Knowing what to pay attention to in a collective devising process
In addition to the definable skills required to facilitate accessible and engaging community-based theatre workshops, there is the more elusive skill of knowing what to look and listen for in regard to group process and a public performance with marginalized communities. What’s needed? and What’s missing? are familiar questions to anyone who has ever developed a script. On one level, they’re questions of dramatic composition. When working with people who experience marginalization across a number of dimensions in our community, they’re also questions about the ethics of knowing how to make personal stories public in a way that honours the performer-advocates’ stories and their desires for a public voice while preserving their privacy.
Devising is not a predictable model. It involves a lot of experimentation and repetition. We’ll go into more detail about TSDC’s devising process when we get to Creating the Performance Script. For now, here are some overarching themes that the facilitator pays attention to:
- How the stories that emerge in the workshops reflect or conflict with widely believed stories that circulate in dominant culture. (For example, the idea that hard work leads to security and success, or that being good neighbours depends only on the goodwill of individuals.)
- What kind of public space will allow characters who may be relative strangers to encounter one another, and accommodate the action of the play.
- What are the ‘pivot points’ that took place during Image Theatre improvisations — moments when people make new choices or decisions.
- In projects with a mandate like TSDC’s, devising also requires paying attention to making sure every voice is represented in the narrative of the play, and avoiding oversimplification while ensuring that the story arc is focused on issues connected to public discussion.
“Devised theatre is theatre that begins without a script. The script gets ‘written’ as the rehearsal process takes place through a series of improvisations and collaborations.” — Vanessa Garcia, “The Paradox of Devised Theater on the Twenty-First Century Stage.”