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:

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. 🙂


On the Trail with Sleepy Hollow

by Janine Sobeck, BYU Dramaturgy Specialist

Every semester the TYA production tours to schools in Utah, Salt Lake and Nebo counties.  The BYU students dedicate their Tuesdays and Thursdays to the show in order  to travel to the various schools, performing and offering different workshops.

In the middle of the semester, they add to their crazy touring schedule with a two week run on the BYU campus.  Traveling around Utah by day and in the BYU theatre at night, this is a time where the lives of the actors seem to be consumed by the show in an incredible and amazing way.  This period of immersion also gives a great testament as to how the production, which has been carefully crafted for the young, school-level audiences, has the ability to delight the families, college students and others who see it during the BYU run.

For The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, it is that special time of the semester.  The company has spent the last week and a half performing in BYU’s Margetts theatre, bringing this spooky tale to campus right in time for Halloween.  The audiences have been a great mix of young and old, with all groups getting pulled in by the interactive nature of the show.  When I personally saw the show, I saw everyone from little kids, to parents, to students, to our older generation stand up and dance, sing and ride the occasional “horse.”  I made a window with the little girl across the aisle, created a “river” with the the students sitting across the stage, and held a “baby” when the actors were called elsewhere. It was a great reminder of how much FUN theatre that is heavy on imagination can be.

There’s only a few days left in the BYU run, but The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will continue its traveling production through the beginning of December.

Ready, Set, Devise!

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

How do you start rehearsing on a play without a script?

Selections from Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief opens this February in the Margetts theatre at BYU and although we’ve started rehearsals, we don’t yet have a script. Instead we are creating a story through a process called devising.

Gone Missing is a devised piece created by The Civilians, a New York based theatre troupe. Inspired by the attacks on 9/11, they wanted to create a story about loss and losing things. They went around their city (Manhattan) and asked whomever they could find, “What is an object you have lost?” They collected the stories, formed them into monologues, created characters and put them together into a larger piece of theatre full of song, film, and interesting anecdotes that bring new meaning into the idea of “loss.” Inspired by this piece our director, Professor Lindsay Adamson Livingston, decided that we should try this in our own community of Provo, UT.

Production photo from The Civillian’s “Gone Missing”

Recently, we were privileged to work with a representative from The Civilians, Emily Ackerman. She sent us out into Provo to interview people. We took the stories we found and presented them in our daily workshops. When we found stories we liked we matched them with stories of similar themes or characters to create a moment. As we continue, we will choose which moments will make it into the show, slowly piecing together our story.

We are aiming to have a first draft of the script in mid-October. But until then we get to go out and collect stories.

So… what’s an object you’ve lost?

The Man Behind the Legend: Washington Irving

by Megan Chase, dramaturg

As mentioned in a previous post, our production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is based on a short story of the same name written by the late 18th Century American author, Washington Irving. (The short story is now in public domain and may be read online here.)

Born April 3, 1738 in the newly created United States of America, Irving was named after its first president, George Washington. His name proved to highly appropriate. Just as George Washington was a Founding Father of the country, Irving was a Founding Father of American literature.

Irving was the youngest of eleven children born to William Irving and Sarah Sanders. His father was successful merchant and his mother was the daughter of an English clergyman. Often ill as a child, Irving was encouraged by his parents to spend time outdoors, in the fresh air. In this pursuit, he developed an active imagination wandering the beautiful New England countryside. He “knew every spot where a . . . robbery had been committed, or a ghost seen”. His predilection for the strange and supernatural was further fomented by the rich folklore of the region passed down by early Dutch settlers.

However, Irving first gained predominance for his satirical and humorous writings. The History of New York (1809)written under the comical pseudonym Dietrich Knickerbocker—established Irving’s popularity in the both the U.S. and abroad. His warm, witty, conversational tone found wide appeal.

In addition, Irving also dabbled in nonfiction. During his time in Europe serving as a U.S. diplomat in Spain and England, he wrote several histories–including one about Christopher Columbus. Later, after he returned home to New York, the last book he completed was a biography of his namesake.

Ultimately, Washington Irving profoundly influenced the cultural landscape of the day and remains an important figure in American literary history. We are pleased to bring his famous tale to the BYU stage.