Information on Rehearsals and Devising Pt. 2

By Patrick Hayes, Dramaturg 

In my last blog post I talked about A Wrinkle in Times’s use of performance theories. For this post I wanted to dive a little deeper into the theories and practices of devised theatre, giving you an inside scoop on the two theories that we are incorporating into our show.

Many performances are rooted in the theories and practicum of two individuals. Some would say that these two people are the two most influential theatre directors and theorists in the twentieth century. Here’s a brief look at both the men and the basic ideas behind their theories.

Jerzy Grotowski (11 August 1933 – 14 January 1999) was a Polish theatre director and innovator of experimental theatre concepts, namely the “theatre laboratory” and “poor theatre” concepts.

Growtowski’s Poor Theatre

He asked the great question “What is theatre?” His answers were formed in devising two brand new theatre techniques / practices, Poor Theatre and Theatre Laboratory.

Growtowski said in order for Poor Theatre to exist there only needed to by two essentials:  the audience and the actor. Poor Theatre productions are categorized by stripping down the essence of the performance to two single elements on stage, the audience and actors. Actors trained so nearly every muscle of the body would be under complete control and could be moved at will. This allowed the director to focus on the body, making “it” the theatrical spectacle instead of the traditional spectacle / theatrical elements staged during that time period.

 

Richard Schechner is a professor of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. He is considered to be the founder of the Performance Studies discipline.

Schechner’s Six Axioms of Environmental Theatre

Schechner’s theories are based around 6 specific axioms.  They are:

  1. The Theatrical Event is a Set of Related Transactions
  2. All the Space is Used for Performance; All the Space is Used for Audience
  3. The Theatrical Event Can Take Place Either in a Totally Transformed Space or in a “Found Space”
  4. Focus is Flexible and Variable
  5. All Production Elements Speak in Their Own Language
  6. The Text Need Be Neither the Starting Point Nor the Goal of a Production.  There May Be No Text at All.

 

 

 

Information on Rehearsals and Devising Pt. 1

By Patrick Hayes, Dramaturg

Creating a performance from scratch can be a daunting task. Luckily A Wrinkle in Time has a formula for success. AWIT focuses on devised theatre practices to workshop and create the final performance. Unlike stage directions in a script or a director coaching the actors, devised theatre centers on an acting style or technique to help create the final performance. AWIT rehearsals are centered on a model of work shop and rehearsing scenes until the feel, emotion, or context for a given scene is reach. Doing this process insures the integrity of the message the company wants to convey.

Here, in this scene, the actors prepare by warming up.

AWIT Rehearsals - Warm Up

AWIT Rehearsals – Warm Up

A group of Actors rehears scene 1, A Dark and Stormy Night, Meg is in the attic. The weather sounds are created by the company.

2013-04-03 15.43.33Part 2 to come shortly. Stay Tuned!

Reflections

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Theater is a live art. You share an experience physically together in a space with actors, crew, and fellow audience members. Things happen differently as actors attempt to repeat actions and new audiences with diverse experiences come in and receive new things, laugh in different places, and clap (or don’t) where no one has before. That’s what is exciting about theater. You can see the same play performed by the same company over and over, but still you can experience something new.

However, the problem with live art is there always comes a time when it has to die. The curtain falls on the performance and that production with those participants (actors and audience) in that space will never be performed ever again. It’s just gone.

Ali-Social-Worker

Just last week, I was discussing this with our stage manager, Hannah Richardson. Both of us have been a part of this production for almost a year and we were bemoaning the fact that this play that we helped to create, The Cleverest Thief, will probably never be produced again. It was a play written specifically for our audience by our audience. It was what it was. It didn’t try to be anything different. But because it was our stories, it connected more to us. Provoans wanted our stories as Provoans to be told. We filled that void. Would it be as effective in St. George, Seattle, New York, or LA? Probably not. Even performed here Gone Missing (which is set in New York) lost a little of its resonance with our audience.

deaf woman

Thinking about it now, I don’t know if I want it to be produced again. Maybe we take the process more than the production here. Maybe we inspire people to go out and perform and tell their own stories. Maybe it doesn’t have to be performed (in the traditional sense) to keep this particular piece of theater alive.

