In the Lurch

Verbatim Theater and the Crisis of Democratic Deliberation
Ryan Claycomb
A spirited examination of the changing cultural climate for a once-lauded theatrical form


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.

Praise / Awards

  • “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
  • 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

News, Reviews, Interviews

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

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 172pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2023
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07574-4

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  • $80.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2023
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05574-6

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  • $29.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2023
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90333-7

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  • Verbatim theater; documentary theater; political theater; performance; testimonial theater; modern drama; contemporary theater; English Language theatre; liberal democracy; public sphere; utopia; political fantasy; empathy in the arts; democratic deliberation; cruel optimism; nostalgia; suspicion in the arts; Anna Deavere Smith; Emily Mann; Tectonic Theatre Project; Ping Chong and Company; Porte Parole; Tricycle Theatre; The National Theatre UK