It’s funny, really, to see something you hadn’t seen since you were a child, unfolding before your eyes.
As a Music major (now a Music Performance major), I often see myself performing, creating, and collaborating, joining ensembles to find more opportunities to perform, create, and collaborate, and doing anything I can to further that creative process. But up until recently, that creative process was one that was particularly limited to me.
Whenever I begin working on a new creative project, it’s either simply taking work created by someone else, and performing it, or finding a certain guideline or approach to work, and use the guide to arrive at a supposedly “new” conclusion. Every once in a while I might make something actually new: new outside of a prompt, and interpretation, or an assignment. But those cases have mostly been few and far between.
I took this class, the one that would turn into a full performance of completely new, raw, never before written or created or performed material, thinking it would just be another opportunity to perform, create, and collaborate. And it was. It was that, and so much more. For the first time, my work, and that of all of my classmates, was, well, ours. We didn’t reinterpret something already created by someone else. We took our lives, our stories, and those of our families, and found a way to tell those stories in a way that was true to ourselves and our families.
Our work, and everything we created, was more than an interpretation: it was the original.
So it’s funny that, even though I’ve been a performer since I was in fourth grade, and haven’t really slowed down as one since, and I’ve been acting and singing and playing almost every instrument in the orchestra (and the jazz band), and I finally picked the study of Voice as my instrument, my parents haven’t really had the chance to hear me sing (and I mean actually sing, not just in the shower or while practicing in my room) since I was a little fourth grader. It’s also funny that my Dad cried, at both the song choice and that fact that it was me singing it, since my grandma passed away when I was in the fifth grade. It’s only fitting that I acting as my grandfather only seconds before, and the song was dedicated to him (who I never go the chance to meet), and his memory, which lives on through my dad, and now me.
I guess what this Origins class gave me, more than simply more wonderful friends and more wonderful memories, all of which I cherish deeply, is the knowledge that I can approach the theatre, and all art, and know that the High Arts, and the “conventional arts”, though worthwhile in their own rights, aren’t the only arts, and regardless of the art form I choose, I can always have a say in the creating of the art.
As an aside, I’d also like to say that I came into the class being skeptical of theatre, as my most recent girlfriend, who broke up with me over the summer, did so because of theatre. She’s now a theatre major at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, in the Meisner studio. I felt, then, hurt by theatre, although it was really only she that hurt me. There is two happy endings to the story. The first is that I am back again on good terms with the theatre, and the second is that, I talked with this girl again. I understand the theatre now, at least more than I did before, and I was able to make a connection with her through what this means. We’re not going out again (probably never again), but we’re friends now. She actually reached out to me first, on the night of the performance, wishing us all good luck (she said that we all “Break a leg”), after hearing through a mutual friend about our performance. I got a chance to visit her when I was in New York, and I finally feel better about where i am. I guess the Origins class is also to thank for that.
As I paced across the stage in rehearsal and read the line for the first time “In 1943, one of the bombs exploded,” I was brought to the moment that my grandfather faced the death of his friends, the moment that would haunt his mind with PTSD for the rest of his life. In that moment I was transported to a traumatic event that happened more than 70 years ago and I could feel the spirirt of a man I never met. And in that moment I realized that my classmates and I were creating something very powerful, not only for the audience but for our own transformation.
Coming into this class I would have said ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body’ and some of my classmates would have nodded along with me. Of course that is not true for any of us. The experiential education model of this devised theatre class works to undo what many traditional classes and parts of society have done to our imaginations. When essays and powerpoints make up a bulk of our avenues for creative expression, and we are told that we do not have time for fine arts in our schedules, our creative muscles erode. The Origins project encouraged us to release our inhibitions that surrounded our self-consciousness on stage.
In-class exercises forced us to improv physical manifestations of our family stories, breaking down awkward physical barriers. As well, Janna Goodwin gave us sentence starter prompts among other catalysts to help us reflect on our family and how we see ourselves within its historical context. Working with our family artifacts (photos, objects, documents, etc.) in class allowed us to learn about the stories of our classmates’ families, ask questions to spark new inquiry, and collaborate on pulling out the most special moments to recreate on stage. This process gave me some stories I will forever cherish, and instilled in me the idea that storytelling is transformative and necessary.