I guess it’s a little ironic that we are already feeling nostalgic about this show about loss. But as Dr. Palinurus revealed to us in Gone Missing, we enjoy this pain, this nostalgia, this pain in coming home again. There is something that interests us about loss and brings us closer together. We have all lost something. The difference is how we choose to deal with it. Even though we no longer have the production, we will always have the memory. We can always choose to enjoy that.

Thank you to all who came and shared your stories. They live on in our hearts and minds.

Post Show Discussion

by Ariel Mitchell, Dramaturg

After an amazing performance Thursday night, two of our actors gladly welcomed the audience down to ask members of the cast and crew questions about the production and participate in what we call a post show discussion.

As the dramaturg, I helped to mediate as many actors jumped in eagerly to answer questions about making real people into characters that they could perform every night and the process of writing and devising a piece of theater. I think the audience members who stayed appreciated the insight and context that was given by the actors who finally were able to fill in the story behind the stories that were told on stage. The process is almost as interesting as the product!

Gone Missing poster

I’m glad we had a chance (even in a small way) to help contextualize this performance. If you didn’t have a chance to come to the post show discussion I encourage you to read the previous blog posts or comment on this post with any questions you may have and we will be glad to discuss them!

If you have not yet seen the show (or want to see it again), tickets are still being sold online and at the BYU arts ticket office in the HFAC.

2 plays, 1 night

By Ariel Mitchell, Dramaturg

There has been a lot of confusion about what The Cleverest Thief and Selections from Gone Missing is. Throughout this blog, we’ve shared our process and tried to give background about our project. But, I am remiss to say, that maybe after 10+ blog posts, readers are still unsure what this performance is.

I’d like to rectify this.

The Cleverest Thief and Selections from Gone Missing is a BYU main stage production of two plays in one night: Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief.

civilians_gone_missing

Gone Missing is a devised play (see other blog post) created by the Civilians in 2003. The members of the company went out into New York to interview people about things they’ve lost. The company then took these interviews and created monologues and songs to create a play they called Gone Missing.

lost and found orchestra

 

 

The Cleverest Thief is a play created and written by BYU students using interviews of members of our community in Provo. Like Gone Missing, it has great monologues and songs.

So basically The Cleverest Thief and Selections from Gone Missing is a night of one acts. One about loss in Provo, one about loss in New York. Both incredibly enjoyable.

If this sounds interesting to you, tickets are now on sale here:

You won’t be disappointed.

An Actor’s Perspective

by Ali Kinkade, actor and performance writer

When you play around ten characters in a show, it presents a unique acting challenge. In Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief, I play an old Russian woman, a hip social worker with a checkered past, and a BYU student with an affinity for both makeup and histrionics, among other characters.

Ali as the Russian Woman in "Gone Missing."

Ali as the Russian Woman in “Gone Missing.”

Another unique aspect of this show is that oftentimes, since interviews form the text of our show, we interacted with the people we were playing, so instead of working internally, I worked from the outside in. That sounds confusing, so here’s an example: when Michelle Williams played Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, she started with Marilyn’s voice and physicality to capture the essence of such an iconic woman before she did typical “actor homework”– discovering objectives, creating a backstory, etc. When I was creating my character who we affectionately refer to as “Makeup Bag Girl”, I started out with things like the particular way she holds her hands, how she goes up on her toes when she wants to emphasize something, and her sharp, excited voice. Then, I discovered things about her by inhabiting that physicality and voice.

Ali's portrayal of the "Makeup Bag Girl"

Ali’s portrayal of the “Makeup Bag Girl”

When Emily Ackerman, who works with The Civilians in New York, came and did workshops with us, we talked about noting tics, vocal patterns, where they “lead” from when they walk, where they hold tension, and status (how confidently they carry themselves) in addition to the words interviewees were saying, because noticing something that sticks out physically about a person can be a great starting point to create a distinct character. In our character creation, we also came up with a “gestus” for each character (a pose that encapsulates the person). Sometimes–well, let’s be honest, much of the time– we would magnify a particular tic or vocal pattern in order to make a character more identifiable, because we’re trying to capture the feeling of the person, not recreate them exactly how they appeared to us in the laundromat or the street corner. This is also how we (and The Civilians) conducted interviews: we did not record them or write anything down until we were done speaking with them. That way, we remembered the most important words and gestures so we could emphasize them.

Working from the outside in is not typical Stanislavskian acting, but then, this is not a typical play. I’m so excited to be a part of a show that considers the things that can be uniquely accomplished through the medium of live theatre.

