5 Things I've Learned About Staging Devised Theatre

June 21, 2016

We're currently rehearsing GODFACE on the floor for its final season after 2.5 years in hard-core development. The publicity is going out, the emails from supporters and press are coming in, we’ve almost fully blocked the show. Now, if I’m being honest, I’m starting to panic. What if no one shows up? What if the work isn’t funny? What if we (gosh no!) get a bad review?


Now there are some things I need to remind myself of, that I’ve learned through devising and presenting our previous work. Here is a list written for me, while I panic, and also for you as you contemplate staging your own original work or as you work with students in your classes.


So, what should I tell myself in the week before opening night:


1. Be patient: We’ve never had enough time. We’ve worked hard pulling this show together and after 2.5 years of working on it we still feel like we need more. My promise to you is that there is never enough time. So what do I do then? I have to breathe and do what I can. Block the show and detail as best as I can without getting caught up in my need for perfection. Focus on giving the performers the tools they need to own the material and let them fly. The great thing about collaborative work is that it is collaborative so trust your cast and creative team, and breathe.  


2. Be flexible: At this point being flexible is the last thing I want to do, but I stress, be flexible. Actors may be unable to make rehearsals - instead of fuming and venting about it, just do what you can do. Rehearsal space might be double-booked, don’t panic, get creative. There are always solutions, think laterally. Part of the joy of art is problem-solving how to make it happen!


3. Be collaborative: Remember your ensemble. They are just as committed as you are, even the people brought on board for the show only want the best for it (nobody wants to stage a flop). Delegate and collaborate - you are not the only person with answers, it doesn’t all rest on you! 


4. Give space: If you can’t solve something immediately, don’t panic. Return to the idea after giving it some space. Our current show, GODFACE has an insane amount of entrances and exits, the five cast members play close to thirty characters and have to bring an entire city to life. We’ve found a number of scenes where cast members have to exit as one character and enter as another at the same time - impossible. One thing I’ve noticed though, you always find a solution and even if I can’t work it out sitting at my desk, we always find a solution on the floor.


5. Be Light: Have time for a laugh, even if you feel like this is the be all and end all of your creative career (which it definitely is not), keep the atmosphere light. Devised theatre relies on an ensemble’s creative input so create an environment where people feel included. Open up the floor for discussion, be friendly and don’t get angry at your cast (it achieves nothing). Actors are incredible, wonderful, generous people who work stinking hard.


Creating theatre is one of the greatest joys of my life.  I’m never happier than when I’m making new work. I’m sure some of you sympathise. So enjoy it. Enjoy the journey - it’s a big step to move from having great ideas to staging great ideas. You should only be proud of what you’ve created!


 Just a few of our props laid out ready for rehearsal.

Photo by Kathryn Parker. View on Instagram


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