Diasporas Festival, Berkeley
May 9, 2014

The Dell'Arte Company brings an excerpt of its newest work, "Elisabeth's Book" to the Diasporas Festival of Contemporary Performance in Berkeley, California, on May 9 & 10. Inferno Theatre

THREE TREES to Western Washington
April 18, 2014

The Dell'Arte Company in "Three Trees" heads to Western Washington University for two shows, April 18 & 19th at 7:30 PM
A mixture of rollicking clown routines and poetic, theatrical

Humboldt Sponsors support
April 6, 2014

THANKS to Humboldt Sponsors for a $500 award to the 8th Grade Show for " costumes, props, and technical production." Congratulations to director Lydia Foreman and her cast from Blue Lake

World Commedia Day Feb. 25
February 21, 2014

World Commedia dell'Arte Day is celebrated every year on February 25, and is proclaimed by the Italian cultural association SAT as an action of the incommedia.it project in support of SAT's

TCG grant awarded to DAI
February 1, 2014

Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre, announced recipients for the third round of its Global Connections program. Dell’Arte was awarded one of three


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Articles by Founders
 Devised Theatre: No Guts, No Glory
Home >School of Physical Theatre >Articles by Founders >Devised Theatre: No Guts, No Glory
The making of devised theatre is one of the central training platforms of the DAI School and the practice of  the Dell’Arte Company.

This article originally appeared in the Devising Issue of THEATRE TOPICS, as “Potholes On The Road To Devising”; March 2005, Johns Hopkins University Press, Joan Herrington, Editor. Copyright J. Schirle 2005

       Joan Schirle   
                                                             There is no art without resistance from the medium.  
                                                                             —Raymond Chandler

