About ten years ago I drove off the road and did $500 worth of damage to my VW Bug. I was driving home from work, distracted by thoughts of a project I wanted to launch, when suddenly I realized that I had veered off the road and onto a curb. Rather than putting the car in reverse and easing back in the same direction I had come from, I drove forward off the corner, not realizing that there was a drainage ditch on the other side. In a bigger car this wouldn’t have had much of an impact but in in a VW Bug, the sides of the car are only a few inches off the ground. As my front wheel came off the curb I felt the front of the car dip into the ditch and the side of the car scrape along the concrete leaving a deep indention all the way from the front wheel hub to the back wheel hub. That experience taught me a lesson that I still have to recite to myself just about every day: Don’t think about new projects while driving.
Just yesterday, on my drive home, I put this axiom to use as I found my car veering ever so slightly to the left while I pondered a project I hope to get started with this month. As I willed myself to put all thoughts about the new project on hold until I got home, I was reminded of the project I had been pondering during that moment a decade ago. I realized that, three years before I started the Brand New Theatre Co., the project that had me so distracted was an idea for developing new work based on improvisation. I wasn’t familiar with theatre devising at that time but, even then, before I had any real intention of starting a company, before I had any experience in theatre administration, before I even saw myself as a director (rather than an actress), the ideas about theatre that excited me enough to make me drive off the road revolved around projects that were developed in the studio through collaborative processes.
When I started BNTC three years later I still didn’t know that I wanted to do theatre devising. I knew that I wanted my company to produce New Work but I didn’t have any concept of how New Work could be developed in a devising context. What I did know was that the idea of creating something Brand New excited me. So I focused on directing plays that hadn’t been seen before and producing monthly improv shows. This work eventually lead me to pursue further study in London where I learned about the concept of theatre devising. I connected with the idea immediately and began processing everything I knew, and was learning, about actor training through the filter of developing a creative process that fostered collaborative theatre making (aka: devising).
When I think about the major themes my creative interests tend to revolve around, I’m often surprised at just how far back into my experience I can recall moments of excitement about those ideas. I think the ideas that excite me most as an artist have been germinating since I started acting at elven years old, or maybe even earlier than that. In one respect it’s exciting to think that my most important artistic themes have always been with me and that when I’m working on projects which bring these ideas to fruition, I’m bringing out work that has been building up in me for a very long time. On the other hand, though, it’s a little bit discouraging to think that maybe only a few major ideas have ever really stuck with me and maybe I’ll just keep recycling those ideas for the rest of my creative career.
When I think about that, I’m glad that one of my major artistic themes is the idea of a collaborative creative process. One of the things that makes devising unique is that the process isn’t dependent on the creative themes that have been germinating in one particular writer or one particular director. Every person involved in the process has the opportunity to bring out the ideas that drive them creatively and to allow those ideas to interact with the ideas that have been germinating in the other members of the creative ensemble. To some degree this happens in every theatrical production but I think it is heightened in the devising process.
I love the idea that we are all walking around with the seeds of a creative process or artistic theme growing inside of us but the way those ideas develop will depend on how they are cross germinated with other people’s processes and themes. We can get to know one another’s work and have some idea of where a cross section of our interests might take us but we can’t entirely control the way our ideas will change one another. In the collaborative process we have to allow one another to mess with our precious pet ideas and see what happens when someone else gets their hands on them. It’s all the fun of experimenting with the ideas that excite us most combined with the challenge of giving up control over how those ideas will be interpreted and expressed. And, at the same time, its an opportunity to see what ideas have been growing in the people around us while we’ve been busy focusing on our own personal interests.
I get really excited thinking about the possibilities involved in that exchange but I’m about to get in my car and drive to a production meeting so, for the safety of everyone on the road, I’m going to put my excitement aside and try to think about something boring.