Blog post #1 from Brooke Liefso, 2013 Artist in Residence
My name is Brooke and I am the artist-in-residence! I am a devised performance creator and director!
Since coming to this beautiful island, many people have asked me about my art form. I find this question tricky as it doesn’t seem to fit neatly into one accessible category. I create and direct devised performance. My personal definition of devised theatre is performance created without a script or set beginning plan of what to create. Its building performance from scratch: just bodies and a concept.
Every process is different, just as every group is different. Generally the process starts with a concept. I love big, meaty and meaningful topics: boundaries, death, birth, and for this project – my personal body. Yet these big topics just stay intellectual ideas without rooting them in the body. So I work with performers to get concepts into their bodies. It’s taking an idea and making visceral. Sometimes it’s very direct: replaying a funeral, a visualization exercise reliving the facts of death. I can also be something completely abstract—building a patterned web of string as a set/installation in a piece about birth. The red string became a mixed metaphor for bloodlines, the womb and family constellation work.
Cementing ideas in the body is the most original and yet most difficult. I find it best to use the strengths in the room, but make sure to not have performers get into the heads. Once a performer stops an exercise to think about it, you’ve lost them. The best way to get performance in the body is to lead them through an exercise. A nice one is “tell me a story using your body about x”.
Sometimes you can be very mathematical: 3 actors in as many combinations as possible, each combination with it’s own story line, exploring different aspects of the huge concept. This gives structure to something to ground the organic process.
From there, you add the text. It can be written and brought into rehearsal or completely improvisational and in the moment. Both have their advantages.
Now from here, you do what needs to happen to make the work it’s best—sequencing, placing it into a space, sound, film.
The joy about devised theatre is the organic-ness and the potential for large rule-breaking creativity. At times it blurs the lines of performance art, theatre, music and contemporary dance. It makes it hard to tell people what I create! Warning: it may not have what you’re used to when you think of theatre.