Devised theatre

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Devised theatre (also called collaborative creation, particularly in the United States [1]) is a form of theatre where the script originates not from a writer or writers, but from collaborative, usually improvisatory, work by a group of people (usually, but not necessarily, the performers). This is similar to commedia dell'arte and street theatre such as busking. It is sometimes similar to improvisational theatre but by the time a devised piece presents itself to the public, it usually has a fixed form: the improvisation is confined to the creation process, and either a writer, a director, or the performers themselves, will have decided exactly what is to be included and the running sequence.

Devising methods[edit]

It is very hard to pin down exact methods for devising as every group of collaborators will have different ways of approaching the creative process. One very common method is to begin by focusing on form, and then extract thematic ideas and work with them retrospectively.

Collaborators often use games as a starting point.

What method the collaborators will use depends a lot on the style of the performance group. For instance, a group who makes naturalistic theatre may start with building characters and then gradually begin to build narrative strands together out of character-based improvisational interaction. A group of a more choreographic nature would be more likely to start with improvisation using space and/or contact improvisation.

In addition to a thematic element retrospectively applied to the material being generated, it is also common for the sequence of the material to be retrospective too. This, however, as with most elements of devising, varies depending on the group in question.

Whether the group includes a director or not will also affect the nature of the process. With a director, the performers will create a lot of material, but without any knowledge of how the director will decide to piece it all together until quite late in the process.


A number of theatre practitioners, including Jerzy Grotowski and Peter Brook, started experimenting and developing the idea of the actor as a creative artist in their own right, as opposed to a functional worker there to carry out the wishes of the writer and director. However, whilst the actor was being encouraged to make creative decisions about how they perform, they were not being encouraged to make decisions about what they perform. Etienne Decroux, a mime artist and educator, broke this mould and started encouraging his students to create their own work, and for this reason, some refer to him as the father of modern devised performance. [2] Although many companies started experimenting with radical interpretation of playtexts, including many elements of devising in the process, the first fully devised performance was Oh, What a Lovely War!,[1] which was created by Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop in 1963. This was a highly successful commercial production, and most devised performance currently is struggling to receive recognition from the wider theatrical community, although it is recognised by the performing arts community and is widely taught to performing art students.


  1. ^ a b Milling, Jane; Deirdre Heddon (2005). Devising Performance. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-0663-7. 
  2. ^ Callery, Dympha (2001). Through the Body: A Practical Guide to Physical Theatre. Nick Hern Books. ISBN 1-85459-630-6. 

Further reading[edit]