- Collective Creation, Collaboration and Devising. Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English (Vol. 12)
Collective Creation, Collaboration and Devising is enjoyable for the compelling and inspiring writing of some of its contributors and is useful in the range of papers, which are both reprints and newly commissioned articles written by artists and scholars since 1982. It is a much-needed compilation about Canadian theatre created by groups of artists involved in myriad processes that, predictably, make the definition of this genre rather elusive. Editor Bruce Barton transparently notes this very dilemma:
Bringing together a fully satisfying collection of essays on such a broad and diverse combination of subject matter as collective creation, collaboration and devising is, of course, an impossibility—albeit a very seductive one. The first obstacle—the all too common conflation of collective creation, on the one hand, and devising, on the other—only momentarily distracts from the insurmountable challenge of effectively representing collaboration in relation to what is ostensibly the most collaborative of all cultural activities.(viii)
Nevertheless, the papers in this collection do add up to a vital, if not exhaustive, understanding of theatre created as an alternative to—and this is but one way of describing the genre—the conventional one-author play as a starting point for performance. And while my enthusiastic reception of specific papers cannot be fully expressed in this brief review, I will highlight some trends and specificities that, in undisguised academic cheerleading, will encourage the reading of one, some, or all of the essays.
A significant portion of the papers provides a developmental analysis and can be grouped into three [End Page 97] categories: first, those papers, written by Alan Filewod, Robert Nunn, Renate Usmiani, and Diane Besai, that critically address the fundamental role of Theatre Passe Muraille’s The Farm Show and Twenty-Fifth Street House’s Paper Wheat; second, the texts on devising theatre based on Grotowski and Barba, and focused on the human body in performance, as found in Per Brask’s paper on Primus, Barton’s on Number Eleven, and McLean and Plowman on Zuppa Circus; and third, those that trace regional trends in the Maritimes (Ric Knowles’s account of Nova Scotia’s Mulgrave Road Co-op, and Chris Brookes’s journal of collective creation in Buchan, Newfoundland), Quebec (Robert Wallace on Québécois theatre’s rejection of the authority of literature in favour of performance as the governing impulse, and Erin Hurley on Carbon 14’s écriture scénique dramaturgy) and Vancouver (Jerry Wasserman’s overview of site-specific theatre).
Then there are the candid first-person journals of collective creation or devising processes that pinpoint passionately and humourously the many leaps forward and snags (sometimes occurring within a day’s rehearsal) of creating theatre with a group. Brookes’s story of the Mummers Troupe labour-funded mining play, Company Town, includes a week-by-week journal of documentary play-making from scratch, the phases of creation entitled, “First Impressions,” “Up to the Elbows in Research,” “Up to the Armpits in Research,” “Lost in the Woods,” and “The Home Stretch”; final script excerpts accompany the reflections. Monique Mojica’s contribution has precious rehearsal notes, writing exercises, poetry, and script of different stages of Princess Pocahontas and the Blue Spots, The Scrubbing Project, and Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way. The intimate musings about theatre creation Ker Wells made while he built a fence—without mechanical assistance—on his family’s PEI farm connects physical labour to the work of the artist: “I start digging and my thoughts turn to presence and action. I use these terms a great deal when I am teaching and directing …” (212). Wells’s text also beautifully complements the papers by Brask and Barton by detailing Wells’s journey from Primus to Number Eleven to solo devising.
Two other papers that emphasize process by charting the development of individual scenes are the co-authored testimonial about Zuppa Circus’s Radium City by director Alex McLean and playwright...