On Devising and Doing

On Devising and Doing

A few weeks ago, when I was in the throes of the start of school, my friend Dustin Hebert asked if I could come up to Wyoming to present a workshop on my devised theatre process to the Wyoming Educators of Secondary Theatre teacher conference. So, after yet another long 4-day week, I got up early and headed up to Rock Springs, Wyoming.

I am a pretty big fan of lone road trips. There is something deeply relaxing to me to the singular experience of no service and no speaking. For all that I do publicly, I am actually very much an introvert. I was a little nervous about taking the time and the task to come up on my day off and present, but the decompression time of my five and half hour drive was shockingly helpful to my anxiety. Score one for driving through Wyoming.

The workshop I led is one Caroline and I put together last year for the Wyoming State Thespian Festival to teach to students. The process of devising can look a lot of different ways and so I present the process as a singular to me and fully editable process.

Something was different for me this go round. It was the first workshop I’ve led where I was able to reference what was happening in my theatre classroom. I was actually very energized by this because for the first time I felt like I actually knew what I was talking about. For so much of my experiences prior to this year, I’ve been peddling my theories. Now, as I face building a program that is reflective of my experience, knowledge, and vision, the rubber is meeting the road and through engaged reflection, I am starting to find the proof of concept of my ideas.

Every time I talk through or present on or do my devising process, I feel a little more confident that it can actually work. The first few times I’ve gone through this, I’ve focused on the main, surface level act of doing the damn thing. I introduced myself yesterday, not as an expert, but as a “persistent amateur.” I just keep pushing and refining and figuring out (and you can too!).

The workshop ran about an hour and a half and I went through the following steps…

  1. Warm-Ups, I do warmups everyday in my theatre classes and rehearsal and I believe it is the perfect way to bring everyone from their separate selves into a group space. It was fun to lead these because I introduced a few items and was able to share specific moments from my experiences that were both good and bad about each item. “Here’s what to look for…” sorts of tips. That was a surprising bit of extra I was able to add this time.

  2. Concept Collection, I then facilitated group conversations around topics and issues important to the group at hand. They had a bit of time to simply have a conversation with each other. Then we came together and shared out to the whole group so that we could settle on one word. The word of the day for a group of theatre teachers at the start of the year… BALANCE.

  3. Personal Connections, Once we established our word, we spent a few minutes of silent reflection. Participants could draw, write, find a song, etc. to portray their connection to the term “balance.” They went back to their groups and shared out. While they were sharing out they had to identify visuals or images from their peers.

  4. Visuals, The visuals were then turned into frozen tableaux. They were given time to put together four statues that, when performed, would transform into each other.

It was at this point that we had about 10 minutes left. I stopped and took a moment to talk through the rest of the process I use to devise something. The last bit is, in my opinion, the most difficult because it turns from collaborative playing to playwriting. I was able to process last night with my pal, Zach Schneider (you’ve read his work on here before), about why the workshop has to end at that point. The shift into the playwriting phase is essentially its own workshop. That would be the advanced workshop or the extended version because the task of creating a script from found and original text is monumental.

I am loving getting the opportunity to continue to share my work. I think it is really important as a theatre practitioner to continue to have to present and defend your work. I talked in my workshop about the importance of feedback in the process of making art and I believe it holds true for teaching too. I view it as one more opportunity to improve my work and by consequence the work and future of my students.

I want to give a special shout out to the fantastic Wyoming theatre teachers I got to work with. I came in early and got to sit in on their advocacy workshop. The pursuit to make art in all places is a noble one and if any of them ever need a word of support for their work, I would be thrilled to help them help their students.

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