May Contain Devising: I work in devised theatre and have realized I have an allergy to devising.

Convener(s): Matilda Leyser

Participants: Oops. Didn’t take these names down.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

I explained why I don’t like devising:

What I have a problem with is the product-orientated thinking that can (not always!) underlie it. The pressure to ‘come up with something’ and the lack of awareness given to process whilst the focus is all on needing to produce – to assuage the underlying panic that is created by the absence of a script.

The thing I particularly don’t like is when I am sent off in a group of people into a corner and then we have to make a thing together and then come back and show it. Uuuuurk! 

I think that if the story of the people in the room (the story-tellers) is looked after – in other words, the process – then the product, the show, the story (and story IS process!!!) will take care of itself.


Other people felt some other things:

Questioning the word ‘devising’ – it doesn’t even exist in Europe. Would just plain ‘making’ be better?

Okay in a group, not okay when you have to go into the corner alone and come up with some stuff.

What are the differences between devising and improvising?

Devising is okay as long as the structures are clear.

Need to start from where you are.

It has to be okay to fail.

What if you don’t have to come back from the corner to show anything? Does this change things? You can make stuff up and choose whether you show it or not.

Need to be able to sit in the terror of not knowing/ not having any material.

‘Side-coaching’ might be another way of working that supports people to improvise rather than go away and have to devise in isolation.

Need to keep working with same people to build up methods that work for you and challenge each other to find new ways. Danger otherwise of always descending down to the lowest common denominator.

How is devising different to what a writer has to do when writing a piece?

They are on their own and can create the conditions that best suit them to work. Also whilst it is terrifying to handover your page of words it is still less exposing than physically standing in front of people presenting yourself.

More fundamental than an allergy to devising is an allergy to ‘end-gaining.’ Devise, make, improvise, do whatever you see fit but start from where you are not from a future idea of where you should be.