Making the Media: “Stars”

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

The last song in Gone Missing, “Stars,” discusses how when you lose something all that you have left is the memory of what once was, like that thing never existed.

Last semester, our media team broke down the script, choosing moments to mediate in both Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief. “Stars” is one of these chosen moments. As a group, they decided to project a video in the background of a table crowded with objects. As the song, progressed the objects would disappear, leaving only the memory behind.

Simple right? It would seem so, but it is incredible how much work goes into one little clip.

The first thing that must be done is to set the specifics. What is the setting? Where should the table be in that setting? What kind of table is it? How big should it be? Will it look good on camera? What kind of objects do we want/need? How many? How crowded should it look?

The day before shooting the director, production designer, props mistress, and film crew met in the prop shop to check out some of the options for table and objects.

Production Team discussing what they want the table to look like.

Production Team discussing what they want the table to look like.

We decided we wanted the table to be in a nondescript location. We’d accomplish this by focusing on the table top itself.

Deciding on the focus we wanted for the shot of the table.

Deciding on the focus we wanted for the shot of the table.

We also decided we wanted the table littered with objects with no space separating one from the other, like an ISPY book.

I Spy

We decided we wanted the objects to be a mix of things that our characters talk about and random things that could be lost.

Some of the objects someone might lose: candlesticks, curlers, a mirror, decorative knick-knacks...

Some of the objects someone might lose: candlesticks, curlers, a mirror, decorative knick-knacks…

The next day the crew met in Studio A to film. They started setting up at 3pm, began shooting at 5, and finished at around 7. Not bad for a 3 minute moment!

 

The Creative Incubator

By Alec Harding, performance writer

Throughout our work on The Cleverest Thief/Gone Missing project, we had set up an incomparable environment which contributed itself towards our creative process. We had, in a sense, purposely designed a “creative incubator” to maximize our potential as storytellers, actors, writers, designers, and inventors.

The first step to creating the essential facilitating environment was gathering the group of participating individuals. Although one of the main goals of this project was a script, we did not just want writers creating The Cleverest Thief. At the same time, a group of actors would have been no better for devising the piece. A bunch of techies who could theatrically mediate the project would have not have suited either. Instead of getting one homogenous collection of similar individuals, we used the whole spectrum to construct our team. We did have our handful of writers, our defined actors, our theatrical
designers, and then a handful of odd individuals who likewise added their talents and capabilities to the project. The first step we did to create the correct creative environment was get together the right team of unique and skilled people to do the job.

Once the vehicle was together, our engine roared and we cruised. The next essential factor of our creative success was the open door to all creative ideas—a door to fit an airliner hanger. Every time the group met, everyone took their new collection of ideas, interviews, and moments gathered since our last meeting and gave them to the team without reservation. Everything, even if it wasn’t used, was never blindly rejected. The door was never slammed shut. Every idea, suggestion, and interview was taken objectively considered, no matter how big or small, no matter who presented it, and no matter if
it was thought to be of any use. Every idea was given its due chance, which kept the doors of creativity, collaboration, and progression wide open.

The third great factor to incubating the creative might of The Cleverest Thief project was the fusion and chemical solution of each of the different interviews, moments, and ideas gathered. Individual and isolated interviews were combined into their ingenious moments which created something greater than each of the two separately. Elements were tested together, swapped between combinations, and reimagined and reimagined and rearranged and rearranged again and again. At it’s root, that’s what creativity is.

We had the team of divers, skilled individuals and we had an unrestrained, unfiltered inflow of new ideas. The finishing piece of our creative process was the building and collaborations of interviews, moments, and ideas unto the creating of the remarkable play we now know as The Cleverest Thief.

How to Make a Moment

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Devising is a type of theater that creates a play by building theatrical moments, or little theatricalized scenes that we string together into a production. Instead of writing a script, we perform it and then record it. The script is the last thing to be created.

