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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Making Performance in Open Space

Amy Clare Tasker - 16 January 2017

WHO WAS THERE

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I called this session to explore the possibility of devising in open space: using this liberating, anti-hierarchical system to make new performance.

Many thanks to Phelim McDermott, Hannah McPale, Sonya Moorhead, Amy Ron, Chris Rawland, Lee Simpson (and others whose names I didn't catch) for their contributions to this discussion.

THE BIG POINT
Using open space to develop and rehearse a performance project is going to be REVOLUTIONARY for me and my company. For years I have been trying to make ‘collaborative’ work. I knew I didn't want to make traditional theatre, and I knew I didn't want to make it in a traditional way - but I couldn't see that I had to change EVERYTHING about the structure and the process, because the traditional, hierarchical, linear, patriarchal structure sends powerful messages that run counter to the values of collaboration.

I have been saying (until I'm blue in the face) ‘this is a collaborative process, you are invited to contribute and your input is important and valued’ - but unless I change the structure, I'm still going to have people begging me to tell them where to stand, what to say, and how to say it.

OK. FROM THE BEGINNING
Language: ‘What is Alive in You?’ is a completely different question (with a completely different answer) than 'What Do You Think About…?'

Open Space allows/requires the ownership of the work to remain with the artists.

Open Space changes the power dynamic, flattens hierarchies, shares responsibility, invites fluidity around roles. Open Space is antithetical to ‘command and control.’

Extolling a collaborative ethos is not enough to break the habits/expectations of a traditional hierarchical structure of director/writer/actors/etc. The values don't match the model.

How do you find the right people for this work? Open Space requires everyone to be operating in ‘high performance mode,’ to be fully present, and to take collective responsibility.

The law of mobility means that everyone continually chooses to be there working on the project. The group is either totally committed or out the door.

The meta-skill required is ‘being cool with vulnerability.’ We're not looking for people who aren't scared by vulnerability - we're looking for people who are HONEST about being scared.

But when people get scared, they really want something to hold onto. In a recent R&D, my cast begged me to stop developing the project a week before the showing so they could learn their lines. Confidence in the process comes with ‘flying hours’ and having the experience of seeing it work.

It can be useful to acknowledge the fear: ‘I know it’s frightening to not know what your lines are. But if we keep this open, and we trust the process, and you trust your instincts, then you will be fine and the show will be more interesting.' Sometimes the show is great and sometimes the show is terrible. We have to believe in failure as a useful and not-the-end-of-the-world part of the process.

In open space, everyone is making it up as they go along - but EXPLICITLY instead of pretending to know what they're doing.


THIS SOUNDS REALLY HARD, WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS?

to create something amazing and unexpected.

because I have never been satisfied with what I put onstage at the end of a traditional creative process.

because this structure creates space for those of us who are disregarded by the ‘default’ expectations of the theatre industry.

FINE, BUT HOW DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK?
Get EVERYONE together and open the space. Begin in a circle. Pass the talking stick for check-ins at the beginning of the day.

Call sessions. Everything goes on the wall together. The group chooses what session to work on first. Depending on the group and the project, you may all work on one thing together, or break out on separate topics.

Open space is not just conversation - can also be improvisation, writing, dancing, composition, activities, tasks, objects, drawing, etc etc. It can include sessions like ‘oh shit we have that photoshoot tomorrow.’

As sessions are finished, the come off the wall. What's left? What's ‘hot’? What's not important anymore? The group can keep calling sessions each day, and removing the ones that are dealt with.

End the day with an evening circle and the talking stick.

At a certain point, there is a ‘convergence’ phase to manifest a performance. But careful: ‘premature closure’ is when you decide to look like you know what you're doing.

How long does this take? About 6 weeks rehearsal time.
Leonard Bernstein: ‘To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.’

A director swaps hats in open space, sometimes facilitating/handing back responsibility to the people in the room, and sometimes being responsible/telling everyone what do to. The tricky balance is usually to do with talking about the work to people outside the room (press, audience, funders, etc).

WHAT NEXT?
I am planning to open space for a cross-cultural verbatim project Home Is Where… in London in the next month or two. Anyone interested in joining in can email me at amy@amyclaretasker.com and read more about the project at www.amyclaretasker.com/hyphenated

THANK
YOU THANK YOU THIS WAS BRILLIANT!

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