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Devising, and the Importance of Failure

I read an article on Howlround the other week about the journey of Daniel Kelin’s theatrical devising process. Seeing as I have grown to love devising work, I was rather interested in this subject matter. The article, written by Kelin, chronicles his experiences working with youths in the Marshall Islands, theatre students in American Samoa, and a young group in Pohnpei who had never attended live theatre.

The overarching lesson I learned from this article is simple, but doesn’t answer too many questions. There is no set or right way to devise. I knew this was true within my devising experience with other theatre practitioners, but to read accounts of similar experiences from around the world helped to truly solidify my knowledge. I need to work with each group I intend to devise with in order to discover how it is we create together, and only then can the process of deeper artistic creation and staging of a performance come in to play. In order to learn how each group creates, I must DO things! We must work on our feet and create in order to discover what works and what doesn’t.

There are two great physical teachers that I regard in my work: injury and failure. When I get an injury, I am always the one at fault. That mentality is not to be used to blame myself, but rather to turn and injury or sickness into a teaching tool. If I sprain my wrist, how can I still use it? How can I train myself to use it in the future so that I don’t sprain it again? Failure is much the same. When something I am doing is failing, I am made to ask the question, “what else can I be doing?” Each failure is a discovery in how a group ceases to function to its potential, and thereby opens another door of possibility for how it could reach that potential.


The process of devising theatre is highly dependent on the group that is doing the creating, and each individual within that group, so it makes sense that each process must be different! The knowledge of this, and that each failure is a step towards discovery, is an important tool to keep in hand when devising.


About atweyenberg

Senior Theatre Arts major at Boston Univerity, currently enrolled in a Dramaturgy course! Excited about cross-sector work and community involvement.

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