Tag: devising theatre

Devising Theatre – suggested timeline

Assuming you have ten weeks to develop your piece, your time might be used in the following way:

Week 1

Improvisations around stimulus. Research on stimulus (if appropriate). Decide on style. Building the ensemble. Discuss creating and rehearsal process. Do as much research as you can during the first three weeks of the process. This is the time where you are likely to be experimenting and therefore not needing to do much work on the piece itself in between rehearsals, such as learning lines. Once you have decided on the theme/s likely to appear in your piece, research them, and make sure you allocate time to share your findings. Also, do not forget to look into which theatre practitioners are likely to influence you. Again, you will need to research their work.

Week 2

Share your research. Decide on where the piece is going. Maybe the full storyline. Maybe a strong definition of characters.  Begin research on themes.

Week 3

Continue improvising. Individual character work. Character profiles. Research on practitioners suited to the piece.

 Week 4

Set the story line and outline of the piece. Begin CREATING the piece. Order of scenes. What happens in each scene. Begin scripting. Start thinking of set and costumes.

 Week 5

First drafts of set and costume designs.  Continue creating the piece. More character development. Character-led improvisations which will lead to development of plot.

 Week 6

Begin rehearsals. Continue Development.

Week 7

Final set and costume designs. Purchase or identify set and costume elements. Continue rehearsing and development. Ask people to be your “outside eye”.

 Week 8

Rehearsals. Define scene changes (if applicable).

Week 9

Have written down the final script. Run-throughs. More rehearsals.

Week 10

Tech Rehearsal. Dress Rehearsal (x2 if possible) Performance!

Once a schedule has been created, suggest that it is revised at the end of each week. If a group manages to hit on a wonderful storyline on day 2 of Week 1, then maybe they can start detailed character work earlier on so they can give themselves some more rehearsal time. Devising is not only group specific, but project specific too and the process varies continuously.

At the end of Week 1, ask the students to discuss how they envisage carrying out the creation and devising process as a group. Will each member be responsible for a session? Will they want a tutor to run a session on Character Development so that all group members can work on character at the same time? Similarly, ask them to discuss who will be running the warm ups for each session. For some sessions they will need longer warm ups than others, but you should encourage them to always do SOMETHING together, even if it is a quick game of tag to get them all making physical contact with each other before beginning each rehearsal.

Just as it is paramount to schedule an exercise to bring everyone together at the beginning of the session, it is vital to wrap up the session too. Five minutes at the end of each session to reflect on what has (or hasn’t) been achieved are very useful, as is making sure that everyone agrees on what the next steps of the process are and what shape the next session will take.


Structuring the Devising Process

The creation of a new piece will be a roller coaster: some days enormous amounts of material worth keeping will be created, while other days everything created seems useless. Remind students not to give up, not to be discouraged as this is all part of the creative process! It is precisely through creating material that does not seem to work which will help define more clearly where the piece is going. Sometimes it is just as important to discover what does not work as it is to create material that does work.

Usually students will have a long time during which to develop a piece (usually in short, sporadic lessons over 10 weeks). This is good news: it means they can experiment with ideas, dedicate sessions to developing character, incorporate the research gradually into the piece… you name it. But in order to keep the process fluid and give themselves room to experiment and play, they need to be extremely well organised.

The first thing to encourage is to set themselves some deadlines for the completion of the practical aspects of devising, such as the costume and set designs and a written script for the sound and light operator. Ask the students to set some deadlines and stick to them – after investing all their creativity in the piece, they probably do not want the practicalities of theatre to get in the way of their greatest enjoyment: the performance.

Different groups work at different speeds. In any case, remind them to use their time together productively. It is no use allocating a lesson to character development, where everyone sits down and writes their character profile individually, when this could be done at home.

Remind them that their time together as an ensemble is incredibly valuable and limited. Similarly, ask them to use your contact time with you and other tutors wisely. If they show you a section of the work during one lesson, they must make sure the next time they ask you to watch their piece, that section has been developed further.

If the students need a script for their lights and sound operator but there is little or no dialogue, they will need to describe what is happening on stage and how the plot is advancing. If there are specific visual moments to act as cues for lights and/or sound, remind them to describe them in detail in their script.

You’ll Never get it Right First Time

“Error is not just acceptable, it is necessary for the continuation of life, provided it is not too great. A large error is a catastrophe, a small error is essential for enhancing existence. Without error, there is no movement. Death follows.”

Jacques Lecoq, ‘The Moving Body’.

Building the Ensemble – The Empty Chair

This game works best with at least 7 people. Distribute evenly the same number of chairs as people playing across the space. Everyone but one person, the Walker, sits on a chair. The empty chair must be at one end and the Walker will start the game at the other end.

The aim of the Walker is to sit on a chair. S/he will do this by walking towards it at an even, slow pace. Everyone else must prevent the Walker from sitting on the empty chair. This is done by leaving their chair and sitting on the empty chair. This will leave another chair empty. The Walker will then try to get to it but someone else from the group should go towards it and sit on it. Everyone but the Walker can move as fast or as slow as they wish.

