The surprising power of open space


July 18th, 2010

Regular readers will be aware that I’m a fan of open space. And this week I was inspired by Stella Duffy and her experience of using open space to make theatre. Made me wonder if I’ve been limiting my own use of the form, and gave me a few ideas to chew over.

Stella has been working on a new theatre project and shared with the open space list the report she returned to the National Theatre Studio who generously gave 30+ people the space to work on the new project in OS. Here’s Stella’s story.

I’m emailing to thank you all so much for your support for the Chaosbaby Project Open Spaces this weekend and last.  To give you some idea of what happened, and how valuable it was :
36 people attended over both days (many of them came to both).
The age range was from 21 to mid-60’s.
They were 11 actors, 2 actor-musicians, 4 actor-writers, 1 choreographer-dancer, 6 directors, 1 designer, 1 film-maker, 2 musicians, 2 playwrights, 5 writer-directors, 1 photographer.

In the two days, using the Open Space form, various groups & individuals :

  • wrote a 14-page traditional/’straight’ narrative for the piece
  • developed character breakdowns
  • worked on the physicality/movement for a number of characters/spaces
  • held many discussions about the nature of the piece
  • discussed the nature of chaos (as a theatrical concept, as a dance/movement concept, and in terms of chaos theory and mathematics)
  • created/drew up initial design ideas
  • wrote 3 new monologues
  • worked on the (two, brief) pre-existing texts
  • wrote and recorded a lullaby
  • documented the work on camera and video
  • made a puppet show, with live music accompaniment

Above all, I think, we showed ourselves it is not only possible,but perhaps preferable to work in Open Space, with a wide range of theatre-makers, across many disciplines, which generated an enormous amount of work/material, led not by a single director or writer, but by the whole – and that in doing so it is still possible  to have a cohesive idea of what we are making and where best our skills might be used. I’m really excited about taking this on further, I especially loved that, having met Slav (on the door, doing security) the first Saturday, he took (wonderful) photos for us on the 2nd Saturday.

We’re looking at a full weekend/three day Open Space to further the work later in the year.

I’ve worked in made/devised/improvised theatre for the past twenty-five years, this was one of the few times I’ve felt that it was TRULY a shared group endeavour and not, at least in some ways, a director or writer-led experience. And happy though I am to work as both a director and a writer, a working form that uses ALL the skills in the room, to the utmost that can be offered, feels like a much better use of time, space, money and, most importantly, the full range of all the artists’ abilities.

And I loved Stella’s comment on my earlier post about scriptwriting and facilitation: “Improvising / writing / facilitating – they’re all the same thing as far as I’m concerned.” Indeed!

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