When creating a moment, the first thing you do (at least according to our process) is take an interview or a couple of interviews that share an idea, feeling, or theme and tie them together with a theatrical idea. For example, if an interview is about a girl who lost her sister to cancer, while she is speaking a hospital scene could be acted out in the background. Or, another different idea, pictures could be projected of her sister before she fell ill showing the nostalgia of the sister who was interviewed. It all depends on what you want to say, but it’s not a moment until it becomes something you can see on stage.

One of the defining aspects of the Civilians is their desire to incorporate media into productions. Their mission statement summarizes this by saying “The Civilians expands the scope of American theater and champions innovation by tackling complex and under-explored subjects, enabling artists to enrich their processes through in-depth interaction with their topics, diversifying artistic voices and audiences, and integrating theater with new media.” Many productions explore how theater can be enhanced by projection and actor and audience interaction with projected images. This idea of adding media to moments was a major aspect to consider as we started to create moments and present them to the class. How did we want to use media in our project? How much did we want to use it?

Here are two examples of student presentations on how we could use media for an interview about a girl who lost her Beanie Baby snail…

And an idea as to how an actor (Hannah’s finger) could interact with a projection on a screen…

We were greatly inspired by this video:

Creating a Character

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

One of the hardest things for any actor is creating a character. The actor has to be able to separate themselves and their mannerisms from the mannerisms of the person they are trying to portray. This is especially hard when trying to depict a real person that you have met and interviewed. In order to differentiate yourself from a character the easiest thing to do is to heighten their ticks (fiddling with a necklace, drumming fingers, running a hand through their hair, etc.) and try to match their vocal tone and posture.

Unfortunately, heightening these aspects of a person often come off as comical. Whenever is something is exaggerated, especially by some one who is an inexperienced actor or isn’t very perceptive to body language, it becomes a sort of mockery. That is not what we are striving for in Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief.

In our production, nine actors will portray over sixty characters in the span of two hours. How will they differentiate themselves from the characters they are playing? How will they distinguish their different characters from each other? Can they accomplish an honest depiction of real people?

When the representative from The Civilians company (the group that devised/wrote Gone Missing), Emily Ackerman, workshopped with us she taught us some tricks. The first exercise she introduced involved status, or how a person carries themselves. A person of high status (social rank, energy, or happiness level) carries themselves with good posture and a spring in their step. As the status decreases people tend to carry themselves more curled in on themselves, as if protecting, with slumped shoulders and their gaze on the floor. Emily asked us to walk around the room and she’d say a number from 1 (low) to 10 (high) and we’d have to depict how a person of that status would look. She then asked us who a person of high status would be (we came up with celebrity, royalty, overconfident jock) and who a person of low status would be (we came up with street urchin, abused woman, someone who was depressed). Through this exercise we came up with a range of emotion that we could depict physically. We went through this process for ticks as well.

Finally Emily asked us to create a character with a defined status (from 1-10), distinct way of carrying themselves, and a defined tick (how strong it was 1-10). We then interacted with each other trying to see if we could guess the choices that our classmates made.

See if you can guess who the character is in this video. Who is it? What is their status? How does it reflect their age, gender, and how they feel about themselves? Do you believe that this character is a real person?

 

 

Tell us your story!

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

MISSING!

We need your help. As a devised piece about Provo, we are looking for stories about losing and finding in the area. If you have a story that you feel needs to be told please go to Facebook and like our page, Your Story for “The Cleverest Thief.” Post on our wall. And who knows? Maybe your story will end up in the show.

 

Now on Youtube!

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

We now have a channel on youtube for the Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief interviews that didn’t make it into the script, as well as other bonus videos about our devising process.

Come check it out at BYUCleverestThief and subscribe!

Here’s just one example of what you will find:

Putting Ideas into action

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

So far in the process we have been focusing on finding stories and putting them together into interesting theatrical moments that will engage the audience member and will explore how we deal with loss as Provoans.

