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The Delicious Danger of Devising
June 18, 2017

Devising develops plays. Devising develops artists. In addition, this process of generating material through improvisation enticingly offers insight into people and places even as the experience encourages an artistic freedom that can be, well, deliciously dangerous.  A young performer said to me just yesterday, “This is my first time to do this way.  I like that it’s my ideas.”

I devise with young artists because it can be a very actor-centered approach that keeps one constantly engaged—emotionally, intellectually and creatively—and encourages performers’ deep commitment.  The performer needs to be absolutely clear about a character’s purpose and intent, and the overall arc of the story and her place within that story.  Ownership becomes quite high. It helps young performers learn to listen, react with understanding and develop strong collaborative tendencies. I like it because it helps young artists grow.

The delicious part for me is how much I learn about the people I am working with and the place where I am working.  As performers devise, their personalities, artistic sensibilities and intuitive knowledge become very apparent, which gives me the opportunity to tap that knowledge, build that artistry and guide them to find enriching connections to the developing material.  Even more so, I gain valuable insight into the place I am working.  Having conversations about how people might react, the issues they face, the challenges of daily life and even how life is lived within the walls of home.  Very truly, I think I have become a more empathetic, engaged and attentive artist myself because of the fascinating journey of learning about each place I visit through the theatre we create.

And the danger? How amazingly carried away some young performers can get once they discover the power of being deeply engaged.  I’ve loved watching young artists turn from creatively shy individuals into comfortable improvisers.  I’ve laughed in wonder as some have moved a scene from a few words to an intense dialogue.  And, honestly, I’ve occasionally cringed when, in front of an audience, some young artists suddenly stretch a scene out to more than twice its rehearsal length.  But I’ve always applauded that sense of discovery, as a young person turns to a creatively engaged artist.

It is an enticingly delicious way to work that poses the danger of artistic overindulgence, but it always provides great possibility for growth and insight – on the part of the young artists certainly, but wonderfully for me as well.