By Moisés Kaufman and Barbara Pitts McAdams with Leigh Fondakowski, Andy Paris, Greg Pierotti, Kelli Simpkins, Jimmy Maize, and Scott Barrow. For more than two decades, the members of Tectonic Theater Project have been rigorously experimenting with the process of theatrical creation. Here they set forth a detailed manual of their devising method and a thorough chronicle of how they wrote some of their best-known works. This book is for all theater artists—actors, writers, designers, and directors—who wish to create work that embraces the unbridled potential of the stage.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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About the Author
BARBARA PITTS MCADAMS was an actor/dramaturg for The Laramie Project, performing at BAM, Alice Tully Hall, Union Square Theater, LaJolla Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, and Denver Center. She also appears in the HBO Films adaptation and shares an Emmy Nomination for the screenplay. Barb originally codified Moment Work for an internal teaching manual, and, as a Moment Work master teacher, leads trainings and devises new plays at colleges and high schools. She has also served as an adjunct professor for Drew University and CUNY’s Applied Theater MA program. She is a two-time Orchard Project and Sundance Theater Lab alum and a proud cast member of the award-winning web series Anyone But Me, about lesbian teens in the post-9/11 era.
Read an Excerpt
by Moisés Kaufman
The stage is the arena that most awakens my sense of wonder. I’m fascinated by what’s possible on stage, and by the myriad ways we can create theatrical narratives that generate riveting and profoundly intimate dialogues with an audience. It is this sense of awe and curiosity that led me to found the laboratory that is now Tectonic Theater Project.
Growing up in Venezuela, I had the good fortune of seeing the work of artists such as Peter Brook, Pina Bausch, Jerzy Grotowski, and Tadeusz Kantor at Caracas’s world-class international theater festival. These artists were rigorously exploring the potential of the stage. They created strange and wonderful new worlds that could exist only on the stage. Every aspect of these productions—sets, acting, sound, movement—helped build a new reality. Their work was experimental, adventurous, and very theatrical.
I was so used to these experimental works that when I saw my first “realistic” play, I thought, “This is so avant-garde! Look, there’s a sofa onstage! And water comes out of that faucet!” I guess my reaction must have been similar to that of the audience in Moscow in 1896, when The Seagull premiered. For them (as for me), naturalism was a new form that broke with all prevailing theatrical conventions. And because of the newness of that form (Masha sitting with her back to the audience, sounds of birds and horse carriages in the distance!), the audience was invited (or forced) to experience the content of the piece in a different way. Chekhov’s words were given a new canvas on which they could communicate with that audience.
This early exposure to a broad range of theatrical vocabularies ignited my curiosity and gave me a hunger for experimentation that has never left me.
Tom Stoppard once described an outdoor production of The Tempest that had become almost legendary among those who’d seen it. In Act V, Scene I, just after Prospero grants the spirit Ariel his freedom, Shakespeare writes, “Exit Ariel.” The production Stoppard describes was performed on an outdoor stage, near a lake. After Prospero bade Ariel farewell, the spirit ran across the stage straight into the lake, where to everyone’s surprise he continued to run on the surface of the water (the set designer had built a walkway in the water invisible to the audience). The audience saw Ariel running across the lake, and as he disappeared into the darkness of the oncoming evening, fireworks erupted into the air from the far shore. When the sparks were gone, so was Ariel.
I can’t help but think of the enormous awe and delight experienced by the audience. These theater artists had figured out a way to capture the magical and ethereal essence of the character and express it theatrically: Ariel— a spirit—defying the laws of physics and then exploding into a blazing fire! Furthermore, by having him disappear in the distance just as the fireworks burst, they had used the audience’s imagination to create a metamorphosis. This combination of theatricality and ingenuity had not only managed to articulate a sophisticated idea onstage but also to dazzle the audience and generate a sense of awe.
Theater as an art form has such magnificent potential! And theatricality as a language is endless in its ability to address the audience’s imaginations, minds, and feelings.
