Tensions between devising and planning

Convener(s): Nick Moran ([email protected])

Participants: (initially – apologies for spelling)

Charles, Cassandra, Mathew from Special Guest, Peter & Jodie from Church Party, John, Anthony, Chris, Isobel, Peter (Little Angel Theatre), Tina from Razor Theatre, Kathleen, Katherine, Gemma, Tony, Wendy (devising = fun, planning = boring), Jenny, Frya, Martin B, Isobel Carr

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The discussion group was large throughout, and a lot of issues were raised. We took a range of definitions for Devising, from creating non-text based work in a rehearsal room, to site specific work, to the processes involved in the extended technical periods afforded to large scale musicals. Planning also took several definitions, but mostly revolved around decision making.

Funding, as it limits time scale and budget, was a frequently cited as a reason for poor planning in the early part of the discussion. Institutions not being prepared to pre-plan enough prior to receiving project funding, and insufficient funding for designers / production managers to be as involved in the process as (for example) the director and key performers.

Peter (a puppet maker and designer) argued that often not enough of the ‘team’ were prepared to be obsessed enough with a project – with the though that if the whole team are obsessed, planning becomes organically integral to the project and not a tiresome but necessary bolt on. (This theme was developed later)

A director, (name unknown) led some interesting discussions on the tensions between planning and devising in the rehearsal room. What should be planned? What counts as devising? What counts as ‘productive work’ in a rehearsal, and who is responsible for ensuring some of that happens? (Side issue about the role of dramaturge which would bare more investigation)

We tried out the analogy of a fine art painter – who will not need to know what the finished work will look like, but will decide how big the canvas is (and if it will be a canvas) – what sorts of things do we need as a framework, in the rehearsal room, as a company or collective, to productively begin a process?

This discussion slowly morphed into something more about what sorts of people do we need? On the way, we heard about the value of sketching ideas – props – set elements, quickly and cheaply, to try them out. How do we make people secure enough feel able to throw away stuff they have made?

Trust between all the practitioners involved in a production was seen as important for everyone. How to establish this trust caused more discussion. Outside the environment of a long established collective (such as Shunt) few models were cited. It was felt that tight definitions of specialist roles often worked against mutual trust. It was thought that training might be able to address this. (How to value specialist training in a mutually respectful environment that enables these specialist to understand and trust each other as practitioners?)

The role of the designer in a devising process was questioned – and by implication the dictatorship of the director. Discussions focussed on the un-evenness of the relationship between designers and performers – the designers are asked to understand the performers, but the performers (and director) don’t seem as keen to understand the designers (and other theatre makers) One performer participant asked:

The designer of a telephone needs to know about the users of a telephone, but the user of a telephone knows (and cares) nothing about its designer. Why should the actor (and possibly the director) know / care about the designers of ‘their world’?

A proposed answer was that a performed world changes – while a telephone remains the same.

I find it interesting that an intelligent and engaged performer asked the question – does this show a gap in performer training and / or in industry attitudes? 

If devising is about asking the right questions, is planning preparing the ground? As some famous scientist said, fortune favours the prepared mind.


Training institutions need to engage with the skills needed to make devised theatre – for performers, designers, makers and managers

We all need to find ways of learning each other’s languages, and taking the fear out of the bits of the process we don’t understand (this might include directors loosing the fear of the Tech, and managers loosing their fear of performers)