- Collective Creation, Collaboration and Devising
Collective Creation, Collaboration and Devising, edited by Bruce Barton, is volume 12 in the series Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English, directed at what series editor Ric Knowles states as 'making the best critical and scholarly work in the field readily available to teachers, students and scholars of Canadian drama and theatre.' To that end Barton has collected twenty-three articles that contribute to an understanding of the practice of devised theatre. This collection is particularly significant given the fact that collaboratively conceived and devised performance work in English Canada has not received the critical attention deserving of such an important development. This anthology offers a [End Page 529] selection of articles that provides the reader with a sense of the diversity of the work that has emerged over the past four decades.
In 1994 Alison Oddey published Devising Theatre: A Practical and Theoretical Handbook, a seminal attempt to identify and illustrate the breadth of devised theatre practice in Britain. In doing so, Oddey addressed a simple and direct truth: each devised performance was a tangible expression of the collaborators' fragmentary experiences of understanding themselves, their culture, and the world they inhabited. In this revelation, she illustrated the very personal nature of the creative process and thus the importance of making that process accessible/ visible for the spectator in the performance. In his introduction, Barton distills Oddey's identification of collaboration as 'the processual framework' governing devising with the following equation: 'collective = shared purpose and motivation, ideology; collaboration = self-imposed framework and structure, context; devising = adopted strategies and rules, process.' This equation provides the reader with a frame of reference with which to examine the collection of articles.
The articles, arranged chronologically, represent a wide spectrum of both scholarly and practical interaction with collectively generated, collaborative, and devised theatre practice. Most of the articles have previously appeared in print and are either full or excerpted versions of the original material. The collection also includes four recent (2008) and previously unpublished articles. As might be expected, there are no definitive statements that speak to the whole. What exists is a mosaic that in its entirety provides a larger picture of the development of this stream of theatre-making in English Canada. What can be identified in all articles is the creator/performer's need to generate authentic and affecting experiences for the spectator.
The collection begins with a series of well-known articles and excerpts from larger works written between 1982 and 1992, by Diane Bessai, Chris Brookes, Alan Filewod, Robert C. Nunn, Renate Usmiani, and Robert Wallace, that refer predominantly to 'the creative treatment of actuality' and other developments in collective creation occurring in the 1960s and 1970s. This grouping of articles represents a summary of early collaborative endeavours in English-Canadian theatre. The remainder of the collection serves a wide range of perspectives and issues from an even broader range of practice that includes writers (Plowman), dramaturges (Barton, Brask), directors (Bettis, Scott, McLean, Nolan), facilitators (Gallagher, Salverson), scholars (Knowles, Hurley, Little, Olaogun, Wasserman), performer/creators (Mojica, Wells), and participant/scholars (Freeman). A number of the contributors function in a range of roles in their professional lives but take on a singular perspective in relation to the content they discuss. The articles focus on particular aspects of collaborative performance creation in specific situations and include the creation of popular and applied theatre projects. [End Page 530]
Barton's choice to set the entire collection in a chronological frame, rather than grouping the articles according to content, allows the reader to experience the sometimes seamless, sometimes abrupt shifts in content and focus that occur in the overall advancement of the art form over time. The diversity of perspective, structure, and tone of the observations is a major strength of the collection as a whole. It illustrates the fact that devised and collectively generated theatre continues to resist the containment of definition and homogenous analysis.
While the anthology makes an important contribution to the study of collaborative theatre in English Canada, there are significant omissions in...