by Tamara Gazzard
Creative Development is the process through which new theatre work is researched and created. This process can apply to traditional, scripted work as well as contemporary devised performance. The process of developing a new work can take anywhere from one week to three years depending on the scale, style and intention of the work.
Our latest work, No One Cares About Your Cat, was developed over 18 months with three distinct creative development stages, a rehearsal period and the production season. The process began with ideas development workshops that involved a lot of brainstorming, discussion and sharing of stories and experiences. This first stage of the process always involves a lot of butcher's paper, because we like to be able to tease out concepts and ideas on paper and have them there to refer back to as we go on with the process.
In the next stage of creative development we began developing material by setting devising tasks for our emerging artists to explore the themes and ideas developed in the initial stage. Some examples of devising tasks that the artists undertook were:
PHYSICAL TASK: Come up with a short movement related to technology use that you can repeat. Play with the pace, scale and location of the movement in order to abstract it into a symbolic form. E.g. Typing on a keyboard could become stomping on the ground. Scrolling with a thumb could be transformed into a whole body scrolling.
WRITTEN TASK: Look at your timeline on Facebook and select 10 statuses/posts. Then turn these into a monologue by cutting and pasting and combining them together. Play with presenting this text in a variety of ways.
At the end of the second stage of creative development we had generated a lot of material and began the complex task of structuring this material into a coherent form, i.e. a show! This process is a bit different for every work we create, but with No One Cares About Your Cat we relied heavily on coloured post-it notes and had a lot of fun moving them around and trying them out in different places, much like piecing together a very complicated puzzle.
The process of devising this work was collaborative with all members of the team contributing equally to the creation of the work. Working in this way can be challenging because creative decisions need to be negotiated by all members of the ensemble.
Some important things to remember if you are engaged in a collaborative devising process are:
Say ‘yes’ to ideas that others propose
Hop up and test an idea out practically before deciding if it will or will not work
Allow your ideas to grow and change as the process goes on
The goal of a collaborative process is to create a work with the best ideas, not just your own ideas.
In the third development stage we continued to play with the structure of the work and were fortunate enough to be working with David Williams, a highly experienced theatremaker and dramaturg, who helped us clarify the purpose and intention of each part and identify key links between the parts.
In creating contemporary devised work the starting point is brainstorming, improvisation and giving things a go, but the end point is usually a scripted work that is rehearsed like any other play. When we began our formal rehearsal period for No One Cares About Your Cat we all had a script in hand, as you would if you were rehearsing a traditional play. The only difference - our script was still changeable, and indeed we continued to make small changes right up until the week before the production. Creating a new work is a dynamic process and one that involves constant testing of ideas in order to discover the best way to communicate or convey something to an audience. It's not unusual to find that something that worked really well in the last development stage needs to be tweaked or changed or even replaced when you move into the next phase of the process.
The biggest thing to remember is to record and document everything. Several times throughout the development of this work we resdiscovered a tiny kernel of an idea from the very beginning of the process that we had almost forgotten about, and this then had a significant impact on the content and structure of the final work. So in other words, never throw anything away!