Devising while Playwriting

A definition for the non-theater-people: a devised play is a play generated collaboratively, rather than by the traditional method of a playwright sitting alone and writing a script before giving it over to a full creative team. I generally work in the traditional manner as a playwright, but right now I’m one of the devisers in Remote with BoHo Theater, conceived and directed by Ruben Carrazana.

The process began not with writing but with talking: the three storyteller-performers (the other two are Gardy Gilbert and Maria Clara Ospina) spent six rehearsals telling stories from our pandemic life, particularly the early lockdown days. We then each wrote scripts telling the stories of the full group. The whole process lasted under two weeks. As of this writing, we’re about to enter tech rehearsals.

Usually when I start a play, I won’t even breathe a word of the idea to anyone else until I’ve written a full first draft, thinking that the energy of the idea will dissipate into the ether if I don’t pin it down first. I can be working on a project for well over a year before I allow anyone to hear about it, let alone read it.

Remote has been the opposite of my usual process. The speed of it has been freeing, but so has the freedom from the pressure to invent. We can talk all day about myths of originality and creative genius, but when I sit down to a notepad or computer to write a play traditionally, it’s often hard to figure out what happens and how it happens and how to make that happening interesting. It’s been freeing to have my primary responsibility to be to something other than “write a terrific play.” Instead, my main allegiance is to the truth of my collaborators’ shared pandemic stories. And while in my own plays I often (and without shame) alter stories taken from my own life, both to protect people and into improve the dramatic content of the narrative, with Remote I feel bound to do straightforward, honest justice to my collaborators’ words. Again, we can talk all day about the impossibility of capturing any nonfiction story 100% accurately, but on my end I feel as serious as the knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Making fewer choices, wisely.

The cleverness and inventiveness that are my usual writerly crutches just don’t have room to grow in this rapid, collaborative process. I don’t think that means I’ve written a humorless script. I’ve been blessed to have a director give me a mission to fulfill with a bit less of my ego in the way than usual.

Remote plays July 15th, 16th, and 17th at the Edge Theater in Chicago.

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