Let me first say, that there are innumerable qualities and events of my life that could factor into my personal context; there are, however, only a few truly noteworthy elements that I consider when trying to identify what exactly my personal context is. Those elements are the ones which I believe stand out the most or have had the greatest influence on my perception of the world.
First, the groundwork for my personal context is what I would characterize as my outlook on social and cultural issues. I would say that I my general view of the social atmosphere in which I have been raised is critical of fundamental flaws which I see frequently—and also idealistically hopeful for an improved future. Therefore, I would envision my ideal future self as an agent of social change.
The specific events which I would say have given birth to my cynicism are generally very recent ones. Particularly, I would note the national political atmosphere which has transformed in the past two years.
Aside from my consideration of political conditions, I suppose that certain factors in my upbringing have also shaped me. I have been raised in a demographically white, liberal, middle-class situation with only an awareness of most of the world (as opposed to experience).
These elements lister here are those which I find to be the most important to my personal context; although, I suspect that I may have a different perspective on any part of my context in the near future, because I find my view of myself to be in constant fluctuation.
January 19, 2018
January 25, 2018
This article by Vanessa Garcia, “The Paradox of Devised Theater on the Twenty-First Century Stage,” attempts to familiarize the reader with the process of devising theatre, while also trying to convey the significance of the process with regard to its effect on mainstream art. The article only spends a few sentences describing devising theatre—which becomes a massive impediment later into the writing when it attempts to critically analyze devising based on that definition. The summarized version of what is written in the article is ‘devising is just like conventional theatre but where the process doesn’t start with a script.’ In my opinion, this is an oversimplification of the process and detracts from the bulk of the article which relies heavily on the reader’s understanding of devising.
The article spends a very long time describing a specific novel, Goon Squad, from which the author has obviously drawn a lot of ideas. The premise of this section is to illustrate how mainstream culture is obsessed with surface. Surface, in this context (although it is undefined) seems to have two unrelated meanings.
One, is the constant public nature of “life in the internet age” where everything is on the surface, visible to others, “for good or for bad.” The other, is physical surfaces—the example she gives is laptops (whose surfaces are getting progressively smaller and therefore are becoming less desirable to the surface-crazed audience).
Garcia claims that devised theatre offers an escape and also an entry to both of these surfaces—and what she means by that it is entirely beyond me. It’s this sort of illogical thought and lack of continuity that I believe can often emerge in the devising process. In my opinion, this author published the unrefined ideas of her devising group that was understood abstractly by them, and assumed it would be similarly communicable to others. In devising, I believe it is important to be able to hash out one’s ideas enough to represent them to an outsider. This is a perfect example of what I would like to avoid, and I expect to come back to this article during the devising process.
In approaching a collaborative project, I find that the element which I find the most important to start with is a sense of direction. In the collaborative theatre project, we form agreements and containers, but it is more of a process to determine what we want to actually create. In projects that are so open-ended, I usually begin by proposing three or so possible ideas that the we might choose from. An example that comes to mind was a small, self-designed biology experiment that involved creating an experiment as a group. The first thing that we did was quickly propose a few possible ideas and then choose one to flesh out in detail. I greatly enjoy this process of beginning a project because I find it gives a guiding sense of purpose and direction.
Another element of group work that I find important and recurring in my experience is the forced egalitarianism that I think is necessary for any true group work. More often than not, I find that groups are divided between extremely vocal members and extremely quiet members. In a project such as the short devising piece that I was part of creating in a theatre elective last year, I found it was extremely important to consciously balance the input of group members by gently suggesting that people either listen or express themselves at specific times.
The equality of devising theatre is one of my favorite parts about it and I think it is exemplified excellently by Double-Edge Theatre Company. Double-Edge is built on the premise of giving equal voice to all participants and creating a sense of community and trust, which I think is paramount to functional and outstanding devising theatre,
Another interesting theatre company that I would like to draw from is Paper Birds. Their company’s focus is more on the content than the process, they exclusively devise pieces that are relevant to timely social issues, such as alcoholism or drug use. I think it would add a dimension of sincerity and purpose to our wok if we could similarly include such a layer of meaning.
