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applied theatre

Experience Sharing and Improv for Collective Creation

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During a session with actors and pedagogue artists.

Collective creation has been, and is, a powerful tool for manifesting social concerns in troubled times. The main objective of its creation was to expose situations of injustice or social discomfort, as indicated by Augusto Boal in his writings about the theatre of the oppressed. However, in relatively wealthy countries like ours, we come closer to use collective creation, as a mere work tool in drama and theatre workshops whose final objective is to make a show oriented to an audience.

Is the original essence of collective creation in the first world countries becoming less fundamental? It doesn’t have to. Collective creation as a method of expressing a common concern can’t only be used as a tool to become aware of certain contemporary social and / or political situations. Its function is more than legitimate as long as the intention to communicate exists. As long as there is an interest in showing clearly the group’s vision on a certain topic. Allow me to make a frivolous example. Let’s say, for example, that we have a group and we decided to make a collective creation about chocolate ice creams since we all love them (vegan option available). If we just do a show where we just see people eating chocolate ice cream, the only thing we will be doing is making an illustration. No matter how plastic it may be, as long as there is no intention of communicating what the chocolate ice creams mean to us and making them the axis of the show, we will be failing at making the importance of these delicious desserts reach the public. The essence of that work will melt, like the ice creams themselves, under the heat of irrelevance. It is then when we have to rely on subjective evocation, from each one of the members of the group, to start the emotional journey that can come to alter the meaning of something as simple as chocolate ice cream. For some, it can evoke the carefree and happiness of summer afternoons or, for another, long walks on the beach with their mother. We can even evoke negative feelings like, for example, the moment when a big stain of chocolate ice cream destroyed your mother’s wedding dress. With all these feelings and experiences in the baggage, the group has a solid base to begin to elaborate a plot and to use the dramatic resources and improv techniques that are used to build a show in which the desire to bring these feelings to the public will prevail.

In short, collective creation is essentially nourished by highly elaborated dramaturgy. Honesty and sincerity are the engines that devise, build and communicate a story, from us to a receptive audience. With this, I defend the use of collective creation in theatre workshops within the academic and social spheres with the clear conviction that it is a more enriching thing to work relying on experience, brought up through improv, than the use of a text already written. Through the use of theatrical and pedagogical tools, we can combine the voices of the experience of a group and bring it together to show a specific concern from that homogeneous group and shape it in the form of a theatrical piece built from scenes created through improv.

If you are facilitating a theatre workshop, either in school or in any social field, such as civic centres of any kind, mind that the workshop students are not actors. It is important to be clear about the level of demand that we apply to the group, and it must be rather low. You have to be understanding and try to lead the sessions with a certain pedagogy. The important thing is that they have fun and that the knowledge of the techniques, practised in the games, is acquired implicitly. In the case that we want to make a show with an audience to show the results, if possible, avoid using a predetermined text. As workshop facilitators with great love for the theatre, it is normal that we are tempted to convey to the students our passion for a certain text. There are several reasons why I think this is not a good idea. First, it may seem like an easy choice, but it takes a lot of effort to tailor the text to a certain number of people. A play already written, in addition, has a hierarchy of weight between the characters and the distribution of roles can lead to conflicts and a lack of motivation, especially among younger students. Finally, we don’t want an audience comparing the performance of a known play to a professional level. Nevertheless, I do not want to invalidate the work of people who pretended to proceed in this way, I simply consider that the choice of collective creation through experience sharing and improv has more satisfactory results for simple reasons. Proposing to the students of a workshop to carry out a scenic creation that tackles on a problem close to them or, simply, made a play about something that everyone wants, will increase their level of motivation. A motivated student is an involved student. The workshop facilitator’s responsibility lies in directing the sessions and including improv exercises and games with the topics chosen by the group. Also it is simpler to collect the result of those improvisations, transcribe and shape them until you get scenes in which they feel represented and happy to enact naturally since they are used to deal with the subject. In this way, we will be able to create community, strengthen the empathy of the participants and all thanks to the use of theatre and improv as a tool for social expression.