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Devised Theatre: Apocalypse as sequel

03.14.11 | 2 Comments


CATEGORIES actors, collaboration, community, conversation starter, development, devised work, dramaturgy, ideas, new plays, partnerships, playwrights, producers, social media, the process

So, here we are. Week two and hip-deep in the initial group dramaturgy of Bright Alchemy’s devising process, which started with the question “Why do we as a species feel compelled to tell stories of our own destruction?

It’s very early, but I’m already beginning to get that familiar feeling of drowning in images and data. It’s a nice feeling. Better than the alternative. And, if it seems overwhelming, I just have to remind myself that it’s the equivalent of turning the puzzle box over and dumping the pieces out on a table. Easier to imagine the shape of things this way.

Eventually out of all this free association, themes will emerge, or loose strands of connected stories and images will eventually become themes. What free association, you ask?

Some of it is simple words or images: survivor stories; cosmic reboot; four horsemen; the final screen of a silent, black and white movie with the simple words “THE END”; 7 seals; 2012; Y2K; asteroids; trinitite, the glass formed at Trinity, New Mexico, where they tested the bomb.

A composer who saw Naomi, but did not get a chance to work on it, talks about how the play reminded him of the concept of a technological Singularity—the point where we advance technology to the point where it is indistinguishable from human consciousness. This brings up the question of whether we’re proud of our inventive nature or fearful of it, and leads back to a discussion from the previous week about how birth and destruction can go hand-in-hand.

One actress tells us the story of the Pawnee apocalypse myth, which prophesies that when the South Star finally catches up to the North star, the world will end. Which is a nice connection to Naomi, which dealt heavily with astronomy.

Another actress tells a story of riding through the Arizona desert in the backseat of a car while on a family vacation. A rainstorm turned into a sandstorm and the world became an impenetrable blood-red blur as, on the radio, a fire and brimstone preacher prophesied the end of the world.

I mention that one of the big problems I have with certain brands of Christianity is that their adherents seem to be waiting for something better rather than working to make this world a better place to live.

One actor responds to this by noting that some people want a better world and try to make it; some people want to be given a better world and try to make themselves worthy of it; and some people like the world the way it is.

But the one thought that we keep coming back to is the idea of multiple Apocalypses. That world is always going through changes and who’s to say we haven’t experienced any number of Apocalypses?

One of the concepts we touched on while developing Naomi is the difference between static and dynamic societies. Static societies are ones that do not change much from one generation to the next. Consequently, their myths include blueprints for living that a person would have expected to apply to their great-great-great grandchildren as much as it applied to themselves.

However, our society is a dynamic one. We expect the world to change drastically in our own lifetime. And maybe this is why there are so many more stories about the end of the world being written today. Because we can more easily imagine great change occurring.

Not to mention the fact that, as of the mid-20th century, we finally have the ability to destroy ourselves entirely. That somebody now has the responsibility not to push a button, to wake up everyday and say, “I will not destroy the world today.”

Steve Beal, who got to be the triple-threat of Grandfather, Rabbi, and Voice of Coyote in our last production, says, “The world gets recreated so much during one person’s lifetime. That rate of change leads us to wonder when this is going to end, where this is going to go?”

Maybe an Apocalypse is not about an end to the world, but an end of our world; a shift in the way we see things. After which, there is a new world.. When you strip away the destructive connotation, the word “apocalypse” is Greek for “revelation.” Which means that the line between creation myths and destruction myths becomes incredibly dim.

Which, as dramatic story fodder, has great possibilities.

Also, we talked about zombies.

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  • Thanks for sharing this process! I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m deeply curious as to the many and varied ways people make devised theater work, so I’m loving the inside look. And what a great subject. I’m sort of obsessed with… well, the anthropology of folklore, for lack of a better term. Why we keep telling the same stories, and what it says about our humanity.

  • Steve

    Glad you’re enjoying the inside look. That last sentence there: “Why e keep telling the same stories, etc” That’s one of the big themes behind our two completed and one in-process work.

    I’m also curious about other devising processes. Especially the role (if any) a playwright has in those processes. Whenever we take a week off from workshopping, I think I’ll write a blog on it.


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