January 31, 2018
February 2, 2018
Our group was able to reach a common set of agreements very easily. That is not to say that we did not put thought and sincerity into the agreements, so much as it is to indicate that we all approached the agreement process with equally open minds and sought the same basic agreements. Most of our time was discussing what we wanted to express in our agreements based off of other agreements that we had found. Oftentimes, we would consolidate multiple agreements into one; this was a method of ensuring that everyone’s input would be included and seen in the agreements.
We began by looking at examples of agreements from other devising companies so that we would have a good idea of what professional agreements look like. One idea that we took and modified from another company was "try to not say “no” for at least five minutes after an idea has been stated."Another agreement we set in place pertains to ensuring equal and fair involvement, so that participation is even across the board and no one falls out of the process or assumes control. According to the seniors involved in the process last year, this had been a problem in previous years, one which we hope to avoid. Another important agreement we decided upon was "to advocate both for ourselves and others whenever possible." Hopefully, this agreement will encourage awareness of our surroundings, and we will be able to better function as a group because of it. These agreements are the foundation of our piece and our dependency on them is paramount; which is why I am so impressed and reassured with what we have been able to decide upon collectively--I believe this the foundation for excellent group work.
February 2, 2018
February 2, 2018
The objects which we brought to share with one another were diverse. There were a few common themes that could be traced amongst two or three people, but we came to no conclusive results. However, we did have interesting conversation around the objects which were brought, particularly those pertaining to either childhood or monsters. Oddly, I found this was remarkably similar to the last time I did this same devising exercise. The previous time through, the common themes that we found were childhood and fear, almost the exact same ones as this time. However, the two differed greatly in where the conversation led, the last time leading more into events and situations that helped to dispel fear, while this most recents one gave way to a conversation about monsters and what fears they inspire.
I thought that the first few ideas that arose from these objects were interesting and I expect that something more will come in our next conversation, either new or refined ideas.
To begin with, half of our devising group was missing today; this made getting started exceptionally difficult and I am now able to fully appreciate why attendance is so important. Despite our group’s absences, we were able to propose some ideas and themes which we were intrigued by for the project. Chief among them, we found common themes of friendship and travel. From those themes, we proposed a number of possible stories we could tell and social issues we could explore. We eventually came up with one that we felt very passionately about, and thought had a lot of potential. We want to explore a story somewhat reminiscent of the Breakfast Club, in which an unlikely group of teenagers are thrust into an undesirable situation and eventually forge personal connections. The social theme that we wanted to include, which arose in the process on its own, is the issue of refugees and the process of escaping tumultuous social/political/religious conditions.
February 2, 2018
February 12, 2018
This week in the collaborative theatre project, our group made rapid progress in determining what we think is the future of our collaborative piece. For the first time, this week, the entirety of our group was present—thus, we were able to engage in full group discussion and brainstorming; the result of which was a clear and common idea for our piece. Currently, we intend to explore the relationships of fleeing refugees, through the portrayal of children somewhat reminiscent of ourselves. One of the focal points of the idea we are exploring is a car trip; which we implemented as a way to keep all of our characters together in a confined space, while also providing means of escape for our refugee aspect. In order to create and/or understand the dynamic of our characters in the car, we tried several improvisational exercises; the most successful of which was an improvised driving exercise where we not only found interesting relationship tools for the car, but also began finding some of our characters.
From the progress made this week, I believe that the nature in which we are approaching this piece can be summed up in the description of three essential facets: plot line, character, and energy. First of all, our group spent the majority of Monday laying out the general plot line we wanted to follow. The plot consists of several fragmented scenes that we intend to tie together into one but have compartmentalized for was of access to each individually; however, within these scenes, almost no details have been charted or made permanent—thus, that should be out next course of action. The other element which we have been focusing on is the individual characters of the story. This performance is very, very character-centric—in that they, and their unique, precisely designed personalities drive the entire story. In this category, there was less progress this week but still some. The final issue which we encountered (but did not confront) this week was the general energy of the actors. I find that energy levels are way, way further down than where they should be—to the extent that some of our most vibrant characters even seem morose and half-awake. We have not yet addressed this problem, and I have only truly realized it now, upon reflecting on this week. I intend to bring it to the group’s attention and hopefully we can confront it this coming week.