Note that once a member of the group lifts their bum from their own chair, they can’t go back to it and have to sit somewhere else. When the Walker finally sits on a chair, the game ends and whoever was not sitting down, becomes the Walker.

Once you have played this game a few times and are familiar with the strategies that work, try to play the game in silence. Of course there will be cries and laughter but try to avoid communicating with words and avoid telling others what to do. This will help you to develop your ensemble skills, where everyone in the group shares the responsibility of achieving a common goal.

Building the Ensemble – Grandmother’s Footsteps

One performer (the “grandmother”) stands facing a wall. Everyone else stands behind him/her at the other side of the room. The object of the game is for the rest of the group to creep behind the grandmother and tap her on the back. The grandmother will turn every few seconds and when she does, everyone must freeze. If she sees anyone move in the slightest, they have to go back to where they started. Whoever reaches the wall, becomes the next grandmother.

This game wakes up the body and mind and, though competitive, encourages performers to work in physical closeness to each other sharing the same space.

Grandmother’s footsteps is used widely to teach acting and physical theatre. The game has the added benefit that half of the class can sit and watch. What makes a good piece of drama and what is interesting about watching actors suddenly becomes apparent: enjoyment, commitment, the need to take risks, the need to play within the rules, suspension… this game has all the ingredients of a good theatrical performance.

When we freeze as Grandmother turns, we don’t stop: our emotion is in motion. Our brains are ticking away, making sure that every single element of our body is still, we are holding on to our energy, not letting it go… and we are oh-so-ready, because at any point, Grandma will turn round and then….. we have to be ready to move!

Warm Ups – why?

It is essential for performers to warm-up at the start of the session, to get their bodies and minds ready for the work to come. The importance of warming up together through working on the body individually and playing games, cannot be emphasised enough. Its benefits go way beyond “getting ready”. Here are just some of the reasons why warming up together is essential – some of them apply especially to physical and mask work, but most of them are relevant to all actor training.


  • Connecting the body and mind.
  • Developing physical and emotional awareness.
  • Training spontaneity and “being in the moment”.
  • Training taking risks.
  • Training making mistakes together.
  • Practising communicating in ways that don’t include words – a look, a smile, a gasp, a laugh.
  • Isolation of body parts.
  • Warming up of joints.
  • Spatial awareness.
  • Practising humility, collaboration and commitment.


The list goes on…. For those students that don’t like playing games because they want to get on with “proper acting” this list can provide a good reminder of how the exercises will help them to be better performers.


Don’t feel like you need to vary your warm ups or play different games each time you begin a session. Practice makes perfect and some of these games become really interesting once everyone is skilled at playing them. This is also a very good way to train the craft of acting: an actor does not change character or script at every rehearsal; the skeleton of the work is the same and it is a skill to be able to explore different things within a tight framework. And once the professional actor is in performance mode, they need to find the freshness of the first performance every single time, through their trained spontaneity.

Creating Text for Physical Theatre

Physical Theatre seems at its best when movement and text are integrated. If you are using dialogue you’ll need to decide whether you want it to match the style of the piece.

Using Poetic Text

A carefully choreographed sensual movement sequence might be accompanied by poetic text to heighten the beauty of the scene. The language doesn’t have to be elaborate, and the vocabulary can be simple. But playing with the rhythm of speech can communicate to the audience a state of mind very quickly. For example, long sentences might communicate a lucid state of mind, while short statements might indicate agitation. For fantastic examples of this, see the works of the master of the English language, William Shakespeare.

Here is an extract from ¨Goddess¨, a piece created by Forbidden Theatre Company. This is the first dream the Woman has, where she explores the idea of forbidden love through the story of Psyche and Eros, love between a mortal and a god. Here, Psyche is waiting to be sacrificed to a monster at the top of a mountain. Aphrodite, Goddess of love, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, has sent Eros to shoot his love arrows at Psyche, to make her fall in love with the monster.

When Eros is about to shoot one of his arrows at Psyche, he trips and shoots himself, falling in love with her. He takes her away with him making sure that she doesn’t actually see him, as he wants to keep his God identity from her.

(EROS spots PSYCHE and gets ready to shoot his arrow. Unfortunately right at that moment he clumsily trips, shoots himself (in the foot) and falls in love with Psyche. Silence. EROS looks at PSYCHE, but she can’t see him. EROS goes to Psyche, and unseen by her lifts her off the ground, teaches her to fly (teaches her to love?))

And then,
A breeze,
A breeze that far from hurting me begins to cradle me….
Then turns into….
A gust of wind, a gentle wind which lifts my feet off the ground
I surrender
A gentle wind…..

(Through the following dialogue, Psyche does not see Eros as he is standing behind her.)

Who are you?

That is not for you to know.

Soft breeze…
Do you love me?

More than you could imagine.

(He lifts her.)

Where are you taking me?

To our home

(EROS takes PSYCHE away from the mountain, saving her from dropping several feet every time she feels unsafe in the air. She tries to hold onto him but slips away, the third time this happens, she is held by the BROTHER, who appears during a sharp intake of breath from all characters, including the WOMAN. The dream freezes, the woman is not just dreaming of love, she misses her brother’s protection. Meanwhile EROS is holding the image of PSYCHE in his hands (she is still in the BROTHER’s arms.))

