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Theatre Topics 15.1 (2005) 87-90

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Why Devise? Why Now?

Twelve Thoughts on Devising with Undergraduates

Six Premises to Be Pursued:

  1. Theatre is an art.
    Close attention to this statement reveals that it is a considerably more radical notion than it may seem at the onset. It is also a useful statement in that much of the work that is done under the rubric of theatre is not artistic in essence. Much of what follows is already contained in this point.
  2. The desired end result of any theatrical activity/project is a work of art.
    Sometimes this result is not attained during the actual period of the activity/project.
  3. Art is distinct from entertainment.
    Very simply, the distinction can be boiled down to: Art questions assumptions and the status quo. Entertainment confirms existing attitudes and assumptions. Despite this distinction, entertainment can contain artistic attributes and art can be entertaining.
  4. The people who do the primary work in theatre are artists.
    It can be further argued that the theatre is a context for the art of acting. This is not to say that the nonactor artists concerned with the theatre are not doing artistic work. But that work is in support of the art of the actor. There are no forms of theatre on the planet in any point of history that do not have actors. This cannot be said of any other artist in the theatre.
  5. The nature of work in art is that the artist is subject to her art. Artists serve their work, not the other way around.
    Art in any form requires hard work, dedication, personal sacrifice, and discipline. It is an honor to be an artist—an honor which must be earned, over and over again. Much time is spent in the throes of despair and disappointment. The immense rewards of being an artist are eked out of what is often a daily slog through tough terrain. As Beverly Sills said, "There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going." Sometimes it comes easy. Many times it is difficult. The artist is the person who does it regardless. [End Page 87]
  6. The actor is a critical creative constituent within the process of creat- ing a work of theatre.
    No matter how small the role or inexperienced the actor, everything that an actor does is a creative contribution to the process. The question is whether or not that contribution is valuable or valued. In this regard, it is the director's job to exercise discretion as to how value is assessed and expressed. It is the actor's responsibility to ensure the value of the contribution.

Six Assumptions to Be Dispelled:

  1. The director knows the correct answers.
    The role of the director in the process of creating a play is complicated. The tradition of the auteur director has created the image of the director as a visionary with strong, specific opinions and total control over the process. There are many examples of this approach working exceptionally well, resulting in significant works of art. However, it inclines the director toward an autocratic/totalitarian relationship with the other participants in the collaboration. It creates an atmosphere based on a vertical hierarchy, which can be disempowering to some parties, particularly actors. It is difficult to think of a reason for working in educational theatre that is more important than the empowering of young actors.
  2. Theatre doesn't have direct connections to current culture.
    This, like many things, can potentially run into individual aesthetics. However, no matter what the artistic choices being made in the production, their relevance to and dialogue with contemporary culture must always be at the fore. To paraphrase Stanislavski, the theatre artist must be the ultimate person of his time.

    All theatre happens here and now. In the performance space, in the present. All plays are set, first, in the present, where they are being performed. Then we can choose to use our craft to move them to another time, another place. The firmer our grasp on the here and now, the more assuredly we...


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