Switching Lanes: Changing Ideas Halfway Through a Project

Holly Webster

When a piece of art is finished, it is easy to get hung up on the idea of that being exactly what is presented to the world. But, is this always for the best?

I was involved in a project earlier this year. We presented our project idea and were excited. However, as time went on, nothing was coming together. It got to two weeks before our showing and we didn’t have anything. So we started a brand new project. Which ended up miles better and engaging more people. Consequently, that is simultaneously the best and most stressful project I have ever been involved with.

I understand that it’s a little harder when you have a specific story to tell but I’d like to explore some of the ways a play/theatre piece can adapt. Plus some of the potential implications of these changes.

One of the ways to experiment is during casting. Instead of immediately picking one person to go into rehearsals after an audition, why not allow more people to read the role during full scale rehearsals. Rehearsals, auditions and table reads are all different entities. So seeing an actor or actress perform a scene in full might be more effective than auditions or table reads. I know this may call for more rehearsals but I believe that it would be more effective than the traditional call-back process. If this was to be used then I feel it important to have a cut off point. Otherwise, it could take up too much time and be more of a hindrance.

Scripts are essentially the foundation of a show. Change them and the show changes. So, of course, to tell a certain story, the script has to be structured specifically. However, the script might not be its best in its original form. Sometimes, the actor who forgets their original line can ad-lib something better. Or the actor brave enough to speak up about unknown inconsistencies can send the story down a better path. As long as everyone knows about the changes and they don’t negatively affect anything, then it’s a worth a shot.

An interesting concept to me is audience participation during theatre. Forum theatre is a form where the audience can stop a performance and change it. This was used by a drama practitioner Augusto Boal to tackle oppression within theatre. If a story is told in a way that someone disagrees with, then it can be changed. This device is often used within community art. A theatre company working with a community to tell their story can use this technique during the devising process. Allowing the community to have control over the piece, meaning that none of their story is compromised. Although this device is touched upon in improvisation work, I think it could be stretched further in everyday theatre. I would like to see what would happen in a show where the actors only know part of the story and have to find their way back to it after being thrown a curveball.

Art is messy. When you throw yourself into this world, you quickly realise that. Chaos isn’t always bad though and sometimes breaking norms and taking a step back to evaluate your processes success, can create better theatre. It can also enhance the experiences of those involved.