Altogether I learned very valuable skills in this course for working out the creative muscles that we all have and teasing out the storytelling potential that we all have within us. The process was a joy to share with the audience in the final product of Origins. That performance epitomized the cyclical nature of devised theatre, inspiring more stories from family members and students who came to see the show. Everyone who touches this powerful method of storytelling seems to be touched by it as well. Since going through this process I have shared reflections with many, and talked with a few about how devised theatre might be effective for building trust and relationships in an office setting as well as a classroom. Without a doubt, this process has been incredibly beneficial to my academics as an alternative instructional method that in my opinion allows for much more growth than a traditional classroom. Through devised theatre we have come away with creative, organic, challenging, collaborative, and transformative experiences that we will not forget.
As we started this process of devised theatre I was excited to be doing something that mattered. I was not quite sure how the story of our families was going to impact people because most of the things we were reading about were political ways of performing. It was a new way of protesting and stories about families it didn’t seem to connect. Then, we started the process with Daniel Valdez meeting that first night and all we were doing was talking, I began to worry. How are we going to pull this off in time and how is this devised theatre. Then every time we met after that and we were going very slowly I didn’t think we were going to put it together in time. But our group, Daniel, and Janna whipped us into shape, creating a very powerful performance.
Telling my grandmothers holocaust story was very powerful not only for me but for my grandmother. When my great grandmother and grandmother left the camp they never really talked about. My mother would ask my great grandmother what happened in the camp and my great grandmother would not say anything other than she had nightmares about the screams from the camp. My grandmother is a bit more open but still wouldn’t talk about it too much. She knew I was doing research for school but she didn’t know about the performance. So when she came to see me tell her story she was able to truly and deeply cry. She heard her story coming form her granddaughter (her favorite I might add) and was able to open up. I think this happened for many people that night because after the performance you could her people sharing stories of memories that were brought up from the deepest part of the audiences mind.
Stories are so very important. Like in the books we read especially when it talk about the Laramie Project which told the story of a horrid murder of a young gay boy. It brought a community together so that justice would be brought for this young man. Their stories painted a picture of Matthew Shepard, the murder, and the community. Just like our stores painted the story of each person, where we all came from , and the community we created by telling our stories together. Stories bring us closer together and lend us the ability to see our families and the past. This is why devised theatre appeared not only in the process of preparing but it truly bares all the properties of devised theatre. These stories are so important because our families make us who we are and knowing who are families are helps us understand ourselves. If want to do anything in this world we have to know ourselves and our passions only then can we do something great. Even if we don’t know the whole history of a family being able to talk to a grand parent about their own life is something amazing because with out your grandparents, without your parents there would be no us. Their stories make us. We all found found a piece of our selves and a piece of the community that with be with us forever. I will always remember the stories and how proud my grandmother is of me, I mean she gave me a ring from the doll that helped them stay alive in the concentration camp. Thank you all for this wonderful experience and helping me find my self and a community that will never be forgotten.
-Brittany Nicole Maher
November 30, 2015
From Wonder to Wowed:
Reflection of Performance Process
When beginning this process, I felt as if I didn’t have enough information. Information about what devising was, what it looked like, my family history and contacts I could reach out to. I also felt that my little knowledge about my family, another plain white southern family with European ties had nothing important to bring to the table. My issues were challenged when other students quickly brought information and family stories of sustenance with pictures and perspectives to take, and I felt left out of the loop in preparing the script or having any day in what went on. And with how we developed our process by generating stories and writing things on the board, I wondered why we went a completely different direction than what the class initially set up.
This all changed when Daniel came and first talked to us. His ideas on understanding stories as anything, and that the perspective and point of the stories were what were important. What we take away is more important than the stories themselves. At this point, I had only a little information on my great great grandfather William Roly Threlkeld, and thought my best story was the changing my last name to Karlix to commemorate our blood relation to the king of Sweden. But after hearing what kind of things people had done before in plays set up by Daniel, and redesigning my perspective of the story, it began to take shape. I took the wonder I had, and applied it towards developing a perspective, like introducing my grandfather in a light that highlighted his feats with the native American people, with qualities of service and heroism.