So why is it that much of the work we see on contemporary stages makes little use of that full potential? Why is it that so much of the work we see onstage takes place in living rooms or kitchens? Why, in a time when film, television, and the Internet continue to redefine what can happen on a screen, are naturalism and realism still so prevalent as narrative styles onstage? Today we as a society are constantly exposed to narrative. We have become incredibly adept both at evaluating aesthetics and at interpreting narratives within them. So why do we continue to use the same well-known forms to talk about new ideas? If we want to tell stories on the stage, how can we do so in a way that uses all the magnificence, the poetry, and the idiosyncratic discursive power of that which is theatrical? Which theatrical vocabularies and languages will best allow the stage to express contemporary narratives?
These questions were with us in the rehearsal room as we started the company, and I am still contemplating them more than twenty years later. Our name, Tectonic, refers to the art and science of structure— as in architecture, architectonic. We wanted to focus on form and on how that form relates to the narratives we construct. (Tectonic also refers to the movements of large continental plates, and this idea of shaking things up appealed to our youthful bravado.)
Our first years as a company were devoted to staging authors who were themselves experimenting with new theatrical vocabularies. During that time, Moment Work began to emerge as a series of exercises that allowed us to pursue the full potential of their plays using a new, shared language. It was Moment Work that would eventually lead us to create our own plays, and it is Moment Work that has led us to write this book.
I once visited Argentina to give a lecture at the Teatro Colon, a magnificent nineteenth-century theater that was modeled on La Scala in Milan and the Paris Opera House. While touring it, I noticed that on either side of the audience seats the walls were made of metal grills that resembled vents, which seemed odd to me because the theater was built before the invention of air conditioning. I asked the artistic director about them, and what he said really struck me.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, when the theater was built, widows were not supposed to be seen at social events for a year after their husbands died. To work around this ridiculous social restriction, the theater's owners and architects decided to build rooms on either side of the audience behind the grilles in the walls where the widows could come to see plays without being seen themselves. I was deeply moved by this: it showed how much that society valued our art form and how important they thought it was for people in times of strife.
When I look back at Tectonic’s work over the past two decades, I think the one question that has consistently given us focus and driven our work is this: how do we articulate a vision for this art form today that will allow theater to secure that vital role in our culture?
Table of Contents
Part 1 Tectonic's Antecedents, History, and Approach 7
Postmodernism and Deconstruction 9
The Most Prevalent Process of Playwriting 19
Defining Devised 20
Form and Content 21
Theatrical Narrative vs. Dramatic Narrative 22
The Role of the Theater Artist 23
Part 2 The Moment Work Process 25
Level 1 Making Moments 29
Prepping the Space 29
Introducing the Elements of the Stage 30
Introducing the Moment Work Construct: I begin/I end 37
Two-Person Moments 39
Group Moments 42
Concepts: Defining Moments and Moment Work 43
Architecture and Space Moments 44
Concepts: Tools for Critique 50
Prop Moments 54
Concepts: Discursive Power, Logging, and Sharing Moments 60
Costume Moments 63
Concepts: Discursive Line, Narrative Flexibility, and Layering 72
Light Moments 76
Concepts: Tension, Dynamic Change, and Scoring 88
Sound Moments 91
Text Moments 108
Adding Texts to Preexisting Moments 109
Some Additional Elements 120
Level 2 Constructing Short Narratives 125
Consecutive Sequencing 127
Moment Layering 128
Additional Structuring Took 134
Level 3 Creating a Piece 153
The Hunch 153
Source Material 154
Organizing Principles 157
Using Throughlines 158
The Plays 160
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde 160
The Laramie Project 176
I Am My Own Wife 212
33 Variations 218
One Arm 226
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later 235
Uncommon Sense 242
Part 3 Essays 249
What Do We Bring into the Room? Andy Paris 253
Interview Technique, Research, and Fieldwork: Muster Some Nerve and Embark Greg Pierotti 259
A Team of Dramaturgs Jimmy Maize 271
Writing into Form: Creating the People's Temple Leigh Fondakowski 275
Brecht and the Use of the Narrator in Tectonic Plays Moisés Kaufman 283
Devising a Moment Work Play with College Students Kelli Simpkins 287
Company Members' Biographies 297