      Every artistic process involves difficulty and risk, and devising has its own set of challenges.  The playwright faces the problem of the blank page; with group devising, the problem is compounded by the number of opinions about how to fill that page.  Whether a particular collaborative process is based on harmony or on enthusiastic contention, there is no guarantee that the best ideas will emerge when the smoke has cleared or that the simultaneous contributions of numbers of people can unite in a work of power and vision.
      In the nonprofit institutional theatre, devising is rare because it’s risky and the outcome is so unsure. Development time must be financed and in the regional theatre there are severe limits on rehearsal time. Outside of existing ensembles that regularly devise their work, it seems that one-off devising collaborations among mature artists in the US are attempted infrequently or with great caution, since money, reputation, and visibility raise the stakes of devised work. The viewpoint of a mature artist may carry with it stronger opinions, less of a youthful “let’s see what happens” attitude, and less willingness to compromise artistic ideals.
Ground Rules for Devising
      When collaborations are attempted, there is a greater chance of success if the group establishes and adheres to basic guidelines for working together. Collaborative principles encourage artists to develop trust and respect, come to a common understanding of the challenge, and to be clear about intention, roles, and agendas.   By creating a shared space, generating and manipulating models, and using outside resources and strategies, the capacity for making decisions is expanded,
      Credos and manifestoes are often adopted at the beginning of a project as a way of hanging a banner of ideals and intentions. Writer Betty Comden recalls that when she, Adolph Green, Leonard Bernstein, and Jerome Robbins gathered to devise On The Town in 1944, their first step was to make a credo:  “The work must have a unity, the songs must come out of the action, and nothing pretentious.” (Note 1)  Peter Buckley, a former Dell’Arte School Director, continually exhorted students to make agreements before starting to work.(Note 2)  Sometimes, however, credos must be made midway in a collaborative process in order to head off physical violence. I know of more than one group of devisers whose partnership ended around a mediation table. Our own company sought out the services of a family counselor during our tenth anniversary production; we subsequently developed “rules of civility” for our future devising projects.
      The following Collaborators’ Agreement was forged in 1994 by a quartet of theatre artists who came together to devise a new jazz opera based on a well-known classic theatre text. The composer, two playwrights, and the artistic director of the producing regional theater were mature artists with national reputations, the proposal had foundation funding, and seemed like a dream project. Yet the stress of deadlines, lack of clear agreement over how the collaborative process might actually work, and aesthetic differences nearly scuttled the production. A rescue attempt was made through drafting a Collaborators’ Agreement:  
      We agree that we respect each other as artists and as people. We agree to show that respect in word and action.
      We agree that our intention is to help each other to do the best work possible.
      We agree that our intention is to support each other’s creativity.
      We agree to respect each other’s scheduled rehearsal time.  We agree not to disturb each other’s rehearsals.
      We agree to send messages and requests through appropriate channels.
      We agree not to re-write or re-do another’s work. If there is a problem, we agree to discuss it with the originating collaborator.
      We agree to criticize each other by asking questions whenever possible, rather than making conclusions or delivering orders. In any case, we agree to criticize and discuss changes in a way that is respectful and encourages creative thinking.
      We agree not to say “no” for five minutes.  Or, to put it another way, we agree to consider anything for five minutes.
      We agree to present a unified, supportive leadership to cast and crew.  We agree to discuss our differences with each other in private.
      We agree that we cannot do it alone.  We agree that we need each other.(Note 3)
      Though not all collaborations are devising projects, employing principles of collaboration can make for more productive devising.  However, excessive refereeing of process can dampen creative fires. Making ’being nice’ the priority does not necessarily serve the work. In the crucible of devising, each group must strike its own balance between the productive engagement of artistic egos and the generosity of the collaborative spirit.
Devising Devising
      “Devising.”  The word evokes images from Victorian novels:  “Larissa was fond of tatting, and of the colored threads which she fashioned into clever knots of her own devising . . .” When I picked up Alison Oddey’s Devising Theatre a few years ago, I realized that I’d been deeply involved in “devising” for about thirty years. What we had at various times called “collaborative creation,” “original work,” “ensemble-created pieces,” even “making it up ourselves,” and so on, were all devised works. Indeed, the entire history of our company, school, and the organization that has grown around them is itself an example of an organization being devised day by day.
      With few models to draw from  (Copeau’s Vieux Colombier company/school was the closest), we’ve had to devise our ensemble artistic practice, our working methods, our research, our governance, our relationship to our community, and our means of financial survival.  Like other arts groups with longevity, our history is one of continual change, adaptation, and reinvention. Since we are an ensemble of actor-creators whose primary method of creating plays is devising, our research has guided the evolution of our actor-training program, which in turn has been an ongoing research into ways and means of devising and how to teach it.
Dell’Arte Devises
      The Dell’Arte Company is an artist-managed, actor-centered company in which eighty percent of the work is devised.  We work in collaboration with directors and designers, some of whom are also actors and musicians. Over twenty-eight years of devising and research, we have developed several different modes of working. Completed works have taken the form of plays, performance pieces, and spectacles. Genres have included lyric drama, tragicomedy, slapstick, sci-fi, and adaptations of comic books, films, and classic plays. We have devised plays that are plot driven, theme driven, image driven, movement driven, issue driven, and even grant driven. The majority of Dell’Arte Company works are physical theatre plays with text, envisioned as pieces of physical theatre from the outset.
      We teach devising and the work of the actor-creator in the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, which offers both a one-year training program and a three-year MFA program in Ensemble Based Physical Theater. The devising practices taught in the school are somewhat different from those employed by the company in the creation of new work, primarily because of the differing intents of the work.  On the one hand, the Company is an ensemble of professional theatre artists engaged in creating original work, drawing a paying audience through artistic merit, production values, the virtuosity of the performers, and the power to impact an audience; it welcomes the critical response received at numerous international festivals and touring engagements. The School training program, on the other hand, offers its students a laboratory in which to investigate the dynamics of theatre, to wrestle with devising processes, to overcome obstacles to collaboration, to fail, to accept critique as a provocation to dig deeper, to commit further, to step into the unknown.
      When the then-two-year-old Dell’Arte Company first devised a play in 1978, we did not view ourselves as pathfinders attempting something untried; we were simply taking a road less traveled. And it was not devising for its own sake that drew us on; the content that inspired us demanded we invent techniques to communicate it. This continues to be the basis of our devising, and a foundation principle of our teaching work.
Paper Walls
      In devising, there is always the possibility that you will end up with a piece very different from what you started to make, or that you have two plays, or three, instead of one. Sometimes in the excitement of accumulating material for a piece we’d suddenly have five themes instead of one. We had to devise a few plays before we realized the importance of limiting ourselves thematically—that a play could only support and do justice to so much thematic material. (On the other hand, too many themes or the morphing of intents are not necessarily detrimental if you have lots of development time, or if your overall intent is to explore process rather than create a completed, articulate work by your opening deadline.)
      By demanding of ourselves that we clarify intent, we gained a way to check direction as we went, to see if we were on the path we’d mapped out. If a new path opened up as a result of our moving forward, but didn’t match our intent, we’d have to decide if the new idea justified changing the intent, or if we’d have to move ourselves back to the main road.
      To focus our energies during the play-making process, the Dell’Arte Company adopted a system of “paper walls” devising, where we covered the walls of the workroom with long sheets of paper, labeled “theme,” “intent,” “characters,” “scenes,” “resources,” and so on. The genesis of a piece might come from an image, a genre, an issue, a place, a memory, even an animal. Once we had agreed upon the “big idea” for a piece, we identified the themes. We began a period of readings and field research.  And we insisted upon defining the intent of the piece.

