Devised Work is kind of hot right now, but it’s also not especially well defined, because it seems to be both a method of constructing theatre and an aesthetic that work created through that method tends to adhere to. As a method, it’s basically a play that is created without a written script as a starting point. Generally, collaborators (who may be any mix of writers, actors, directors and designers) begin from some kind of starting point– a title, a found text or film, a line of inquiry– and from that they generate a play.
That work tends to adhere to certain aesthetics of experimental theatre. It tends to be deliberately messy in its narrative structure and/or stuffed the gills with thematic content. There’s frequently post-modern dance breaks in it. Video work is often integrated. It may be missing some of the components of traditional drama (such as characters, or plot, or words).
It seems to me that what is most exciting about devised work is, in fact, what is oldest about it. It represents a stealthy way to reintroduce to our theatremaking system a very traditional method for making plays wherein roles are written with particular performers in mind who also go on to actually play those roles instead of being replaced for someone who used to be on TV or whatever and may also participate in the research and development of the material. This is the part I’m excited about.
This week, over 30 HHS students have spent 5 hours a day devising our plot for Alice in Wonderland. Today is our last day, and I have confidence that by 5pm we will have a skeleton of the plot. Our devised theatre piece is both a method and an outcome, but being a high school I also know it will be more traditional with the obvious dance break in there (hey, when you come to a HHS show you know the theatre teacher is in grad-school for Dance, so what do you expect?)
The truly exciting part about this week and the months to come is that students will be creating and I’ll be the tour guide. What these incoming freshmen-graduated seniors have created in these four days is pretty remarkable. Please stay tuned for more on Alice in Wonderland‘s Devising Process.