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Devised Theatre: Terrible Practicalities

05.13.11 | Comment?


CATEGORIES actors, arts service organizations, collaboration, community, corporate sponsors, designers, development, devised work, dramaturgy, ideas, new plays, non-profit theatre, partnerships, playwrights, producers, the process, Uncategorized

Previously in this column:

Bright Alchemy Theatre, a very young company devoted to the creation of devised work, decides to begin work on a narrative and thematic sequel to A Cre@tion Story for Naomi, which explored the world’s creation myths. We began this new process with a question: Why do we feel the need to tell stories of our own destruction? Over the last few months we have explored various apocalypse stories, blue skied ways to create zombies, and planned our own funeral. And I’ve blogged the whole process here on 2amtheatre.

 

So by now some of you might be thinking, “Yes, this devising process is all well and good, but when do we get around to the theatre part?”

Soon. Much sooner than I thought, actually. And if that sentence sounds ominous, I don’t really mean it to be so. It’s my deadline-fear showing. Back in October, before we had meeting one on this project—before we’d even begun rehearsals for our previous productionI applied for Bright Alchemy to be a participant in the Mead Theatre Lab Program. The program provides four or five residencies per year to theatre artists, providing access to artistic advisors and two-to-five weeks in their small black box theatre near Washington, DC’s Chinatown. Along with that program, I also submitted an application for an attached Creative Communities Fund Grant.

I was told last month that we had been accepted for both. I think I actually did a two-arms-in-the-air-for-victory move in the middle of 14th Street when I got the call.

And so Bright Alchemy will present the workshop production—the rough, fully staged, PWYC, soliciting input from the audience production—of its newest piece at the Mead Theatre at Flashpoint Sept 23-25. And we’ll have the two weeks prior to rehearse in the space. And we’ll have the funding to bring in the designers we want to work with and ensure that we can pay all our artists.

That the committee chose this project over several dozen others, makes me a little giddy. I had never written a grant before (and now that I’m batting a thousand, I may never again). And it was a proposal for a piece that, at the time, consisted only of a process and a question “Why do we as a species feel the need to tell stories of our own destruction?” But they must have seen something worth investing in, which means I feel just a smidge of pressure to live up to that expectation. Thus the deadline anxiety.

Our latest meeting is filled with practicalities. We discuss a timeline: when rehearsals would probably start, the likelihood of a reading at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, etc.

I try to pin down artists. While we’ve had about a dozen regular collaborators, not all of them will be available come September. However, many are able and willing, and having a budget means being able to successfully compete for their time.

And I introduce text. The first four pages of…something. How did I get these pages? There’s an article in the latest issue of Theatre Forum that profiles DAH, an experimental Serbian theatre group. DAH takes pieces of existing text and turns them into heavily movement based, abstract narratives. The article talks about how, after the group has created all of this material, one of the directors in the group will take it and arrange it into a finished composition. Like a piece of music, but with movement and a story, though not always one that resembles the original source material.

I guess my role has been to do the same. I take what we’ve been talking about: the themes, the stories, the topics that have provoked interest, even the mood of the conversation, and translate it into a theatrical text. That text may tell a wholly new and original story, but hopefully it does so in a way that incorporates many of the ideas we’ve been discussing.

Also, hopefully, it will not suck.

As a playwright, I hate showing unfinished rough drafts. Hate it. Working with Bright Alchemy, I have had to get over that. Or at least hide the anxiety manageably well. So, in the spirit of transparency, and with the idea that as soon as people began providing feedback online about the process they became collaborators themselves, I’ve posted those pages online…here. If you have questions, thoughts, creative expletives–please spew them below.

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