      One of our most successful touring plays, Slapstick (1989–95), was inspired by two areas of interest: an exploration of gender tensions, and the desire to perform as many classic slapstick routines as we could before our bodies refused to let us. Our source work involved books like Ivan Illich’s Gender (which we read to each other, paragraph by difficult paragraph), as well as numerous films, in order to digest different versions of classic routines, such as the infamous “Slowly I turned . . .”  
      We covered the paper walls with every routine we could think of, from a hat routine to a plank routine, to a vaudeville “in-one” made up of mother-in-law jokes. As we devised characters and explored these routines—many of which involved hitting and slapping—a new theme emerged through the slapstick: family violence. The result was a decision to change our intent because a deeper, more provocative theme had surfaced: how circles of violence are passed from one generation to another within families, and how do you break out of the circles of violence?  Posing this question opened up another challenge: We weren’t interested in making a message play, but we wanted to deal with a big idea. The audience’s recognition of that idea had to arise gradually and organically from the characters, their story, and the mise en scène.
"Original  Instructions"
      Some of the joys of devising are discoveries made during the dramaturgical work. Even when the finished product is less than one hopes for, the overall experience may be transformative. Just such an effort was The Creation Project, proposed as a trio of creation myths from three sources: our local Karuk Indians, our local Hmong refugee population, and our own Judeo-Christian background. We started by reading widely in the classics of world mythology and in subjects like the history of Hell; we interviewed shamans, medicine women and men, camped out in sacred sites, and even learned a Finnish creation saga from a Mohawk man who told us his mission was to seek out “original instructions” from various traditional peoples.
      The finished piece—which we decided to call Original Instructions—included “Panther & His Wives,” an origin story narrated by members of the Karuk tribe in their own language, as well as a Hmong diaspora myth that we tied to a local incident concerning their religious practice of animal sacrifice. Finally, our own contribution was a story about the ailing Statue of Liberty cheered up by a band of Sasquatch.  Time constraints made for a disappointing conclusion to this piece. Most of our rehearsal period was spent working with our Karuk collaborators, and the other two stories were under-rehearsed. We were unable to unite the three stories in a formal concept that felt theatrically viable as a whole. We didn’t feel the piece could go into our touring repertory as it was, but had disagreements over what reworking was needed, so after its home premiere run it was retired.  Yet the research and devising period was one of our most memorable, with elements echoing into other projects down the road. The connections to our local community were deepened. The Karuk group has continued to devise their own theatrical versions of their traditional storytelling, including a full-length shadow play. As for the “original instructions” themselves, devisers couldn’t go wrong using this version shared by our Mohawk sage:
      “Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the outcome.”