Moving these stories to the stage was also an interesting process. When first laying out the devised acts for Britney’s story, I found it to be way too strong of a beginning story and maybe too real for those involved. I was worried about the direction this was going to take, but again, the perspective of the stories always gave good ground for developing acts to go along with them. With Daniel’s expertise and constant practice, I still worried that our time was too short to develop a real working play, especially when we found out we didn’t have a prop budget and that staging was changing constantly. But the way our group gelled with one another and joked with one another, I believe a sense of working community within this group of actors generated the performance that we created, one that was moving and beyond anything I imagined we would create. Even though we mostly read off of notecards and scripts, the devised pieces, scripts, and audio/visual effects made this show more memorable than I could have ever thought. As I mentioned previously, I was extremely skeptical about the direction and my contribution of this devised piece, and many a time I wanted to quit and thought it wasn’t going to be worth it in the end; but the final performance completely changed my mind.
On dress rehearsal night I remember thinking, I don’t even know how we got to this point of such a well developed play, and was excited and nervous for family and friends to come see this creation. But the final result of the performance did it’s job, as we’ve defined it in devised theatre: more stories and interaction between families was inspired by this performance. Our stories and created sketches touched people in a way that urged more communication and exploration of our oral traditions and immigration stories. The pictures we showed too made people come to tears, and I remember my mom asking me, “Oh my goodness, where did you find that picture of my grandpa? I want to frame it.” Just the images inspired memories and emotions, but the performance really drove it home. Not only did I learn a lot about my family and my classmates families, but I think our reenactment of these stories honored our ancestry, and showed commonalities between all people, and a universal love and understanding for storytelling.
Reluctance. That was biggest feeling that I had to overcome throughout this project. It all started when we first began talking about the performance and the project as a whole. I was reluctant to do the performance with eight classmates who I did not know very well. I was reluctant to try to delve into a past and history that my family and I knew very little about. I was reluctant to put my whole self into this project because of other things I had going on in my classes and life outside of school. This project seemed too difficult and too much work for me to really get my entire self into what this project was asking for.
One of the main reasons for all of these feelings was because I was afraid. The biggest fear for me was not having stories or ancestors that could match up to the rest of my classmates or what Daniel and Janna were looking for. I decided to pray and to really think about what I wanted to do with this project in order to get the most out of it and to give my all for my fellow classmates. I was sadly unable to discover much of anything on my ancestors except names, dates, and places. I then talked to my parents about my Grandpa and was able to find a story that not only meant a lot to my family, but also was very special to me.
The story I was able to tell and research more about was my dad’s father, Robert Joseph Kaelin Sr., who was the batboy for the St. Louis Cardinals in the late 1930s.
By putting my heart into this project, I was able to get so much more out of it then I ever expected. With the guidance of Daniel and Janna, I was able to see the importance of family stories and traditions. Each of the stories that we as a class presented on were unique and special in its their own ways. I was and am so grateful to have been a part of a group of students that put so much time, uniqueness, and dedication to the entire process. I believe that we all have a much better and stronger understanding of the power and influence these kinds of stories have on not only us but also the people who take the time to listen.
An eloquent reflection on the power of devised theatre, and the ways in which participation is transformative.
Fifteen minutes before our performance I waited with my fellow classmates in the cast room just outside of the recital hall. From the small room we could hear the footsteps and excited voices of the audience entering the stage, which had been creatively assembled for our piece of community theater, “Origins”. I tried to practice my lines in my head, but gave up. I felt ready. Over the previous six weeks that we generated from scratch Origins I had been preparing both in mind and body what would come next. It was a moment to soak up the joy that our hard work and deep exploration of our family stories and derived theatre had produced, so I took a deep breath enjoyed the moment.
What felt so real in the cast room, our first day of class seemed like a fantasy from an inspired, but perhaps over ambitious professor. I…
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