AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PLAYS: engaging, entertaining, funny and harrowing

When performed, auto/biographical plays become what Elin Diamond has called “the site in which concealed or dissimulated conventions might be investigated”.  In Jill Dolan’s phrase, they often “revealperformativity”, and by doing so they examine a number of intertwined contemporary questions about identity, subjectivity, truth, and memory.  At their best, auto/biographical plays are profoundly philosophical; they probe and weigh what it means to claim a personal or national identity–to use the first person prounoun and assert (or even not I)–to make ethical choices that affect, or have affected, the actual lives of other real people, and they challenge the social construction of identity by staging processes of identity formation that invite audiences to see themselves and others as able to recreate identity and to reassert personal agency.  At their best, these plays use the facts of a personal story to make us rethink the concept of self and the relationship of self to other. That they can do all this while also remembering individual and collective pasts or giving voice and embodiment to marginalized, forgotten, or devalued lives only adds to their significance.  And, at their best, these plays are deeply engaging (for readers and audiences); they entertain, as theatre must do, and they are often funny as well as, at times, harrowing.

Grace, Sherril (2006) “Theatre and the AutoBiographical Pact:  An Introduction”, in Grace, S. and Jerry Wasserman (eds) (2006)  THEATRE AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Writing and Performing Lives in Theory and Practice. Vancouver:  Talonbooks. pp. 13-32, p. 15-16


Diamond, Elin (1996) PERFORMANCE AND CULTURAL POLITICS.  NY: Routledge, p. 5

Dolan, Jill (1993) “Geographies of Learning: Theatre Studies, Performance and the ‘Performative'”, Theatre Journal, 45(4):417-41, 41.