Devising or Collaboration?
      We began to incorporate the words “devised” and “devising” into our descriptive materials several years ago. Not only were these terms coming into more common usage, they also identified our approach to making work, while still encompassing a wide variety of methods within that approach. Like that other British contribution to my vocabulary, “total theatre”—which lets you know a piece will have movement, text, music, and possibly masks, dance, and multimedia—“devising” functions as a similar shorthand. Instead of implying a stylistic or formal approach, however, it suggests a means of working—a how—based on the relation of artists to the making of the work and to each other. This seemed to me the significant thing: that devising was not the same as the de facto collaborative activity that takes place among playwright, actors, director, designers, technicians, and musicians involved in staging a piece of theatre, nor was it the kind of collaboration that a composer and a librettist might have, or a playwright and a director, for example. Devising is a chosen means of working together to create something original for the stage.
      Solo artists are also devisers when they take up the challenge of filling a certain time and space with work of their own invention. Though a solo deviser may not have to wrestle with collaborative agreements, there remains the entry into unknown creative territory, of making something without necessarily having any guidelines.
“I’ve Got a Garage . . .”
      Devising as a practice is not new; it’s been going on under our noses all along. I had never thought of giants like Bernstein, Comden, and Green as “devisers;” playbills, original cast albums, and reviews list them as individuals, in single categories: lyricist, composer, choreographer, etc. It is perhaps easier to assign copyright, royalties, and points of net profit to individuals rather than to groups, but it’s also part of the American way to accept hierarchies as necessary—not to mention that we are still lugging around in our cultural baggage the romance of the individual genius.  Even in a field as collaborative as the theatre, I find the assumption still current that a great work of art must be the product of a single genius, usually the playwright or the director. I have encountered critical prejudice against work acknowledged as group creation (“you can’t write plays by committee!”). I also have encountered suspicion of those whose names require slashes, for example, director/choreographer/dancer and Tony Award–winner Susan Stroman or writer/director/designer Richard Foreman--exemplary members of that great legion of theatre artists who I call “specialized generalists”: actor/playwright/directors, designer/director/composers, etc. From Moliere to Mae West (OK, they were individual geniuses), the theatre has been enriched by the multitalented artist, if sometimes warily. We like  to categorize our geniuses, as though one’s talent could get spread too thin.
      Thus, devisers are often found working in ensembles in which multi-skilled theatre practitioners find an artistic home, where wearing many hats is a commonplace strength rather than anomaly, and the nonhierarchical nature of devising mirrors the lateral spectrum of each individual’s talents. It is in ensembles that commitment to group effort and group genius creates the support and time needed to develop a voice and an identity as devisers.
      Europe has been home to devisers for a long time; there are festivals in a number of European countries in which the majority of work shown is devised. Though the term has started to be used more frequently and academic interest in devised theatre is growing quickly, devising is seriously practiced by only a handful of contemporary American professional companies.(note 4) I believe this is partly due to 1) the difficulties of devising outstanding work; 2) the nonliterary nature of much devised theatre, which does not lend itself to the marketing of playscripts or reproduction by subsequent groups; and 3) the timidity of producers and presenters in providing venues for devised works. If devising and its methodologies becomes more familiar in schools and universities, perhaps there will be a ‘trickle-up effect’ that will influence the broader picture.
Devising in the Curriculum
      For devising to achieve validity in the academic curriculum, it must have a viable methodology for process-oriented explorations as well as for developing finished works for the stage. In a liberal arts context, the enthusiasm of students to devise and mount a work often manifests as, “Let’s work along this line and see what happens.” The result very often exhibits a mushy point of view and self-referential work in which the students end up playing themselves. In  letter to a prospective student, Ronlin Foreman, Director of Pedagogical Studies at the Dell’Arte School, elaborates:
In much self-created theatre, character ends up being, for better or worse, what he/she brings to the table as a “performer.”  As actor-created theatre moves further towards the mainstream, attention to character becomes more important. It is a dilemma not faced by the interpretive actor who is provided by the playwright with not just a story, but characters out of whose actions, motives, and language the stories evolve. We, the community of the actor/creator, to continue to make a mark on the theatre of our own time, must move past the self-referential, ironic cleverness of much postmodern play-making and into the realms of  “the other,” “the mask,” or “that which I take on.” The goal is create a courageous theatre, based on people in relationship, passing beyond the peripheral situations of our lives and into the circumstances that define the human condition.