Fresh Air

by Ariel Mitchell, Dramaturg

Gone Missing is a non-traditional play. Instead of following a linear structure, where events build on top of each other to a climax, the play has what theater practitioners call a mosaic structure. Like a mosaic creates a picture out of miscellaneous fragments of glass and tile, the play is composed of bits and pieces of stories from lots of different characters. This allows the audience to explore a theme or see all sides of an issue. The problem with this is that sometimes, it is hard to find one story or character to hold on to.

Our Terry (Sarah Porter) and Palinurus (James Lyon) in rehearsal.

Our Terry (Sarah Porter) and Palinurus (James Lyon) in rehearsal.

The way the Civilians accommodated for this in Gone Missing was by creating a backbone, or a fictionalized reoccurring discussion between a radio host and her guest. This radio show is based on the NPR program, “Fresh Air,” hosted by Teri Gross, in which she interviews interesting people about various subjects. This sets up a perfect platform to discuss the thematic issues of loss and tie the somewhat unconnected script together.

Terry’s guest in Gone Missing is named Palinurus, after the helmsman/guide of Aneas’ ship in Virgil’s Aenid. In the Aenid, the gods tell Aneas that Palinurus is the only man who can get them from Troy safely. One night Palinurus falls asleep at the helm and falls into the ocean, paying the vain Neptune’s sacrificial price and ensuring safe passage to Italy. He fulfilled the prophesy, but probably not in the way he was expecting.

An interesting choice of character that plays deeply with the ideas outlined in Gone Missing about loss.

fresh_air_617_347

If you are interested in tuning in to hear the real Terry, “Fresh Air” is broadcast weekdays at 12:00 noon (Eastern Time) and can also be found online at http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/.

People or Projections?

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

“Devised theatre is a personal stretch for me. I didn’t choose my major because I love theatre, necessarily, but I do love the creativity that devising gives to the discipline. Building a play moment by moment is challenging and at times frustrating. The creative process for some people is very individual, but this type of creativity feeds on collaboration. I suppose that is the part I like best is the push towards creative collaboration.” -Chelsey Roberts, costume designer and performance writer

One of the main goals we had for Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief, was to incorporate new media with the traditional in a new way. So obviously costumes can’t just be costumes right?

Chelsey Roberts, our costume designer, decided that a trendy but monochromatic palate would be the way to go for actors who would have to play multiple characters in both New York and Provo. Most of the changes with be accomplished by adding accessories and changing physicality and vocal quality.

Idea for costumes

An idea for what our ensemble might look like (just the girls that is)

Most of our costumes will be pulled (meaning taken from what the costume shop has stored), but there might be a few special pieces created just for our mediated moments.

The cool thing about white jackets or skirts is that they can easily transform into a ready-made projection screen.

Here are some examples of Chelsey’s inspiration…

Projection on people

Projected shawl

projected wedding dress

So if you see a white piece of clothing… chances are it could become something incredible. I’d keep my eye on it. Things aren’t always what they seem.

A Mediated Stage

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

An essential part of The Civilians’ process is the inclusion of media. The Civilians outline their mission as “…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.”  Since we are following their process we are looking for a fun new way to include media into our production as well.

The way we approached the set testifies to how we are striving to incorporate media. Our set designer, Noah Kershisnik, is actually a production designer. We have stolen this title from the world of film where a production designer is responsible for the look of the whole world not just one set. Noah has been working with all of us along the way interviewing and gathering story material as well as coming up with ideas for mediated moments and the physical look of the set. Although previously involved in theatrical productions, this is the first play he has designed. Because our play relies so heavily on media, our director, Prof. Lindsay Adamson Livingston, wanted to bring a person with theatrical as well as cinematic sensibilities to design the show.

The front view of the stage.

The front view of the stage.

The stage will be set up in the Margetts in a proscenium-esque setting. However we will try to avoid the movie theater vibe by having screens on the sides of the theater (above the audience on the left and right) as well as in the front.

The aerial view of the stage.

The aerial view of the stage with the screens.

We also plan to have blocks, a piano, and even people act as projection surfaces.

Set pieces we are using to project on.

Set pieces we are using to project on.


We want to play with media, seeing people interact with the projections and using them to further the story.

 

 

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.