NET/TEN Shareback: Goat in the Road Productions - How to Create a Devised Piece in 3 Steps (or 2 Days)

2013 Spring Seed Grant Recipient

Goat in the Road Productions (New Orleans, LA) participated in an exchange with The Assembly (New York, NY) to further their newest work, Anesthetic, and to begin sharing artistic knowledge. The project also included a roundtable focused on board development.


Goat in the Road Productions provided NET with an overview of their time with The Assembly and shared the three steps they took to create a devised piece together. The three steps include generating material, arranging the material, and sculpting and editing the material. A video of their final excersise is included.


How to Create a Devised Piece in 3 Steps (or 2 Days)

By Goat in the Road Productions (NOLA) and The Assembly (NYC)

During the two and a half day exchange between the Assembly from NYC and Goat in the Road Productions from New Orleans, we created a short piece of devised theatre. We originally began by sharing with each other the different methodologies we use, and after a day realized we had a ton of material through which common threads were beginning to emerge. We decided to try to put together a piece that encompassed the work we had been doing.

We’re positive it’s not the best thing either of us have done, but it did get creative juices flowing, gave us the chance to make something together very quickly, and was a whole lot of fun. Additionally it felt like it could be the inspiration for a longer, more polished product.

Here’s how we did it:


Each company brought a number of devising techniques to the table to generate movement sequences, scenes, monologues, gestures, etc. Here is a list of the main ones we used:


This is a Liz Lerman activity that we stole without remorse.  A great way to generate movement quickly.  The first partner makes a shape with the body, then holds perfectly still and says, “One.”  The second partner looks at the first partner’s shape and then makes a shape that relates to it in some way. She freezes and says, “Two.”  This process continues between the partners until they reach ten. 

3-minute improv - setting it
Using the blueprint of the now memorized 1-10, partners improvise for three minutes.  Then they try to repeat their exact improv a second time, and a third, until they have three minutes of set movement. 

3-minute improv - improvising off of it
Everybody in the room learns this now ‘set’ improv, and then improvises based on that structure. 

3-minute improv - bring it all together
The groups take the best parts of the original and subsequent improvisations to make three minutes worth of movement. 

3-minute improv with text
Using some pre-written text, groups put the now set improvisation to words.

Improvisation in small spaces
One ensemble member acts as the designer, and arranges some part of the room to be the playing area.  It’s best if this area is small.  2-3 performers improvise within this area; this can be based on the movements already developed, or the beginning of its own activity. 

After each piece was created, we put it on a notecard (colored coded for movement, scene, and monologue) and put it to the side.


Personal monologues
Each company member writes a personal experience monologue based on the topic of shared exploration. These deeply personal reflections were used as fodder for the weekend's activities.

List of 10
Each ensemble member quickly lists and shares 10 sights, sounds, smells and images that belong in the "world" of the play, based on the monologues written.

Location-based improv
Identifying a location central to the topic of the play, and using the images and experiences described in the personal writing thus far, the ensemble begins a 20-minute improv session set in that location. No more than three ensemble members can participate at any given time. At its conclusion, we discuss what moments, movements and ideas felt fruitful from the session, and hold on to those.

Impossible stage directions
Using the fodder from the monologues, the improvisations and the lists, each ensemble member writes a scene using an impossible stage direction: a moment that would be physically impossible to create in the theater, but that articulates a heightened tone and high stakes.

In pairs, two ensemble members interview each other for 5-7 minutes on a particular topic. We each then share the material from these interviews in strictly timed 1-minutes sessions.

Physical actions
Physical actions are one of the foundations of The Assembly's ensemble creation. A physical action is a 60- to 90-second silent, repeatable sequence of movement. It can be character-based, taken from a memory or dream, or based on a topic the ensemble is interested in exploring. Each physical action should be recognizable as a concrete activity, but should reflect a strong personal desire or objective.

Composition work
You can synthesize material from multiple exercises by assigning short "compositions." We broke into groups of 3 and created 3-5 minute location-specific scenes incorporating material from earlier in the day. Compositions should be fully staged, designed and off-book, and take up to 25 minutes to create. The short timeframe is essential for creating work that tackles strong ideas without time for self-censorship.


As a group, we spent about an hour putting the notecards in an order that “made sense” to us. A narrative of sorts began to emerge, although this need not necessarily be the case. Sometime we would duplicate a notecard if the action needed to be repeated more than once.


After we had put the notecards in order, we took a picture of the line-up.


We transferred the arrangement of note cards onto a long table and talked through the piece as a group, with one person from each company (in both cases this person was that company’s primary director) leading the talk-through. We went ahead and performed the whole thing, with the director calling out each scene.

We videotaped this.

The director began to tweak the show – deleting scenes, moving others around, perhaps adapting dialogue to make the piece more cohesive.

We repeated the proccess three or four more times and continued tweaking, even as actors were in the midst of action.  Sort of like live painting (or sculpting) with moving bodies.   Sound was integral to this part of the process; each time the sound designer layered on additional cues and responded to the director’s requests for others. This part of the process could have gone on for much longer than the 3 – 4 hours that it did.

We videotaped our final product and called it a day.

Goat in the Road and The Assembly - NET Shareback from Goat in the Road Productions on Vimeo.


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Friday, January 17, 2014

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