Foreman takes the long view, based in first-hand observation of devising’s steady development over the last thirty years, and a sense of responsibility as a contributor to its future development. Our Dell’Arte program exists at the intersections of theatre, dance, performance, and variety, but our fundamental commitment is to the work of actors who create. Without the ability to embody “the other,” to understand persona, personality and personnage, the actor remains a “performer.”

      This is not a judgement about performance; it is simply our belief that devised work belongs in the theatre mainstream as well as on the margins, and that in order to capture a wide audience to impact the field as well as the academy—we must teach devising with an eye to advancing the work of the theatre. To play in the world of illusion is the work of the actor. In addition, as actor-creators, students’ understanding of the dynamics of theatre must be part of their educational goal, along with how image becomes idea becomes concept becomes design.(Note 5) With or without narrative, the rules of engaging the attention of the audience must be learned. Students must learn to prepare a role and do an actor’s homework, to cultivate an informed critical viewpoint and the ability to look at results as well as process.  
      Among the ways we have found to help students develop a rigorous attitude toward their devised work is to continually pose the questions: What is the intent of the devising project? Why make this? Who is it for? Why does it matter? If at the start there is a clear intent for a devised project, the kind of leadership necessary for its development can be determined; for example, if students are primarily responsible for the material, the role of the teacher/director is different from what it would be if the work is to be a collaboration between a team of professional directors and designers and the student group. Development and rehearsal processes can be shaped by what drives the work, whether narrative or image or theme or issues or some combination.  Intent and context determine what critical methods should be applied to the work and to what degree students should be held accountable for everything from the structure, to the skill level of the performers, to the response of the audience, if there is one.
Devising in an Academic Setting
      Dell’Arte faculty have undertaken devising projects in university settings as part of residency activities.  We devise the methodology of each project based on the goals of the sponsoring program, the personnel involved, and the time available to work. We have taught teachers how to develop devising projects with their own students, and worked directly with students to guide devising projects, using a variety of methods, including gathering interviews to develop a piece for a specific group, working with contributed stories, and adapting literary material.
      For example, working with a directing class at Humboldt State University, I facilitated devising exercises that used images, dreams, and the realm of poetry to develop short, non-narrative pieces that made use of the specific spatial qualities of the studio. In a very different vein, at an in-service teaching session for educators I guided them through an interactive method of making issue-oriented devised plays using classic structure.  We first analyzed a familiar film, The Wizard of Oz, to investigate how plot, protagonist, climax, etc. function and how the structural template could serve as a devising map for creating narrative-based plays with their students.  The teachers then divided into groups, with each group choosing an issue and making agreements about theme, genre, story, and characters. They then devised scenarios that were presented to the whole group for discussion and feedback. Another period of creating dialogue through both improvising and writing followed; finally, “flash-versions” of each piece were presented at the end of the day.
      Between 2000 and 2003, Dell’Arte faculty members were in sequential residence during the academic year at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. At the invitation of the then-head of the MFA acting program, Dale Rose, ten members of the Dell’Arte faculty took part in this unique three-year partnership with UMKC as adjunct associate professors in the MFA acting program. Part of our teaching responsibility was the Social Issues Project, in which the first year MFAs collaborated with a local high school to discover issues of importance to the younger students, then devised a theatre piece that was performed for the high school.
      The project took place within a regularly scheduled production slot, which included some daytime class hours as well as three weeks of evening rehearsals. Its purpose was twofold: to involve the MFAs in a devising project and to foster an interaction with the non-campus community. Dell’Arte faculty Daniel Stein, Stephen Buescher, and Mara Neimanis each took on directorship of this devising project during our three years with UMKC; each guided the MFAs in devising methods that were shaped by the makeup of the particular group and the issues identified by the high school students.
Why Devise Now?
      In thinking about the reasons why there is a growing American interest in devising, I can only offer a few observations about what seems to me like a large network of causes, a confluence of cultural and sociopolitical currents:
  •   Young people feel controlled and manipulated by the consumerism that impacts every aspect of American life. Devising gives them a way to engage in independent cultural production, as opposed to consuming or purveying corporate cultural products.
  •   Movements and ideas associated with postmodernism—collectivism, the abandonment of hierarchies, the co-op movement, new games, feminism, etc.—helped foster collaborative creation, to find not just the individual genius but to cultivate and value group genius.
  •   We are living in a nonliterary time. Devising suits the time—it is not dependent upon the crafting of words; it can come from a variety of sources and take a variety of theatrical forms.
  • There is no longer a “general” audience. Instead, we have “niche groups” whose needs and desires relative to theatre and entertainment vary widely. Not every group has “its” playwrights; not every group needs them. Devisers in the hip-hop theatre, for example, are inventing techniques to stage the content of music, poetry, and attitude.
  • Marginalization due to race, gender, ethnicity, class, and religion has heightened the need to tell the “stories” of a particular group. Devising is a way to be heard.
  • There has been a long, bleak period (which seems to be ending, due in no small part to dire world events) in which the American theatre abandoned its role as a forum for ideas, a place where the most important issues of the day were explored, juggled, and given imaginative life by passionate theatre artists. In the absence of a courageous and compelling theatre that speaks to their concerns, devising has been a way for young artists to engage with each other in the wondrous territory where art and ideas comingle to generate excitement, provocation,  even hope.
  • The blurring of boundaries between theatre, dance, music, circus, performance, and the visual arts as well as the rise of digital media offers limitless possibilities to devisers, who are by nature risk-takers.
  • In the latter half of the twentieth century, a number of schools of theatre and dance were started whose pedagogical bases included improvisation and creative origination, grounded in ensemble practice. The researches of Jacques Lecoq were of great importance to the development of devising, and the evidence of his influence upon important French and British theatre-makers has given further legitimacy to devising.
  • A shift in perception is underway among American theatre presenters, funders, and artists, reflecting theatre’s struggle for significance and the search for new ways to look at audiences, venues, relevance, support, time, and community. Speaking at a recent festival of new work,  Robert Woodruff, Artistic Director of A.R.T., (American Repertory Theatre), stated, “It is now widely acknowledged that ensembles represent the future of American theatre.”  As the attention of the theatre community shifts towards ensembles, many of whom have operated “under the radar,” ensemble devising practices are becoming more widely known, researched, funded, and accessible both as models and inspirations to a new generation of devisers.