One of the moments was created out of the idea of retracing steps, one of the first tactics we use once we realize something is lost. This moment called for a stylized dance to an original song in which actors search for something they can’t find over and over again in the same way every time.

However, we are actors, writers, and designers, not dancers so we invited choreographers to help us put our idea into action.

Here’s what we came up with:

Design and Dramaturgy

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

This past week, our Gone Missing production team has broken into groups: Design and Dramaturgy.

The design team deep in discussion.

The designers will focus on how the show will look, how many screens we need, how we will use lighting, costumes, and projections to tell the stories of loss outlined in Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief.

Some of the performance writers (Sarah Porter, Ali Kinkade, and Jenna Hawkins) putting a moment on its feet.

Meanwhile the dramaturgy group will be workshopping the moments we have chosen into a text that the actors can memorize and use. Basically what this means is that the four main writers will each take one moment we have chosen home. They will treat it as it’s own play thinking of traditional plot structure (inciting incident, rising action, climax) and write a draft. The next time we meet, they will bring it to class. The actors will read it and we will all give our comments and ask questions. The next night, the writer will take home a new moment (taking into consideration the comments given in class) and the whole process starts over again. We repeat this until we have a polished script that we can present at the end of February.

Nailing Down the Script (otherwise known as killing babies)

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Over the course of devising, we have become very attached to certain ideas, interviews and moments. Some of these include a couple who posted a plea on Craigslist for their missing Chihuahua, while warning potential finders not to touch him, or a guy we met at the BYU Creamery on 9th who enthusiastically relayed his story of his lost water bottle (which we then turned into an epic rap battle).

We are fond of these moments and people we have come to know and love.

But, unfortunately, we have too many wonderful moments to fit into our 30-35 minute play.

That means one thing… It’s time to kill our babies.

As a class we sat down and listed all of the moments we liked. Then we looked at out main organizing principle, or theme, we want to pursue: how do we deal with loss? Looking back at our moments, we threw out the ones that didn’t explore this concept: stories about things people had lost rather than how they dealt with the loss itself. Unfortunately, that means that the water bottle rap battle didn’t make the cut.

This list of moments will be given to the writers and they will work out the nitty-gritty details of transitions and the creation of a cohesive whole.

Although these cherished moments have been cut from the script, they will live forever in our hearts.

And maybe on youtube. 🙂

 

Only in Theater…

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturgy

One of the things we want to explore with Gone Missing are the special qualities of theater. We will be using a lot of projections and mixed media, including many technologies that we’ve “lost.” Is theater a lost art? Has film made it obsolete? What can theater do that no other art form can?

Here are some thoughts from our Performance Writers:

“Unlike other performing arts, theater directly engages in a discussion specific to people–their culture, thought and story–as well as the emotional connection of performance. The best theater marries textual discussion along with emotional appeals and connection of performance-specific mediums: the actors, the audience, set, music, lighting and others.” –Alizabeth Leake, Actor and Performance Writer

“I don’t know much about theatre theory or anything like that but there is something about theatre, the fact that it is live, that something could go wrong at any moment, and things do or don’t go wrong, that is exciting. It doesn’t matter how many times you rehearse or how well you know a script but something might go wrong, but you can’t let the illusion falter for the audience. Theatre can be formally interesting and create a feeling that film and other mediums can’t.” –Chelsey Roberts, Costumer and Performance Writer

“Film is bound to realism. Storytelling uses simplicity. Dance performs without words. On stage can you tell a complex story using all bodies, words, music, costumes, and props in a way that can weave stories together to make meaning, tension, or  juxtapositions stronger than other forms. In a film you can cut from one shot to another to show a relationship between the two stories or two points in time. On stage you can have an actor representing the past or the other story and they can actually affect the other. They can move their things, invade their space. In life, other people and their stories are constantly affecting our own story, and on stage you can really show that relationship– in many forms.” –Hannah Kroff, Props Mistress, Actor, and Performance Writer