This article deals with devising a new piece of theatre through the use ensemble based collaboration, research and improvisation.
Often times when we as Theatre practitioners think about producing a play we sometimes start rummaging through old anthologies of plays and online play databases looking for something that might inspire us to pursue. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone through the many volumes of play anthologies in my library in search of that one play that gets my creative juices flowing. After a while my eyes glaze over and everything starts looking the same. Then this feeling of a cannonball resting at the base of neck starts as I become bogged down from perusing pages upon pages of plays that I’ve seen or read a millions times. I then stop and say to myself “Why are you doing this?”. “We don’t need no stinking play!”. “Let’s make our own!”. Of course, there’s far more to it than just making a proclamation. There’s a ton of planning, research and creating.
Finding a method or approach to the creation of a new work is one of the first things we must tackle. How are we going to this? The process that I will be laying out here will focus on methods that can be used while working with an ensemble of actors and designers. The purpose is to create a new work of Theatre created through guided collaborative improvisation. I believe the word guided is an important term here. This term indicates that information is funnelled or distilled through an outside pair of eyes. This usually means that a director is guiding the ensemble through this process. For this process I will be referring to a course I taught at Linn-Benton Community College in devising theatre. In this particular course we were tasked with devising a new theatre for children play based on the origin story of the character, Scarecrow, from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
You can “devise” a piece of theatre through inspiration from numerous sources and/approaches. One can merely take an idea, life experience, social issue, myth, folk story, news headline as material to begin the process in the creation of a new work of theatre. The possibilities are endless. Within our work with Sanctuary Stage, in a style of theatre called, Community Engaged Theatre or Theatre of Place, we use material gained from personal interviews and story circles from members a micro-communities found within our larger communities to create new work about the people who live around us. In this current project we are using a piece of literature that exists within the public domain. This is important when working with a piece of literature or any other copy written material. Unless you get written 35 permission from from the original creator or his/her estate you should stick with material found within the “public domain”. It just so happens that, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has just recently entered the public domain.