      Finally, I could make the case that devising is on the rise among young people because devisers get around more, their work is visible. Aside from commercial tours of Broadway hits, very few companies now tour traditional plays in the US. Outside large urban centers, there are not enough opportunities for young people to see adventurous and well-crafted professional theatre. Even if they live in a large city, they may not be able to afford a ticket! Nationwide, there is a lack of noncommercial touring theatre to inspire a new generation of theatre-makers. The reason lies in the current economics of touring and lack of venues.  Very few universities include touring theatre productions in their arts and lectures seasons. There is a general timidity on the part of presenters regarding work that is risky, controversial, or unknown. The economics of solo performances—which are usually devised works—has put more devised work on view.  Students tend to want to do the kind of work that inspires them. And the work young people see, is very often original, devised work. To put it simply, what they get to see depends both on what’s available for them to see, and what they can afford. What they are seeing more of, and what they can afford to see—in alternative theatres, on the fringe circuit, in cabarets and clubs—is original, devised work.(6).
In Conclusion
      Most of us in the theatre have at some point gotten together with friends to “put on a show” either in fun or seriousness, for art or money or both. As kids, my sisters and I used to devise shows based on storylines and jokes we’d pulled out of Archie comics, classic fairytales, and one-liners heard on the radio. Wearing shower caps and scarves, we devised hilarious (to us) evenings of vaudeville in the living room, for an audience of our parents.  We laughed ourselves silly coming up with our routines and characters, caught up in the rush and excitement of egging each other on—one of the most seductive and significant features of devising. It is this very compounding of ideas and energy that can be the springboard to anything from good entertainment to daring, innovative work.
       The theatre continues to need innovators, and students who experience devising may be the ones who breathe new life into “the fabulous invalid.” They may be the ones who, in spite of the challenges, feel enough ownership of their work to devote a lifetime to it. Live From New York,[EL1] a history of television’s Saturday Night Live, recounts the show’s early years as a period of furious collaborative invention. In his review of the book and several others related to group-think, New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell notes that innovation is typically not the province of the loner:
"One of the peculiar features of group dynamics is that clusters of people will come to decisions that are far more extreme than any individual member would have come to on his own.  People compete with each other and egg each other on, showboat and grandstand; and along the way they often lose sight of what they truly believed when the meeting began. Typically, this is considered a bad thing, because it means that groups formed explicitly to find middle ground often end up someplace far away. But at times this quality turns out to be tremendously productive, because, after all, losing sight of what you truly believed when the meeting began is one way of defining innovation. "

