Recently my first year IB Theatre students have had a go at creating their first devised piece based on a starting point. We worked with six starting points initially (one TED Talk, one piece of music, one poem, one painting, one piece of graffiti art and an object) and, then, as a group decided the following:

What do I bring to the devising process and how do I promote my self? (What is my theatre world of experience, passions and knowledge, and then what are my skills? We also talked about what we wanted to learn from the process and from others, and so we also thought about our weaknesses.)

What I am looking for in other people to devise with? (What they can bring that I cannot bring and what ways we can complement each other and build on ideas and skills?)

And then we made posters to find the group that we would work with. Using these posters and some questions they managed to form their groups. Once in their groups they discussed the potential of the six starting points and which one they were drawn to and why. There was a fascinating discussion that followed. They discussed how many of their starting points addressed similar issues to do with travel, identity and being lost. They realised that they felt passionately about some themes, so plumped for the starting point that would give them the potential to address all these issues together. They chose the image of Circe’s Grief by Paula Eckerty. Once chosen they discussed where they were going with the starting point. This was an audio recording.

We then embarked on our journey of discovery and creation and here is where I will list the process:

  1. Each led a warm-up which linked to an idea to do with the starting point
  2. Each led a scene or section that explores implementing something from our devising company that could be used in the piece
  3. Worked on structure
  4. Worked on scenes
  5. Thought about intention and chosen audience, and impact
  6. We worked out roles, made a lighting design
  7. Chose music, worked on choreography and wrote bits of script

Then, I asked them what the point of it all was, and what certain bits meant. I also reminded them what their starting point was and what they had stated as their intention. They had gone way off track and now did not have any idea what they were doing, as they were lost in the music, rhythms and choreography.

We had a discussion about where we were going and decided to scrap an entire scene and rework others. We then thought about props, whether we needed more dialogue, and how we would transition from scene to scene.

After a couple more lessons we made the following changes:

  1. Added a monologue
  2. Added characters that spoke, and not just mimed (this made intention clearer and could link to the final scene where we conclude the relationships)
  3. Remembered that we were being informed by a physical theatre company so added some more movement to one scene
  4. Videoed scene by scene and then a full run to critique staging, movement and sound
  5. Allowed each to speak, direct, re-work and adjust

We now have tomorrow lunchtime to pull it all together before Monday’s performance. I will let you know how the show goes, and also how we gathered audience impact.

Lessons learnt in the process

  • Keep the starting point in mind and keep going back to why we chose it
  • Remind yourselves repeatedly what your artistic intention is
  • Keep asking yourself ‘Why is this being included?’
  • Keep asking yourself ‘What does this communicate to the audience?’
  • Keep intended impact in mind and how you will achieve this
  • Do not get carried away with complicated staging, choreography lighting, music or costumes – this loses site of what you intend to communicate
  • Scrap things if they are not working