Company Class for Winter 2017 will be an original piece of devised theater, directed by me — Jake Hooker. Below I go into a little bit of what devised theater is, as I define it, since it’s most likely newish to you. After that, a little bit about what I envision for the process.
What is Devised Theater?
There’s no one definition of devised theater and it goes by other names, too: ensemble-generated, company created, collaboratively created, etc.
The one universal about devised theater is that it starts without a script, although it might be a broad adaptation of a canonical text, for instance. So, devised theater can come in the form of a large ensemble piece, or a solo; multi-media or bare stage; in collaboration with a playwright, or not. The version of devised theater that I tend towards is ensemble driven, visually rich, physical and made without a (particular) playwright.
I believe in group dramaturgy and tend to begin the process with either a big concept or theme or a source material (or three) or sometimes both a big concept and some source materials.
One other common thread inherent to devised work is that it develops over time. With mycompany, we often take about 9 months from inception to production to make a piece that’s usually between 60 and 90 minutes. But I think taking a semester to create about a 45-50 minute new work should suffice because the work benefits from a couple days of rehearsal followed by a couple days off for performer/creators to reflect before getting back into it.
So, what is it? To me — it’s everything. When I’m devising I hope to create a space that is safe, challenging, stimulating, and risky so that a group can come together and collaborate on bringing something new into the world. When we’re devising we are all performers, writers, directors, choreographers, singers, dancers, designers, producers and, most importantly maybe, dramaturgs.
Why Devised Theater?
• Ownership—in a devised theater piece, everybody is all-in because they are making all of the creative choices together as an ensemble.
• Nonhierarchical—devised theater works against the principle that the playwright or the text or the director is at the top of the food chain and the performers are at the bottom, right above the stage crew. The best devised theater is ensemble oriented in every sense of the word…including the stage crew!
• Engagement—devised theater promotes active participation in storytelling and dramaturgy and asks — in this case — young performers to begin to interrogate and articulate their own values in terms of creating theater
• Professional development—this might be the most important thing, to me. I know that the OU theatre department is offering great training and pointing students in the direction of New York and regional theater and in the last 5-10 years devising, devised theater artists, and the principles and skills for devising have become increasingly mainstream. There’s a lot of opportunities out there for young performers who have honed devising skills in addition to their acting chops. In fact, the Public Theater has recently began a Devised Theatre Initiative in which they work with devising companies to workshop new plays that they will eventually move to their main stages.
Here are a couple of articles about devised theater that I find useful.
The second one is written by Rachel Chavkin, Artistic Director of the TEAM in New York who will be directing on Broadway next season. Really, there are more and more devisers cropping up on Broadway, these days:
• The director Ivo Van Hove (A View From the Bridge, Lazarus) devised worked in Europe
• The playwright Lisa Kron (Fun Home, Well) devises work with the 5 Lesbian Brothers
• The composer Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Fortress of Solitude, every other play Off Broadway), devises with The Civilians
• The director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody, Rocky, Peter and the Starcatcher, etc.) devised with Les Freres Corbusier
In other words, the skills and ethos students can learn through devising are more and more in demand by directors. And those are just Broadway examples…
Lastly—devising plays is TOTALLY FUN and REALLY HARD!!!!
Here’s a possible timeline:
Mid-October: Auditions and Casting
I’m hoping to audition in groups, since we’re going to make the show as a group. I want to see how well you work with others to figure out how to do difficult, imaginative things in a short period of time. I’m looking for performer-creators who understand how to have serious fun (how to be serious while having fun and have fun being serious), take risks (in performing as well as in thinking and feeling), are game (this is major for me — you need to really want to be there) and understand that trying and failing and trying again is really exciting.
Late-October/Early-November: One or two day workshop It’s my desire to get the cast together for one or two sessions in order for me to get to know you and you to get to know me…but also this is when we’ll begin to do some work around WHAT the show wants to be. In other words, what our source material(s) will be. We’ll do some tasks and improvs and have discussion about what is interesting, compelling, and thrilling for this particular group of people to be making in this particular moment in time.
January 15—February 30: Building the piece We will certainly not work constantly during this time, as you will all have other obligations. But we will meet intermittently (and I will also give tasks to be completed outside of rehearsal) in order to create the script for the show, as well as movement, design elements, etc.
March 1—April 7: Rehearsal This period will follow a relatively standard rehearsal process. Obviously, you all still will have other obligations but we will meet more regularly to rehearse the piece that we have spent the previous 6 weeks creating together.
Saturday April 8 and Sunday April 9 Tech Rehearsals
Monday April 10 and Tuesday April 11 Runs
Wednesday April 12, 2017 at 8 p.m. Dress Rehearsal
Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 8 p.m. Opening
Friday, April 14, 2017 at 8 p.m.
Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 2 and 8 p.m.
In my rehearsals, we work through tasks and compositions. In other words, I create theatrical tasks based on our source materials—often lists of material performers need to pull from in order to present compositions. The best of these compositions get developed into scenes and those scenes get ordered into a new play that might be linear and realistic, or might be non-linear and metaphoric, but is often a combination of these sensibilities. Then, once a script is composed through tasks and compositions, we rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, very much like a standard process.
ARE YOU READY?!?!?!?!?!?