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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Devised theatre a must-have on campus

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Last term during 10th week, Professor Roger Bechtel’s Theater 345, “Devised Theater and Collective Creation” class performed “Modern Love,” a devised theater piece, in the Weitz rehearsal rooms. My roommate played a large role in the show and had been watching non-conventional theater pieces in our room all term, so I went, and I had my mind blown about what theater could be.

Devised theater, to the layman such as I, sounds a lot like Improv. We’re not, however, talking Cujokra here — devised theater does not rely on the spontaneous as a spectacle or borderline athletic feat, but rather is a tool or device with which to render dialogue and actions more natural. It would be a mistake to claim that devised pieces are particularly fluid — indeed, the awkward tension that planned but unscripted scenes maintain closely resembles daily, offstage life.

The flier for “Modern Love” broke the show into some ten scenes, some more or less realist, others fantastical. For example, one scene follows a pair of actors on a date, each in dialogue with their respective subconscious. “Modern Love” explored, extensively and emotionally, though perhaps not informatively, a colossal swath of the world of love today — from the negotiations of going out or staying in, to dynamics in interracial relationships, to homosexual lovers. Indeed, what was so wonderful about the devised performance was that the power of creation was so thoroughly invested in the actors themselves.

Rather than adapting a piece written by a distant and famous playwright to the Carleton stage, the actors balanced social awareness and their lived experiences to create a relevant piece that engaged the audience for the entire run time.

Before their final public performance, the Devised Theater class performed an in-class exercise where they were to act a scene playing the role of themselves. Of course, identity and personality are already performative, but this exercise demanded that the students explicitly consider what composes them to the end that they could perform a convincing, onstage whole.

I always give my roomie a hard time for being a Sayles pastry fiend, in no small part for the sake of obscuring my own Sayles binges. So it came as a pleasant surprise that, when asking for a rendezvous with another actor, he proposed they kick back with some croissants and watch some American Horror Story.

After this final scene and the following curtainless bow, the audience broke apart, congratulating their actor friends and chatting. My roommate came up to me and offered me the croissant.

I sincerely hope the Theater community at Carleton will continue to devise and perform publicly. I am looking forward to Sarah Tan’s Comps Show which will incorporate devised techniques. For all the challenge and fulfillment it seems to offer the actors themselves, it makes for one hell of a show.

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