Currently, I am in a devised theatre project called Women of Henry VIII. Every actor has been given a female historical figure who’s somehow intersected with the infamous king. We then, were given the task to just, create something. A piece of theatre.
Now, let’s go back. What is devised theatre? I’ll be honest. I am unclear.
I know that it is a piece of theatre that is created by the whole ensemble.
I know that this process can be collaborative.
I know that this process can be improvisatory.
But, having spent weeks devising this piece, I’m not really sure what else goes into the process. There are no hard and fast rules. Perhaps that’s what makes it so difficult.
You see, this is my first time even trying my hand at devised theatre, at least in its fullest form. In class we’ve done little devised projects, but nothing that demands completion.
Recently I’ve found myself wondering what makes good devised theatre. When does something that’s devised stop being a collection of thoughts and ideas that are (more or less) sporadically placed on stage? When does it become something that resembles a play?
To be honest, I’m really not sure yet.
It feels like there are many mandatory leaps of faith that must be taken when creating art out of thin air. Those leaps of faith are terrifying because they must be taken when the process has become critical and complicated. That, I feel, is one of the major distinctions between simply working on an already formed play and devising.
Another major distinction are the roles we play. One can get away with just focusing on one’s individual character in a play. In devised theatre, I’ve come to learn that that doesn’t work. I don’t just get to play “actor”. At the same time, I’ve had to learn to be writer, and collaborator, and stand-in director, in order for the play to function.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve discovered about devising is that for it to be the most successful, everyone must be on an equal plane. I’m still reconciling the fact that we are an ensemble that is collaboratively devising a piece with a director. To me it seems almost contradictory at times.
Now, these “genre conventions” that I’ve laid out are not ground plans for devising. I’m not even sure that they’re totally true. As I’ve mentioned, I am in the muck right now. I’m not sure how to reconcile my ideas of devising with my current process of devising.
Perhaps that’s that problem in and of itself. I still cannot accurately define what the methods of devising theatre are. I’m still struggling. I’m confused.
But amidst that confusion, I know for certain that you cannot create something out of nothing without (many) leaps of faith. There is uncertainty in devising. Instead of ignoring that uncertainty, why not use it?