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.