Updated: Aug 10, 2021
By Celine Dirkes
Although the words “devised theatre” may seem new and intimidating to many, the tradition of devised theatre is as old as the art form itself--and far more accessible than we might assume. Essentially, devised theatre is any work that is created collaboratively by the ensemble, or cast, that make up the show. This is different from mainstream commercial theatre where a playwright creates a script, turns it over to a producer, who then hands it to a director, who casts the play and leads the production team through staging. In devising, instead of a playwright creating a story on their own, and a director bringing it to life with the actors, the performers work together to imagine, develop and stage the experience together.
Many traditions around the world developed and value collaborative storytelling. For example, it’s possible The Odyssey was composed not by a single author, Homer, but by a collective of oral historians over the course of many years. Today, we see the same concept played out in shorter time spans in television writers’ rooms. In fact, every time we gather theater makers together we engage in collaborative storytelling because it is nearly impossible for an actor to take on a character, or a designer to create a set, or a costumer a garment without leaving some trace of their unique creative voice. The difference, when it comes to devised work, is intentionally centering this creativity.
There are as many ways to devise a play as there are ensembles wanting to devise. By their nature, each show will be unique but there are some commonalities that play out across our current theatre landscape. Many devised productions begin with a topic the group wishes to explore. In the case of Anansi’s Story Festival, the creative team is exploring the folklore of their cultural backgrounds. From there, the group engages in theatre games, improv activities, and writing exercises to explore their topic of choice. The ideas in this phase may shift focus over time as the story develops. Eventually, the group agrees on a scaffold for their story, then finalizes the performance itself, rehearsing until ready to perform just like any other play.
The key to a devised theatre process is valuing collaboration, and fostering an environment where every participant can feel free to explore their creativity in its greatest depth. Anyone willing to commit to these values is ready to devise!
Interested in trying your hand at devised theatre? Apply to Anansi’s Story Festival! Applications are extended until August 6th!