- Why Devise?Why Now? Why Breathe?
This question of "why devise theatre?" is as foreign to me as "why breathe?". Why not? How could I stop? I understand the meaning of "devising" as this odd path of generating ensemble-based, found-object theatre that is entirely visual and not rendered in the traditional manner, with playwright and script. Before I digress into why, I will explain briefly what we do. Lunatique Fantastique is a cutting-edge theatre company that uses the relatively benign form of puppetry to explore controversial subjects, such as clergy sexual abuse, the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, forced relocation of Japanese Americans during WWII, and prejudice against those with physical challenges. The company uses ordinary objects to portray extraordinary events. A dinner napkin deftly manipulated becomes a girl whose pastor steals her innocence and ties her head in a knot to ensure silence. A brace attaches itself to a pair of red children's tennis shoes to show the disfigurement of polio. Two identical children made of toilet paper rolls use their bodies to build a wall dividing their territory while sheets of toilet paper rain down like tear drops. We rarely use language, but depend on the strength of these visceral images to tell the story.
Why Devise? Joy.
For me, the joys of creating theatre come from being in a room with six of the most intensely creative people on the planet at a table littered with evocative objects. Six pairs of hands, six brains, and the stars of the Lunatique Fantastique world, the objects that inspire the stories we tell. If the piece is one of our adult pieces, then there is an additional research phase in which the manipulators will interview people who have experience pertinent to the subject matter, whether it be breast cancer, aging, or polio. This takes the manipulators outside their circle of friends into the broader community, fostering a sense of global and local awareness. They then bring their reflections on the subject to the table. We begin with a theme, and we play with the objects, exploring how they move and the gestures that are inherent in them. As the manipulators then each lobby their ideas for moving the story forward, chaos ensues. We try every idea; usually one idea leads to another, which leads to another, which finally leads to something quite brilliant that now is owned by everyone. This delicious anonymity in the process is reflected in performance as well. Since the manipulators are hooded and clad entirely in black, the audience [End Page 127] does not know who is animating what, be it head, arm, or feet. The characters must move as a unit and/or the image the actors create must communicate meaning. This process becomes about the story and the objects, not about ego or script.
The process is usually accompanied by much laughter. Unlike actors, the objects do not take themselves seriously and have no attachment to whether or not they are mentioned in reviews, in press releases, or on national TV. By its very nature, ensemble theatre attracts actors who are humble and hunger to create something larger than themselves. By using inert objects we force the animators to create theatre that is about action. Objects don't think very well, they are not great psychological actors. A shoe that is thinking on stage looks like, well, a shoe. Objects are beings of action. A shoe in movement can be a child with polio, a butterfly, or a symbol of a girl's transition to adulthood. At last night's rehearsal I realized that we are opening in London with . . . leeks. How serious can that be?
So for me the joy is tremendous, and that is why I devise theatre.
Why Devise Now?
Why not now? Yes, the world is a mess, and one could argue that there is an immediate need in the world for "devised" theatre, but when has that not been true? The burning question for me is not "Why now?," but "Why not now?". The world hungers for original, immediate, emerging work that is fresh and vibrant. And to paraphrase the sculptor Henry...