The other day I went to the theatre to see the culminating performances of theatre students that had been studying devising and theatre creation at my local University. I was excited to see what they would come up with. Having spent many years working with High School students on devising processes I was intrigued to see how University level students were different in terms of choices of themes, influences, techniques, styles and use of space and production techniques.
To be honest, the standard of the performances was quite low, and certainly no better than want my IB or High School students could produce. They used the space well, had reasonably well developed characters and included a lot of interesting physical theatre techniques (forced at times to incorporate the technique, rather than think about how to apply the techniques to a meaningful moment), but the piece was lacking in many areas. This made me think that a checklist of the responsibilities of a creator of original theatre would be helpful for students, as many things occurred to me as I watched.
The list I came up with is below:
- Know your material: Make sure you have researched the content of what you are going to do (for example if you have an illness in the play, make sure you know the symptoms). This is essential as a devisor, as your audience will know as much as you (maybe more!) and you must be accurate.
- Don’t use a technique for the sake of it: You may really want to include that physical theatre scene you created when you attended a workshop, but don’t plonk it in because you want to, is indulgent and meaningless for the audience, be ready to throw things away, you can find a place to use them where they work.
- Be original: It is hard to always come up with new material that has not been done before, but why repeat what is already out there? Be true, be sincere, do something that really matters, then it will be original.
- Be aware of your audience: Make sure you do not offend, be patronising or pitch it in a way they cannot understand or relate to. If you use slang or a foreign language or specialised content, help you audience with a glossary or introduction.
- Why are you doing this?: It is essential that you keep on asking yourself this question. Remember that your audience is giving up their time to watch what you have created, make it worth their while!
- Why include technical elements?: Again, don’t put things in just because you want to. You may want to use the disco ball, the new shadow effects, the amazing projector, but if it is not necessary then bin it. Try to stick to what works, what is effective.
These are purely my ideas from an audience member and drama teacher’s perspective, so please take it all with a pinch of salt, not as gospel, but be aware that you have a responsibility as a creator of theatre, and the impact on the audience is something that you should always be considering and discussing as a group.
Ideally you want to run any new work by an audience before you take it out the general public – you will not know the impact you have until you do it!
I did wish I had been a fly on the wall when the students I saw last week were talking to their tutor, as I would have been intrigued about what advice he/she gave, as it did not appear to me to really have an emphasis on the purpose of their piece and what they could have done to make it meaningful and powerful. It was close, but they needed guidance.
Make sure you get some feedback and guidance from a friend, tutor, group of friendly strangers – it is an essential part of the process. Break a leg!