areas such as lifestyle and sport (really need to check this in Chambers see below).

India’s theatre group Jagran (awakening) produced Living Newspapers during the 1960s and 70s as a way to make poor communities more aware of their personal and social rights. They would go into a community and develop a script based on the stories of people living in slums. The topics the theatre pieces covered included indebtedness, dowry; community issues such as civic consciousness, voting rights, maintenance of community water pumps and public toilets. However, top among their priorities was promoting family planning (Democracy and Governance).

There was also a group in Peru called Boal in the late 70s.

Moreno (and others I assume) saw that the involvement of an audience would be a better means of getting an audience engaged in an issue. This is similar to the view of modern social campaigners who see that direct behavioural experience can help change people’s attitudes to a product, service or issue Direct experience (Regan & Fazio, 1977; Fazio & Zanno, 1978)

Ngapartji Ngapartji is similar in approach?

Works to read

Leach, Robert: (1994) Revolutionary Theatre. London: Routledge. (talks about Mikhail Pustynin who said that “news could be made more accessible through dramatisation”)

Bradby, David, and John McCormick (1978) People’s Theatre. London: Croom Helm.

to express in theatrical terms the subjects of the Rosta posters. Terevsat came to Moscow in 1920 and a number of groups were soon to be found performing in streets, factories and stations. Its short sketches, in which music had an important role, drew largely on review, operetta, vaudeville and the tchastuchka (rhymed popular songs with a monotonous rhythm). Initially one major aim of Terevsat was the diffusion of information and it evolved its own forms of Living Newspaper

Twentieth Century Theatre: A Sourcebook Editor : Richard Drain (can access online through the university). Good source for history of the theatre.

Chambers, Colin (1989) The Story of Unity Theatre. London: Lawrence and Wishart.


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