Copyright J. Schirle 2005

Joan Schirle, MFA, is the Director of the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and Founding Artistic Director of the Dell’Arte Company. A ‘slasher’— actor/director/playwright/teacher—she has been one of the ensemble’s principal collaborators and performers since 1976. She devised the new Dell’Arte MFA in Ensemble Based Physical Theatre, approved by NAST in 2003 and now in its second year. She tours widely with her solo show, Second Skin, and was honored at the 2004 Cairo Experimental Theatre Festival in recognition of her leadership in the field of experimental theatre. She is a certified senior teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, and leads bi-annual study trips to Bali.

1. According to Comden, the credo reflected the devisers’ standards for the type of work they wanted to make:  “the work must have a unity, the songs must come out of the action, and [there must be] nothing pretentious.”

2. Peter Buckley, letter to incoming students, Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.

3. Used by permission. Collaborators’ names withheld to protect privacy.

4. US professional companies with significant devising histories include members of the historical American avant garde, like the Wooster Group and Mabou Mines; longstanding ensembles like the Dell’Arte Company, the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Theatre de la Jeune Lune; newer ensembles such as SITI Company, Cornerstone, Universes, Theatre Grottesco, Touchstone Ensemble, DoubleEdge Theatre and other members of the Network of Ensemble Theatres, as well as multimedia groups like Blue Man. For a list of NET members and links to finding out about their devising practices, log on to <www.ensembles.org>

5. Dell’Arte co-founder Carlo Mazzone-Clementi (1920–2000) taught the process he called “Image, Idea, Concept, Design,” another way of saying that content gives rise to technique. Along those lines he also said, “The alphabet was invented by illiterates, probably mimes.”

6. As interest in devised work has grown, so has the necessity (as well as the desire) to find nontraditional venues and spaces in which to do the work, and thus devising is much more visible in experimental theatres as well as the fringe, cabaret, and the street.

7. I transcribed Robert Woodruff’s remarks on January 7, 2005 during a panel presentation at “Under the Radar,” a mini-festival of contemporary theatre at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. The event was partially funded by the Doris Duke Foundation, which revealed a new initiative to partner presenters and theatre companies with ensembles making new work.

Works Cited

Comden, Betty. Radio interview. “A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein.” NPR Fresh Air with Terry Gross., WHYY, Philadelphia

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Group Think.” The New Yorker 2 Dec. 2002

Oddey, Alison. Devising Theatre: A Practical and Theoretical Handbook, Routledge, London,1994

Shales, Tom, and James A. Miller. Live from New York:An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests , Little, Brown (Time Warner), NY 2002



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