- Moment Work: An Interview with Tectonic Theater Project
Tectonic Theater Project teaches a devising method its calls “Moment Work.” Theatre Topics coeditor Lisa S. Brenner sat down with artistic director Moisés Kaufman and company member Barbara Pitts to discuss the Moment Work process and their upcoming book to be published by Random House.
In a special issue on Devised Theatre in The Dramatists in 2015, you said the term devised is not yet fully defined, or at least not in a way that precisely describes what it is; rather, it’s most often defined in opposition to more traditional ways of making plays. Do you still feel that way? Do you think devising is a useful term for this kind of work?
I do. I think that what is required is a more rigorous definition. I’m really excited because devised performance is happening all over the country. Every major university and many high schools are beginning to do devised work. But in my mind, we need clearer definitions. When we teach Moment Work, we strive to have very clear definitions—devising profits from being clearly defined.
To me, devising is about creating theatrical narratives, starting from the elements of the stage. When I speak of Moment Work, I often say that it’s “writing performance as opposed to writing text.” And that’s a very helpful definition for us. So how can we define devising?
Currently, the most widely used model in the creation of new plays is the idea that a playwright goes into a room, writes a play, comes out, and gives it to a director; the director then goes into another room and stages the play. I don’t think that anyone is saying that that is a bad model—it’s obviously produced some very fine work. But it’s bad when that’s the only model in existence. There will always be playwrights who want to go into a room and create a play and come out and give it to a director. And I have directed many of those plays. And there’s great beauty that has been made that way.
But I think that the reason why we’re in such a thrilling moment in American theatrical history is because we’re pushing the boundaries of how the work is made. And devised theatre really addresses that idea that there are many ways of creating plays. And also the question of how we allow all the people who are collaborating in the creation of the work to participate in the creation of the narrative of the work.
So for Tectonic Theater Project, we have spent the last twenty-five years asking that question: What is theatrical? How do we create theatrical narratives, stories for the stage, and how do we tell stories onstage?
I’m working with Eastern Connecticut State to devise a play that’s not going have text. It’s a dance theatre piece based on interviews with people in the community. It’s called Thread, and it’s about their community’s industry of making fabric. So, partly they want it to be a movement piece because they want to engage their Hispanic community, and they wanted a form in which everyone could fully participate in the project [beyond language]. It’s going to be images, objects, movement, lighting, and figuring out how to tell the story of this community without ever moving to text. And Moment Work can do that. [End Page 239]
So does devising in general, Moment Work specifically—is it usually connected to some kind of a source material?
No, I think that you can begin to create a piece based entirely on a fictional idea. One of the things that most devised work has in common is a real desire to find innovative ways of having text in the performance, and finding innovative ways in which that text is either created or come upon. So I think that, in trying to define what is devising and...