The Title Project

09.16.10 | 9 Comments

CATEGORIES conversation starter, devised work, rabble rousing, the process

Quick: how many theatre pieces have you seen with the word Project in the title?

Quite a few, right?  Maybe you’ve been involved in one.  I have.  And almost everyone knows about The Laramie Project.

The word Project is often an indicator of devised work–pieces created by an ensemble rather than via a traditional script by a single playwright.  A fast and utterly unscientific Google search suggests that these Projects tend to be focused on raising awareness of social issues (violence against gays, disease epidemics, the aftermath of wars and natural disasters, and urban issues crop up repeatedly).  Another common theme is tribute to an artist–either very famous or unfairly obscure in the eyes of the Project originators–though this is more common to musical acts than straight theatre pieces.  Project means that the piece is experimental, perhaps presented in a deliberately unfinished state.  Project means that the focus is intended to be on the subject rather than on the performers.

All of this is just fine.  All of this is perfectly legitimate as grounds for performance pieces, and quite a bit of it is profoundly admirable in its intent.

I just want to talk about the titles.  Project.  The ______ Project.  Again, and again, and again.

Can’t we do better than this?

All of our work as theatre artists should be focused on the subject, not the performers.  I hope that all of our work is done with a degree of social consciousness.  We shouldn’t need to depend on a particular indicator word to communicate these qualities.

One of the things that ties theatre artists together is a passion for words.  We like to play with them, to arrange them, to experiment with the way emphasis on a single one can change the weight of an entire speech.  Not just writers and actors and directors–designers, too, will sit in meetings and debate over just the right way to describe the responses we want to evoke.  Why then, when putting together a particular type of work, choke up and rely on a formulaic title?

If we’re devising work, let’s delve into that work, mix it up and engage our personal word-lust and our creativity as ensembles to give it a real name.

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Jax Steager

Jax is a freelance live-performance lighting designer based in San Francisco, as well as co-founder and technical director of Gryphon Venues, an Edinburgh Festival Fringe venue.

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  • RVCBard

    LOL! So, in a way, Crossroads Theatre Project is actually properly named!

    • Tanya Saracho

      I have no imagination and I’m terrible at titles. I have like 3 of these kind of Project Titles going on right now.

      whomp whomp

  • I once worked on The Butcher Project. I feel retroactively embarrassed.

    You are, however, correct to hold us to a higher standard!

  • Jax Steager

    Hey, like I said–I’ve been involved with Projects too. Which is part of the reason I feel we should step it up!

  • Hmmm. On the one hand, I feel you and am weary of the word “Project”; on the other hand, so many times I’ve felt like “The _________ Project” was the perfect name for something. Example: my boyfriend wrote a play called “The Unmarrying Project,” which is about a pair of indie documentarians who decide to have a bunch of happily married couples divorce in the name of gay marriage and document it. This protest is, in itself, a project; the documentary is another project; and the play about the fictional documentary is yet another project. This play doesn’t fall into the categories you describe as being indicative of “Project” pieces, so is the title misleading in this case? Personally I can’t imagine the play being called anything else.

    Hmmm. I’ll have to ponder.

    • It’s almost as if his play should be called The Unmarrying Project Project Project. 🙂

      Kidding aside, it sounds interesting…

    • jax

      That sounds like the Project title is perfect: the play is about a project carried out by the characters. That’s awesome! I like to see titles that are drawn from the themes of the play!

  • Yeah, “The ____ Project” is unimaginitive titling, and your post is pretty entertaining. But perhaps as shorthand for those seeking experimental or cause-driven (which can be different from mission-driven if the mission is primarily about artistry) theater, the word “project” is useful to help them sort through all of their theater-going options more quickly.

  • Anonymous

    Amen to you Jax! Funny thing is, I am NOTORIOUS for this. Everything in my artistic household is something project or other. There are usually 5 separate works-in-progress being developed, digested and thought about and they’re all called _______ Project… _ is whatever the core element is. And that’s ok. Though I don’t see many taking the next step that we do. Once the project is getting ready for an audience. We spend a SIGNIFICANT amount of brainpower to come up with the perfect name. For many a name is the first introduction. It’s the cover of your book. And most DO judge the cover. The initial expectations come from the tone, and personal associations attached to your title. For example… the self-image and consumerism project…. became “That’s Why You’re Not Ugly!” much more likely to attract the audience who will enjoy the play.
    Thanks for the post! I agree so very wholeheartedly.