We recently performed our latest devised piece – Eddies – at the Courtyard Theatre.
This project was a bit of a punt for the company, as it was the first time we made the decision to allow a paying ticketed audience to come and see a devised piece, but the decision was, I think, a good one. It turned out to be a real success!
What is the process of a devised piece?
The devised piece is the second project that students on the Scaffold State Training Company Program undertake. It takes some of the skills they’ve picked up from the introductory course and, while still utilising the ideas of play and discovery, develops them into working practices.
For the first session of the project, I normally bring in, as the course leader, some form of stimulus – some music; a story; an object; a picture; an idea. This initial stimulus has changed each time, but for Eddies it was a series of photographs of people in different and somewhat extraordinary images (see gallery below). Students were then asked: who were the people in these pictures? Who was taking the photograph? What was the circumstance of the photograph? What did the images make you think about beyond the realm of the photo? If there were character related to the world of these images that you felt you could embody, who would they be? Is there a piece of music that you relate to the image? Each student would pick a particular image of their choice, and their responses were extremely interesting.
I also asked them to respond personally to the phrase “what I see when I look in the mirror”. I noted all their responses and tried to boil them down into potential characters that each student might want to play. By basing it on their ideas, they had definite ownership of the people they were going to embody. In parallel to this, they were all using physical and emotional games and exercises to build a stylistic language for the piece.
The difficulty with the devised piece to some extent is that you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be doing or saying until halfway through the process – but the magic is that you have all looked at the material more broadly before the final text lands in your lap. In this way you all have much more ownership of the story, the world and the words.
Bringing the story together
Once the ideas of the world and the characters in it began to solidify, I was able to pull them together with a sense of narrative. The story slowly started to became clear and we then started to experiment with scene improvisation and hitting on different events necessary to tell the story, most of which were filmed. Much of this improvisation work made it in to the final piece in some version or other.
Once we’d covered most of this ground, I took away all the videos, transcribed them, and editing them into the final script of Eddies – only adding a couple of scenes from scratch.
The students received their final script about 8 weeks before the show, and the process then became about rehearsing it all as best we could.
Rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals…
Rehearsals were busy, but went well and we reached our performance dates feeling pretty well prepared to share the process with the audience. It was all a bit nerve wracking, as we had a number of technical issues to overcome, but the group did a great job, coming together as a company to support each other, and with great clarity concerning the story they were telling.
Eddies resulted in being a moving family melodrama, moving backwards and forwards in time, and dealing with issues of identity and personal choice. The audience really enjoyed it, which is great testament to the work the whole group put into the project! Well done!
Most of the company will now be going on to rehearse their first scripted piece. The process will differ here as they will have their roles from the start of the process, and so the job will be much more around assuming ownership of a product that is not yours to begin with, and still doing the piece justice in terms of storytelling.
They will begin to rehearse this piece in September and will hopefully be able to perform it before Christmas. Details will follow so watch this space!
The next devised piece to be undertaken will be the work of our most recent company to have finished their introductory course – who knows what this will yet be? Not knowing is part of the excitement! We are also intending to make this a ticketed performance so please keep your eyes peeled for more information!