3 thoughts on “Origins: A student-generated, devised performance about who we are and where we came from…

  1. Devised Theatre: An Experiential Re-centering of our Creative Abilities

    As I paced across the stage in rehearsal and read the line for the first time “In 1943, one of the bombs exploded,” I was brought to the moment that my grandfather faced the death of his friends, the moment that would haunt his mind with PTSD for the rest of his life. In that moment I was transported to a traumatic event that happened more than 70 years ago and I could feel the spirirt of a man I never met. And in that moment I realized that my classmates and I were creating something very powerful, not only for the audience but for our own transformation.

    Coming into this class I would have said ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body’ and some of my classmates would have nodded along with me. Of course that is not true for any of us. The experiential education model of this devised theatre class works to undo what many traditional classes and parts of society have done to our imaginations. When essays and powerpoints make up a bulk of our avenues for creative expression, and we are told that we do not have time for fine arts in our schedules, our creative muscles erode. The Origins project encouraged us to release our inhibitions that surrounded our self-consciousness on stage.

    In-class exercises forced us to improv physical manifestations of our family stories, breaking down awkward physical barriers. As well, Janna Goodwin gave us sentence starter prompts among other catalysts to help us reflect on our family and how we see ourselves within its historical context. Working with our family artifacts (photos, objects, documents, etc.) in class allowed us to learn about the stories of our classmates’ families, ask questions to spark new inquiry, and collaborate on pulling out the most special moments to recreate on stage. This process gave me some stories I will forever cherish, and instilled in me the idea that storytelling is transformative and necessary.

    Altogether I learned very valuable skills in this course for working out the creative muscles that we all have and teasing out the storytelling potential that we all have within us. The process was a joy to share with the audience in the final product of Origins. That performance epitomized the cyclical nature of devised theatre, inspiring more stories from family members and students who came to see the show. Everyone who touches this powerful method of storytelling seems to be touched by it as well. Since going through this process I have shared reflections with many, and talked with a few about how devised theatre might be effective for building trust and relationships in an office setting as well as a classroom. Without a doubt, this process has been incredibly beneficial to my academics as an alternative instructional method that in my opinion allows for much more growth than a traditional classroom. Through devised theatre we have come away with creative, organic, challenging, collaborative, and transformative experiences that we will not forget.

  2. As someone who would probably be considered a bit of a jock in high school the world of theater is something I have never been exposed to. Prior to this class I had no idea what to expect. The only form of theater I have ever been around are Broadway plays. So my initial impression was that we would be studying Broadway plays and everything that goes into the Broadway process. On the first day of class I realized that were would be exploring a different type of theater.

    Early in the semester I decided it would be wise to familiarize myself with devised theater so I began to read the text. I was inspired by the theater companies we read about because of their creative process to develop performances with limited resources. Our class was in the same situation during our process because we didn’t have a large budget so we had to work with what we had, which wasn’t much. Looking back on it I think it’s pretty awesome that we were able to develop a powerful performance with no costumes, props or high tech lighting systems that most plays would use.

    To develop our performance we dug deep into stories of our ancestors in order to generate material. This part was challenging for me because my mother and father know absolutely nothing about their ancestors. So I decided to focus on the stories of aunts, uncles and grandparents that were important people in my parent’s lives. These were also people whom I did not know very well during my lifetime because they passed away when I was very young. Through this process I was able to learn some pretty fascinating things about my great uncle and great grandfather. The stories I had about them were inspiring and made this project fun and exciting. Without this class I would never have thought to explore the lives people like Pop and my great uncle Jim. This process of devising our performance opened up a whole new world to me that has forced me to want to know more about my ancestors and cousins I never met. It is because of this class and the devising process that I now have a high level of curiosity about my ancestors and their stories.

    One really important thing I learned from taking this course is that theater doesn’t have to be singing and dancing with high tech lighting, music and fancy costumes. Devised theater is a gateway to exploring our level of creativity. We started this class with absolutely no material or knowledge of how the process works but in the end we came out with a performance that allowed us to explore our family’s past. As a business major I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn about influential people in my family since that’s not something you would typically do in a business course. I’m thankful for this class and what I got out of it even though I’m not the most talented actor on stage. Our performance and my positive experience of exploring my ancestors is an example of how devised theater can be highly beneficial to our lives.

    • “Theatre major” would probably look very different in higher education if this view of theatre were incorporated into notions of theatre as a high art form and as mass entertainment. Our piece kept all participants entertained even as the performers conducted family research, doubted the process, plugged on, and trusted the facilitators; it also kept the audience entertained, even while moving them and, in some cases, evoking powerful memories for some.

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