Arts & Culture / Mosaic / Theater / February 25, 2009

Students complete devised theater production

In seven weeks, 19 students have written, designed, and acted in their own production as part of Assistant Professor of Theater Lindsey Snyder’s course about devised theater.

During their class time, the students learned about theoretical devised theater and then split into three groups, each of which put together a one-act devised show based around a common theme. The show will play in Harbach Theatre on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m.

“Devised theater is when a group of people work together to create something original through a goal of creativity and an understanding of the audience, as well as a message they want to share,” said Snyder. “The class was an experiment.”

There has never been a devised theater class like this taught at Knox before and this was also Snyder’s first time teaching devised theater in a large setting. Usually, she works with smaller groups of people.

Snyder said the class talked about what devised theater was. Devised theater can be just an individual person or a group of people. It can center on a single event or aim for social change. This devised theater performance is not improvisational, as the scripts have been written and planned. “We know what is going to happen,” said Snyder.

This term, the class members have looked at traditional fairytales and what happens when different elements of the tale are distorted. Myths and fairytales, Snyder said, are the tangible things a culture can pass to their children as a means of explaining their values.

“We’ve messed with [the fairytales],” said Snyder.

The class looked at how symbols relay messages within the fairytales and how details about the characters or symbols change as stories translate to different cultures. They also looked at what it meant to change details, endings, or morals of these stories. Little Red Riding Hood is a fairytale Snyder used as an example.

“Depending on what culture, that story changes,” said Snyder. In some retellings, the color of the hood changes, the number of trips through the woods changes or the presence of the woodsman can be different. In the end, however, the story’s message is roughly similar.

The shows, put together by the students, have an additional challenge. The stage has been opened up so that the audience can sit on all sides of the theater, which means the cast must play to the audience in front of and behind them.

“We wanted to rethink the idea of what theater is,” said Snyder. “We wanted it to break from the path in theater.”

The show, titled Beyond the Fourth Wall, is a reference to breaking that imaginary wall between the actors on stage and their audience. The show consists of three one-act productions that are linked together by short scenes that examine what life might be like without the creativity of fairytales. In its entirety, the show will run about an hour long. The students will be acting in the show and making sure production runs smoothly.

“All the students are working outside of the comfort zone,” said Snyder. “It’s a really collaborative process.”

Snyder said throughout the term she has taken notes about what worked well in teaching about devised theater and what she might change in the future.

“It was a wild and crazy ride,” said Snyder. “I definitely think the class will be back.”

Laura Miller

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