Video Ballad

The work of Banner and Ground Zero takes the cultural roadbuilding of interventionist documentary theatre into the digital world … . Digital communication has been the means and the form of their collaboration and their reconstitution of activist theatre. It disrupts and relocates cultural genealogies, reterritorializes artistic traditions, produces new structures.

-Alan Filewod, “The Documentary Body” in Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present [London: Palgrave, 2009]


Members of Banner Theatre perform Migrant Voices, Brandon, Manitoba 2003

Named after the famous Radio Ballads created for the BBC by Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker fifty years ago, this modern inter-disciplinary performance style mixes video actuality, World Music and dramatic techniques.

The current generation of Video Ballads are structured more as a musical performance, rather than a play. Each show consists of a series of shorter segments, about 15 minutes in length. A typical performance is about 90 minutes in length, with material chosen from a repertoire twice as long. Selection is based on content relevant to the particular audience [e.g. Labour union or Refugee Support Group] and then sequenced by performance rhythm. The process is similar to the way a musician chooses a set list for a concert.

Once these segments are created, they are available for performance over a long period of time. Banner, for example, performed material from Burning Issues, created for the 20th anniversary of the miners’ strike, this past year in honour of the 25th anniversary. This structure also allows for the possibility of just doing single units for a specific event, such as forming the subject for a workshop with the Workers’ Education Association.


The first step in our creative process is research. We work with concerned communities and partner organizations to develop the objectives for the work, including identifying key problems and potential actions to be taken. Then we look within that framework for a specific story which illustrates the points.

Next we record professional video interviews. Once recorded, the interviews are transcribed. The transcriptions are then imported into computer software used for academic ‘coding’. This allows the creative team to share the process of identifying and tracking key themes in the material.

Based on choices about which themes we want to develop, a rough video edit is prepared with large sections of this ‘actuality’. This edit is given to the musical team who begin to create songs based on the feelings and content in the actuality. At the same time, the videographer is looking at ways to edit the material into shorter segments, while searching out complementary visual imagery. The song-writing and video editing are shared back and forth as they develop so that each process influences the other.

When the team feels that a satisfactory outline of the segment has been created, we plan a ‘Show’n’Tell’ presentation. Central to these presentations is a ‘check back’ with the people whose stories we are telling, effectively getting their permission to share their stories more widely. Based on the feedback received, the show is revised and fully mounted.