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Creating Creativity: building communities through new works

March 11, 2013


Arriving in Louisville for SETC (after a brief snow delay), Doc Love and I found workshop participants eager and determined to get new works communities established at their respective institutions or to refine new works communities extant at their institutions.  There were lots of good questions and responses throughout the workshop and we got to know a bit about all of our participants as well.  Here’s a brief outline of the workshop Doc and I presented:

Creating Creativity:  building communities through new works by Eric “Doc” Love and David M. White

1.  Our background in new plays

  • Doc Love – Director, WordBRIDGE Student Artist Program Director
  • David M. White – Playwright, Artistic Director of WordBRIDGE
  • Both Towson University and Tennessee Wesleyan do not have playwriting programs, rather a single elective course is offered, but both schools have thriving new works programs.

2.  History – how our experiences informed our approach and understanding/passion for new play development:

  • Having TRASH forced into development even when it did not need development.
    • Created a sensitivity of when works are “too finished” for additional development.
  • Attending university reading workshops where attendance was required and receiving inferior feedback and a negative sense of obligation from participants.
    • Is it possible to create a university reading workshop where people wanted to attend and a sense of positive could replace negative obligation?

3.  Current projects

  • WordBRIDGE Playwright’s Laboratory is where we have observed dozens of playwrights and feedback over the past six years.
  • Tennessee Wesleyan, Doc Love created:
    • Ten for Tenn – festival of ten-minute plays connected to Tennessee
      • Has created community interest in new plays, both internal to the university and in the community at large.
      • Provides an opportunity for students to work on new work.
    • Oral Tradition project
      • Bypasses the need to “write” a script as pieces are created orally between the performer and the person whose story it is.
      • Creates community through the creation of the performances.
  • At Towson University, David has created/overseen:
    • Towson Theatre Lab,
      • Provides an on-campus venue to read and respond to student/faculty/community members new plays.
      • Is not a required activity, but is well attended by the student body.  We have read and responded to over 120 plays in the past five years.
      • Good opportunity for playwrights to hear and learn how to respond to plays, actors to practice cold reading skills, dramaturgs to lead feedback, and designers to make quick drawings as a means of responding to the readings.
    • 24 hour PlaySlam
      • A quick way to create a community around new work.
      • Requires very little time commitment from participants.
      • Creates 6 – 8 new plays that can be further developed at the Theatre Lab.
      • Students write, direct, and produce 6 – 8 new plays in 24 hours (8 p.m. start and 8 p.m. go time for the presentation)
  • Teaching new plays in classes and putting them onstage as part of the university season (whether that be faculty or student directed) helps familiarize and get students excited about new works.
  • Students like hearing what each other are writing about.

4.  The exercise 

  • Shred a book while explaining the rules
  • The rules:
    • Begin to write a one minute play (1 – 2 pages)
    • Every one minute pick a shred out of the pile of paper and incorporate either a word, phrase, or the whole phrase into your script.
    • We will track time and announce on the minute.
    • There will be 8 – 10 mins to write
    • A few volunteers will read their works aloud
    • Here we go:
      • Create two characters.
      • Pick an object of conflict
      • Distribute shreds of paper
      • Pull out 3 strips of paper and read them.
      • Pick something unexpected (who has a secret, does the world have a secret, etc)

5.  The feedback process – Feedback is meant to solicit visceral responses, not intellectual ones.  This type of response allows the playwrights to most effectively gather data about their plays.

  • The four questions:
    • What images, textures, rhythms, or phrases stick with you?
      • This question also allows for participants to revisit the play as a community.
    • What are your moments of highest interest? (lean-ins)
    • What are moments of negative confusion, or where you found yourself distant from the play? (lean outs)
    • What questions do you have for the script, not for the playwright, but for the script?
  • Innovative means of soliciting feedback:
    • Writing a recipe
    • Drawing a map
    • Writing a haiku or limerick
    • Having audience members draw shaped in the air that are connected to the play
    • Kinesthetic responses (stand by the character you most closely identify with, etc)
      • Can solicit responses from audience members who wouldn’t typically speak up during feedback.

6.  Positive experiences with this type of collaboration.

  • Getting to know students through their work is a great way to get to know what is on their minds or what kind of theatre they are interested in making.
  • Provides students the opportunity to create works in a low pressure, grade free environment.
  • Creates a community in which students learn how to respond to each other’s work in a compassionate, critical manner.

7.  Negative experiences with this type of collaboration.

  • Theatre artists are emotional creatures, so feedback can be easily misinterpreted by both the receiver and the person giving feedback
    • Make sure those responding to new plays are responding to the questions asked.
  • When audience members become prescriptive and not descriptive.
  • These can become teaching moments, leading to community understanding, and more insightful feedback.
  • Additional feedback benefits:  Learning what students are thinking and teaching each other how to think about that.

8.  Creating a generous environment in which students feel empowered to express their voices through their craft can energize a theatre department.

Thanks to SETC and Louisville for a great workshop.

For more info please leave a comment below…

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