devising

   The main way in which devising differs from traditional theatre is that the latter is based on texts, whereas devising is based on specific stimuli that might include music, text, objects, paintings or movement. It is thus more transient, ephemeral and adventurous. It is often based in an alternative to conventional theatre space: in the community, outdoors, in schools or in hospitals (where Age Exchange Theatre Trust produces ‘reminiscence theatre’ for the elderly). Devisers, working in collaboration, decide in which direction they want the performance to go, instead of relying on the text of a particular author and simply interpreting it. They may create theatre for a particular audience, community or site-specific location. Practitioners of devised theatre feel unsatisfied by the dominant literary theatre tradition which usually involves a hierarchical relationship between playwright and director. Under that regime there is little space for actors to make individual contributions other than through interpreting assigned roles. Devisers prefer a collective approach, where responsibility for the creation of art shifts from writer to creative artist (that is, to the actors themselves).
   Devising was stimulated by the start of the theatre-in-education movement in 1965, in particular with the founding of the first British group at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. Working in schools meant that performers/devisers had to be much more versatile than mainstream actors, using skills from ballet, music, gymnastics, mime and magic as well as traditional ones. This enabled more personal input and commitment from actors, and encouraged more participation from audiences. Theatre in the community around 1968 featured ‘political’ groups like Red Ladder Theatre Company or performance art groups like Welfare State International, whose often site-specific work produced celebratory spectacles using performance language that included non-verbal forms. Major Road produces large-scale events for local communities. The devised performance may involve a procession involving local participants, which is at once spectacle, celebration and event. Technology is much more of a factor in devised theatre. Groups like The People Show structure themselves around visuals, with the additional use of lighting, sound, music and technical resources including slides and film clips. Forkbeard Fantasy is another collaborative artists’ venture which makes interactive use of film and live performance and also performs abroad.
   Further reading
    Oddey, A. (1996) Devising Theatre: a Practical and Theoretical Handbook, London: Routledge (an authoritative review of the practice).
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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