Devised theatre is work that is collectively created by a group from the ground up. In devised work, the ensemble creates and structures material rather than staging a script that is already in existence.
I often think of “teaching devising” as devising with annotations. In order to teach devising, I believe you have to do it. In a classroom or workshop setting, though, there is this fabulous opportunity to pause and draw attention to what it is you’re doing, and how that path is only one option among an array of choices.
When teaching devising, there are two main questions that I find play a huge role in determining the shape and trajectory of the process:
- What is the starting point? Is there an idea, theme, or construct that the group wants to build from, or is the first stage of the devising process to identify that core element?
- Is there an expectation that the work will culminate a “final” performance?
Within the work itself, I believe that bringing awareness and attention to the process is just as important as what a group creates. Devising allows you to practice a number of skills that are applicable to the larger world of theatre, to other disciplines, and, frankly, to life. These include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Practicing the “scrap it” move, i.e. letting something go once it is no longer serving an active purpose (no matter how much time, energy, or attention you’ve put into it).
- Working as a group and taking individual responsibility for speaking up or quieting down as necessary.
- Making choices even when you are unsure of what the “right” choice is. This doesn’t mean being apathetic or totally random, but, rather, saying yes to a choice in a given moment so that the group can try something instead of deliberating endlessly.
- Trusting your collaborators and the process that you’re in even if you can’t tell where something is going. This does not mean giving up and letting the group carry your weight, or throwing the concept of progress out the window in favor of endless process. It does mean going down a path that you don’t already know the destination of, and trusting that you and your collaborators will, together, be able to find your way even in unknown territory.
As a teacher, I believe that a major part of my work is to help devisers identify and practice these skills. In the face of the discomfort, uncertainty, or perceived failure that can often come with devising, it’s common to see folks shut down or retreat into known habits. As those situations arise, my role is to help the devisers relate to the discomfort in a different way so that it can become part of the process rather than a block to the process.
Some starting points that I have used in the past for devised projects include:
- Riffing on a known story, news article, or text.
- Designing a collection of assignments in order to amass a large amount of shared source material, then extrapolating a starting theme, image, or other element from that pool. Example assignments include: choosing three obituaries; collecting five images; selecting three pieces of text; finding three weapons that aren’t usually used as weapons; selecting one and a half equations.
- Working with physical objects and allowing the choice and use of a given object to launch the devising process.
There are countless points of entry for devising theatre. The specific parameters of a group, class, or cast will play a major role in determine where the process starts, but the choices of the group itself will determine where the process travels.
If you’d like to find out more about my devising work, or if you’re interested in booking a class or workshop, you can use the Contact Me link here on the right sidebar to send me a message.