Devised Theatre: There’s a 10:30 in the morning?


Wherein I blog Bright Alchemy’s devising process for its newest project.

My living room is full of artists eating baked goods and mainlining coffee. The latter is not surprising, since it’s 10:30 A.M. on a Sunday. What is surprising is that a dozen theatre-makers chose to subject themselves to this sun-drenched world while there was still sleep to be had.

Present are most of the artists that worked on our last project; a few who worked on Gilgamesh, our first project; and several we’ve never worked with before. A lot of people in the room have never met each other. Which is a small miracle, considering the intimacy of the DC theatre community. And it’s probably a good sign. Collaboration needs new perspectives, new talent, fresh brains.

After everyone is settled and at least semi-conscious, I make my pitch, which is this: Our last project, A Cre@tion Story for Naomi, started with a single central question—What is the purpose of creation myths? It ended with a play about Naomi, a brilliant 16-year old girl obsessed with the stars and struggling with how to break out of her self-imposed shell. She and her online friends travel from one creation story to another, searching for one that can help define who she is and what she will become.

I explain how I’d like our next project to be a thematic and narrative sequel to Naomi that we start with the central question: Why do we as a species feel compelled to tell stories of our own destruction? From Revelations to Ragnarok to Michael Bay’s entire canon, we are constantly killing ourselves again and again, at least in our imaginations.

I’d like to explore that question and those stories and whatever else might come up along the way. And then I’d like to take that work and use it to tell the story of Naomi 15 years down the line. I enjoyed telling the story of Naomi and her friends, and I’d like to learn more about them.

Someone talks about what they know of Ragnarok, and how a performance piece they saw dealt with the concept of a World Tree.

Someone mentions the Hindu destruction myth and Shiva the destroyer.

Another person reminds me about the myth of the Flood, which played a part in our adaptation of Gilgamesh and which might be the oldest and most widespread destruction myth.

Eventually someone brings up zombies. And rightfully so, since they are one of our many modern-day destruction myths. Someone mentions an article they saw about research into creating a real-life zombie virus. We ask her what she’s been smoking. Just coffee beans, she says, and promises to find the article for our next meeting.

With our first project, we had the narrative already laid out for us. It was just a matter of exploring what aspects of the Gilgamesh epic excited us and how to adapt it for the stage and the modern age. With Naomi, we started with a single question—one that was so big that we spent a year dramaturging and workshopping. Then I went up on a mountain and came back down with the first ten pages.

With this new project, I’m looking to walk somewhere in the middle. To start with not only a broad central question, but a very loose narrative base as well. So I tell everyone that I think I know three things about our adult Naomi, three things that I believe will help us tell a story about destruction: she’s an astronomer at an observatory; she’s married to an astronaut who is currently in space; and she’s very, very pregnant.

The idea of a pregnant protagonist sparks a discussion about how, in theatre, pregnancy is frequently a destructive force. That it destroys lives. That it can be frightening. And this leads to talk of how children have to sometimes destroy their parents, or the idea of their parents, in order to take their place.

This makes me very happy. Not the destroying parents part. But that the ideas come so freely and with such energy. We end after an hour and a half, with a plan to meet in a week, and for everyone to bring in whatever they think will be helpful to the conversation. Whether it’s an article on zombie viruses or a stolen Gideon Bible. Or an intravenous caffeine drip.

I will make morning people of them yet.

  • March 4, 2011