March 5, 2018
March 9, 2018
This week was largely devoted to the energy and structure of our piece. As mentioned previously, I thought that our group was lacking energy in our execution of the piece. The best way to remedy this, we thought, was to clean up and reorganize the structure of the piece itself. Often, we would attempt to run through a scene we had previously worked on and we would find awkward snags and illogical dialogue that prevented the scene from flowing well or making sense; this is what was inhibiting our energy (in my opinion). Therefore the decision to return to the structure and interrogate it as fully as we could was, I think, a very wise one. We spent about two-thirds of our class time this week working solely on the structure and we made a lot of progress in cleaning it up. Hopefully, when we return next week we will be able to use what we improved with the writing to boost the acting energy. However, we did not finish writing the structure of the script and some pieces near the end are still missing. We have not yet tied up the piece and determined where or exactly how it will end but we do all have a common general idea which should be able to help us.
We also spent some time this week working on the finer details a few flushed-out scenes. We were able to make good progress—largely thanks to the structural reorganization mentioned earlier. Hopefully we will be able to continue on with that next week as we do the same with the rest of the scenes.
This week, our group was able to take advantage of having a rough script for the first time. We were able to run through the entire piece with minimal stopping and it greatly helped with the flow of the piece—having given us a better sense of direction. One problem we did face, however, was the unnatural stiltedness of the dialogue that came from the script being written by four or five people simultaneously. The process of writing the script was not a clean one, probably because of the time pressure that many of us felt, and the current product is something a bare skeleton of awkward conversation. To remedy this, we attempted a run-through of the pine in which we filled awkward spaces or jumps with relevant filler dialogue—and that was a great solution. We still have quite a bit of work left to do on the piece; we still have yet to explore the lighting or sound systems in the performance space and we do not yet have solid set pieces or props. The majority of our next week will be spent on nailing down those elements of the piece and also on further refining the interaction of characters and their dialogue with one another.
March 19, 2018
March 24, 2018
This week, our group made the most important advances of the entire process. We were able to work for one day in the space which we will actually be performing in—and we were able to experiment with the lighting system there; an experience that greatly altered the feel of our piece and made it seem more professional in juxtaposition with all of our other run-throughs. We also presented our piece before a small trial audience; who gave us notes, feedback, and general good feelings about out piece. Prior to this week, I, and at least one other group member, were feeling hesitant about the quality of the piece as a whole—and this experience of performing before an audience and receiving good reception was surely heartening to us.
The last day this week, we also made significant changes to the composition of the script—going so far as to cut out one of our four scenes entirely. I made the suggestion that we remove what was being called “the gas station scene” because it was infringing severely on our time limit and did nothing—so far as I could tell—to contribute anything to the story or development of characters. We replaced the scene with a much shorter, continuation of the first scene that clarified some of the audience questions we received about the exposition. The changes and progress we made this week were surely invaluable and this week was almost definitely one of the most productive we’ve had in a while.
The feedback which we received from our teacher today was helpful to our group’s collective understanding of the piece, and also troubling because it gave insight into how little we actually knew about our intention and purpose. On the one hand, it was reassuring to know that the basic premises of our piece were understood and conveyed to a preliminary audience with no prior knowledge, but it was also a scary experience to realize that none of knew exactly what we intended with the piece or didn’t quite agree with one another. Ultimately, I determined that my intention with the piece—and what I had presumed to be everyone else’s—was a desire to express how pressed circumstances could generate unlikely relationships among otherwise estranged people. Other people in our group seemed to agree with this, and thanks to the prompting of our teacher, we were able to agree on this as our general intention. Were we to redo this experience, I think we would all be more cautious to check regularly with one another on what our intentions were.