You cradle me,
Far from being scared I feel safe in your arms.
Do you love me?

More…. More than you can imagine.

You have given me back my life. I must see who has saved me from….

No! You mustn’t, you must never see who I am. We must love each other at night, in darkness….

(As the BROTHER passes PSYCHE to EROS.)

A gust of wind,
A gentle wind which lifts me off the ground
I surrender,
A gentle wind…..


As you can see, the dialogue is kept to a minimum, and is used to pass detailed information to the audience. For example, “Scared, I am left at the top of a mountain” immediately tells the audience where Psyche is. The performer can show by her movement that she is somewhere that is making her uncomfortable, somewhere where she is cold, from where she can look down. The text helps her pass specific information on.

Similarly, a carefully choreographed section can depict flying without the performers lifting their feet off the ground. In ¨Goddess¨, a sequence was created which gave the illusion of the upper body being lifted, – the rest was done by the text: “A gentle wind which lifts my feet off the ground.”

The whole sequence above is performed with the actor playing Eros remaining always behind Psyche.

Through the dialogue

“PSYCHE: Who are you?

EROS: That is not for you to know”,

we know that Eros is deliberately remaining out of Psyche´s sight.


Manifesto for Physical Theatre – part 2

Physical Theatre prides itself in creating ensemble pieces, where ALL performers are vital to the piece. Ensemble members work well together, feeding off each other during the creation process, listening on stage to each other with ears and bodies, in tune with what they are all doing, all the time. When an ensemble is working well together, the audience FEELS the performers’ joy in collaborating and this in turn heightens the audience’s experience.

Working well as an ensemble does not necessarily mean that everyone gets on incredibly well all the time and that they are all great friends. It means people respect each other, share a common theatrical language and believe in what they are creating together. It is very important therefore that performers warm up together before rehearsals, carry out games and exercises to increase awareness of each other and spend as much time as possible trying out ideas in the space. Only in this way will they really understand how they operate individually and as a group.

It is always worth reminding students that the ensemble is made up of individuals and as such, everyone needs to take responsibility for their role in the creative process. Everyone works in different ways and understanding how this enriches the piece, will make the work even better. On a practical level, the ensemble needs to take care of the whole piece while the individual is responsible for developing his/her own character/s and bringing emotional truth to them. It is worth pointing out that although students might have great ideas about how others’ characters should be developed it is important that each performer explores their own ideas first, as long as they are within the constraints of the piece and story. This will hopefully remind the more vocal students that this is the chance for everyone to take ownership of the piece.

Manifesto for Physical Theatre

Our imaginations are boundless. Our lives are surrounded by stories of all kinds: urban myths, fairy tales, stories which are so rooted in real life that we mistake them for the truth. We explain the world around us through myths and stories, even through fables whose characters are not human.

As audiences, we enjoy stretching our imaginations. When creating a piece of theatre therefore, we can allow our imaginations to run free. We do not need to limit our situations to those which are “believable”: our characters can travel across rivers, fly or exist in dreams and other surreal places. As humans we crave stories that will take us away from our ordinary world – that is why, despite the birth of film and television, theatre still has an audience today.

Theatre is a celebration of all that is human. The purpose of devising is to create together something which will be unique to each performance group.

Why Use Physical Theatre?

Whatever the stimulus for a devised piece (be it the work of an artist, a well-known story, a newspaper article), there is a need to ensure that the audience is taken on a journey. There might be elements of your story that seem difficult to communicate to an audience because it is difficult to act out their “reality”. However, physical theatre can help to communicate the most fantastical or abstract concepts.

For example, by using physical theatre we can:

• Depict fantastical physical journeys. For example, by creating the illusion of travelling through the air (without literally being flown through the space with a rope),
• Create surreal environments (such as somebody’s mind),
• Develop characters from another world (such as those that are half human and half animal or grotesque villagers),
• Have flexible, easy to use sets – created by the performers, as they become walls, rivers, furniture, etc.

Through full belief in what they are doing and commitment to the piece, the performers will carry the audience with them.

To clarify the need for using physical theatre, you will need to discuss the desired effects on the audience and encourage the students to evaluate its impact through collaborative discussion and the use of an “outside eye” such as yourself, other tutors or other students.

• If the intention is to convey EMOTION, the movement used can be choreographed, almost dance-like. In this way abstract sequences can be created, intended to make the audience FEEL in a certain way.
• If a human set is needed, the movement used (or stillness) will need to be more literal. For example, to create a wall, rigidity might be needed (or a crumbling movement if it is smashed). If you are depicting furniture, the performers will have to look like the real thing as much as possible.
• If the main aim is for the audience to fully understand the story, then maybe physical theatre might be used to create a range of distinct characters, while keeping their actions realistic. Dialogue and storytelling can help to make the story clear.

These are some examples of how physical theatre can be used when creating a new piece. In the next part of Manifesto for Physical Theatre, I will talk about the joys of working in an ensemble.