Since first starting to make devised and collaboratively created theatre in 2008, design elements have always been in the room, whether they are fabrics to play with (my personal fave) or evocative pieces of music and early sound design. Often, we have begun a devising process by asking artists to bring in a cultural artifact that is important to them or which relates to the theme or source material at hand. Building a show directly with designers is always desired. Getting designers in the room during development is relatively rare and always a gift. Ultimately, the foundation for the work had always been rooted in convening actors in the same space and time to explore together, the performance finding its genesis in the ensemble.
However, a moment work workshop with Leigh Fondakowski exploring the principles behind the work of Tectonic Theatre Project enhanced how I thought about creating theatre. It opened up my imagination to the possibility of anyone in the room serving as a visual or aural storyteller, beyond the scope of physical theatre. That is, we could all be designers rather than waiting for the designer to arrive. And by the same token, the designer could - and should! - be a part of the generating process.
So, at the beginning of 2016, we hosted our first play development workshop that was intentionally focused around design elements and visual storytelling. It was the third workshop for No Man's Land, a play about privilege that ultimately ended up questioning our own personal biases and responsibilities as storytellers. In this workshop, we worked with lighting elements, set pieces and props to create a more visually rich world and to open up the storytelling possibilities for this play. Below you'll see photos representing the team of actors, director and set designer all working collectively to explore the various characters and scenarios of the in-progress play; all the images are honeycombing out from one of our wall-sized brainstorming post-it notes.
No Man's Land was ultimately produced in Fall 2016. So many moments that made it into the final production were first discovered here. But more importantly, it shifted how we make work as a company.
We have challenged ourselves to work as horizontally as possible, valuing collaboration, inviting fluidity between roles and proposing that the genesis of the art as belongs to all artists and technicians working on a production.
We involve as many artists as possible in the creative process - from actor to designer to technician. During the initial creative process, we have fluid roles: anyone can embrace any discipline within the devising process. This is to say that the set designer can be dramaturg, the actor can be lighting designer. Ultimately, these is a shift into our primary disciplines once the devising process has ended but it remains that all voices are valuable and valid.
The creative team for No Man's Land January 2016 Workshop included Timothy Edward Craig (Performer), Sarah Edkins (Scenic Designer), Mariah Freda (Performer, Artistic Associate), Jean Goto (Performer and Founding Member of The Anthropologists), and Raj Varma (Performer). Space was generously donated by Jennifer Griffee Manaster and David Monastery.