Tag Archives: plays

Why Devise Theatre? By Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe

Many theatre productions begin life as a Devising Theatreplay, a story involving characters following a journey that has already been written down by a playwright. In this case it is our job as directors and actors to bring this story to life through the creative ways that we choose to present it to an audience. But what happens if when we start we have no script, no characters and no plot? What happens if we are starting with a blank page?

To devise theatre is to make performance from scratch. This usually (although not always) occurs as a process of collaborative creation where a group of individuals come together to share thinking, experiment with ideas and invent a new piece of work together.

The power of devising is in its infinite possibility and the opportunity it offers theatre-makers to make something unique, something which is entirely their own and expresses their own ideas and experience of the world as they find it. Some of the most exciting new theatre and performance made today stems from this practice. Companies working in this way readily experiment with ideas of content, form, structure, staging and styles of performance in order to create new and exciting theatre.


To Devise:
to plan or invent (a complex procedure, system, or mechanism) by careful thought.
Oxford Dictionary


Devising can be an exciting prospect for a young artist as you begin to apply your developing toolkit to the process of making your own creative decisions and exploring new theatrical possibilities. In many ways, devising is a little like that moment as a child when you are given a blank piece of paper and a box of colours. It is completely up to you to decide how you choose to fill it; whether you will write or draw, recreate an image you have seen before or imagine something completely new. There are so many creative options open to you and it is really not possible to get it ‘wrong’.

One of the things that is most exciting about this type of creative process is that everyone can bring their own individual skills to the mix. You might be a person who finds reading big chunks of text difficult but loves to dance or move on stage. Maybe you express yourself visually and spend hours experimenting with objects and materials or through music and can lose a whole day playing your guitar or harmonica or harp. Devising works on the basis that everyone has something to offer and has their own unique creative potential. The trick is really just to figure out how best to use it.

Another key feature of the devising process is that you do not need to worry about the size of your cast. Whether you have 1, 10 or 100 people it is equally possible to make something brilliant. It also does not matter who is in your group; whatever age, gender, background or ability there is a space for everyone. You can imagine as many roles as there are people to play them.  Devising theatre need not be reliant on the idea of having a ‘main part’ but instead relies on the fundamental idea that everyone involved is equally important and can contribute to the overall creative process in all sorts of ways.

For the young people we have worked with, the most valuable thing about devising performance has always been the opportunity it has offered to them to use their own voice and have a say about the world as they find it. Making shows and sharing them with audiences has provided a platform to share some of their ideas, experiences, perspectives and questions with others. It has allowed them to challenge preconceived notions of who can be an artist and who is qualified to make performance and shift focus away from the ‘professional’ adults. In this way it has enabled them to share the power and creativity inherent in young people and energise the conversation around what theatre and performance can look like.

As we consider the potential of devising performance it is also important to consider what the function of art is in the first place. It is a mistake to imagine that it is not all just about ‘entertainment’. Art has always been the way that human beings make sense of the world that we live in. Right back when the Greeks were making the first shows in Athens (the origins of western theatre) they were using theatre as a tool to communicate what they felt and believed about the society they lived in and to engage with their wider community in the larger questions they had about life and existence. This remains true of art to this day; every song, every painting, every poem, every play that you can think of has been born out of human creativity. They are all the result of our need to share our thoughts and feelings and in doing so encourage others to think and feel too. When we consider it this way, we soon come to realise just how very powerful theatre and performance is and the potential it holds for all of us.

Tashi Gore and Jess Thorpe are Co-Artistic Directors of Glass Performance, an international award-winning theatre company. Their latest book A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre is now available!

Explore the theme of migration with these Drama exercises for secondary students

With the subject of Migration Migration Playsbecoming more pressing and relevant in twenty-first century Britain, it is vital that we are able to have an informed debate about it, particularly with young people. Drama and performance can become a vehicle for those debates and feelings that we all have around migration.

Fin Kennedy’s new book, Migration Plays explores the theme of migration through four new plays. He explains the background to the book in his introduction here:

“Migration Stories was a Tamasha schools project delivered by playwrights and directors working in several different secondary schools in London and Derby. The format involved twenty-five Drama students from Years 7 to 10 coming off-timetable for a day and participating in exercises designed to unpack their thoughts and feelings on the topic of migration, and encourage them to respond creatively to what they were learning. These sessions were facilitated by the director, with the playwright taking notes. Each playwright then went away and worked up the ideas generated into a twenty-minute script for performance, with parts for the whole class.”

Migration Plays shares these plays along with director notes that you can use with your Drama class. This is then followed by a section of drama games and more involved exercises to generate characters and stories.


Two exercises to try today

Section 1: Exercises to unpack the theme of migration

Exercise: What’s in a name?

Set-up: Participants sit in a circle on chairs or the floor. This is usually the first activity of the workshop.

Teacher instructions: Invite everybody in the circle, one by one, to say their name. It can be their first name, their middle name or their surname. Then go round again and ask each student to share with the group one thing about their name. It could be one of the following:

  • What your name means.
  • Which language or culture is associated with your name.
  • Do you like your name?
  • Who gave you your name?
  • If you were a boy/girl what would you have been called instead?
  • What would you prefer to be called if you weren’t given your name?

Notes: Pupils generally respond very positively to this activity, especially if it is used as the first activity of the workshop. Most people like sharing something about themselves, but of course people can be given the option to ‘pass’. The teacher must be ready to positively respond to each name and to keep this activity flowing. We find that this activity inevitably brings up some migration references, and then these can be explored further in the subsequent activities.

Section 3: Improvisation exercises

Exercise: Creating obstacles and conflict

Set-up: Drama studio or cleared classroom. Whiteboard needed.

Teacher instructions: As a class, make a list of obstacles relating to migration, which might cause some kind of conflict for the migrant. Explain that obstacles and conflict are an important part of drama, because watching characters struggle to get what they want is how they learn and change. The best obstacles are often another character. Write their examples on the whiteboard. The list might include:

  • Assembling what they need for a long journey.
  • Applying for a visa.
  • Booking a boat ticket.
  • Saying goodbye to someone they love.
  • Finding suitable food.
  • Running out of money.
  • Preparing for an interview at the border.
  • Looking for work.
  • Finding somewhere to stay.
  • Meeting the locals.
  • Communicating with home.

In threes or fours, choose one obstacle and rehearse a short improvisation in which A and B are migrants engaged in this activity. C and/or D stands in their way and could either help them or block them depending on how the scene goes. The dialogue is about A and B trying to persuade C and/or D to give them what they want. Give the group five minutes’ rehearsal time, then watch a few.

After each scene, ask the audience:

  • What clues are in the scene about what the nature of the relationship is between the migrant characters?
  • What tactics do they use to try to get what they want?
  • How are they changed by the experience of dealing with this obstacle?
  • What might they try next?

Migration Plays is a Methuen Drama title and was published in August. Purchase your copy or request an inspection copy for your school here.