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 spirit 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.

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