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BWW Blog: Let's Talk Devised Theatre

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BWW Blog: Let's Talk Devised Theatre
Photo Credit - Mikki Schaffner

It's fall semester of my junior year. I was not cast in Chicago and I was not cast in the Wolves. That meant I was going to be in a show called Voices for Change. This is something our department does every year, usually as a cabaret type performance, but this year we were told it was going to be a full length devised theatre piece. If you are unfamiliar with what devised theatre is, don't worry, I was too up until I did it myself. Devised theatre is a collaborative method of theatre-making where a script is created by an ensemble, many times through improvisatory work.

The starting ground for Voices for Change came from our wonderful director who knew she wanted to make it about why it may be hard to come home for the holidays and the social issues that cause those problems when talking with family. Just like in shows with preexisting scripts, the director plays an important role in the room. This show would not have been anything without our director, Regina Pugh. Regina is a well-established actor and director for professional theatres in Cincinnati, as well as lending her talents to us at Xavier University. Regina is the type of director who makes the room feel safe. So much of devised theatre is about making choices, feeling comfortable doing so is the first step. She not only encouraged us to play but played with us and taught us the significance of doing so. I was also in Regina's Acting II class at the time, so I got to apply a lot of what I was learning there to the process of Voices for Change. I am so grateful to have worked with Regina, as she is now someone I very much look up to and want to be like as a professional.

As far as the script forming process itself went, Regina had us do several scene creating exercises where she gave us guidelines, things she would eventually want in the show, for example, direct looks to the audience. After a few days of loose, unconnected scene work, we were placed into the groups that would become our families for the show. The characters and plots we built in that first exercise with that group were molded slightly to become pieces of the bigger show. As the plots fell into place, so did the lines. They mostly came from improv exercises or brainstorming sessions. Given that we came up with the lines on our own, it was very easy to memorize. However, nothing was ever set in stone. Our stage managers kept up with writing down the script as we went, but we made changes up to the performance day, which made staying engaged all the more important.

My biggest takeaway from doing devised theatre was learning the art of making choices. In high school, most experience direct directing, where they are not given the opportunity to make choices. This show was one of the first times I was able to do so. This is something that I have struggled with, I normally find myself playing it safe. During Voices, I developed the confidence to make bigger choices and found joy in knowing that things I chose to do and say made people laugh.

In my humble opinion devised theatre deserves more hype and my overwhelmingly positive experience has inspired me to teach it and share it with my students someday.

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