DEVISING: It’s Different, How?

Photo- Ignacio Palomo Duarte (CC)

Photo- Ignacio Palomo Duarte (CC)

Devising has made those in the mainstream theatre world (professional & educational) curious. Because of this, there have been an onslaught of articles appearing trying to answer this question.

During my MFA work, many teachers suggested I write a book on the history of ensemble devisers because there isn’t one and people are hungry for understanding.

What is it exactly? How have others created work through devising over the years? Where does it originate? Is it only focused on original work? Can it be applied to published works? Is it a needed skill for a professional artist? Would it fit into a traditional theatre program?

Here’s the skinny:

1. Devising = inventing.

That’s why so many articles with tips on how to devise could really be read as “how to invent”. This is the most recent one floating around. All valid points… But towards creating any piece of art.

2. Devising requires a point of view from every player.

You are all inventing inside this process—to what degree and who has the last word is up to how the project or company is structured. There are as many structures for this as there are types of governments. But within devising the main point is this: Everyone is creating and in order to create you need a point of view.

3. A devised piece is significantly influenced by your point of view.

Devised theatre is not “drop me in and tell me where to go” theatre. When you are absent from the process or play, everyone feels it. And not just a little bit like “Oh, I miss how Jackie would smile on that line. Her understudy always forgets.” It’s more like “Did you feel Act 1 shift into this dark, murky place because Jackie was out today? She really carries the load with the buoyancy of the show. Samantha (yes, the ensemble would call the understudy by name) really brought a different perspective to the whole thing. I gotta stay on my toes in Act 2!”

4. Devising can be done inside new and published works.

Devised theatre is often associated with new works because it’s easier to recognize. Where there once was nothing… Now, there’s a piece. And we were all there to experience its creation. But devising is planing or inventing through careful thought. That can—and should, hopefully—occur inside any piece from Shakespeare to Ruhl.

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The story is a playground where devisers invent a myriad of ways to play within it. That doesn’t mean they will take blowtorches to the monkey bars and put a water hose at the top of the slide. (Though some do with great respect for the original story and vision for its relevance today like Kidd Pivot’s Tempest Replica or Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More). It means they will work together as advocates not only for their individual contributions, but for the play’s possibilities.

The main reason Chris and I advocate for devised theatre—espeically in the classroom—is because it demands the individual step up inside the ensemble. It produces ample opportunities to not only invent a perspective about the piece, but a perspective about yourself, the artist.


Why did you want to do this show? This character? This theatre company? This type of venue? Why now?

Devising develops an eye for what strikes a chord within you as an artist and as an observer. It allows you to build the muscles of inventing, playing, and editing in real time, on your feet.

Devising is a skill that transcends a genre of theatre or theatre making. It is you, as deep and as real as you are ready to go in the moment.

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