The Orange Playground by The Necessary Stage and Story-telling

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary StageRather enjoyed the evening at the Black Box dungeon of the Marine Parade Community Centre watching some works-in-progress from The Necessary Stage‘s The Orange Playground. TOP, says the publicity material is “an incubation programme where artists can freely experiment using The Necessary Stage’s unique devising methodology”. Four TOP Labs each year provide “a space for free, ad-hoc collaborative “jamming” and play between The Necessary Stage and other artists working in different genres”.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

Not sure how similar TNS’ current methodology is to this report:

Activity 1: Find a spot in the room, walk to the spot with eyes close. Arms up to protect yourself from banging onto each other.

Activity 2: A and B. A do a sound that B can identify. B close eyes with arms up. A has to lead B with their sounds. B has to identify and follow.

Acitivy 3: A and B. Two straight lines. Do a mirror image of A’s pose. 10 secs. B cannot try the pose. Then After 10 secs, B do the action. Layer: Twos, and Fours

Activity 4: One straight line. Hands on each other shoulders. Specs out. Using your hands, feel the person’s facial features in front of you. In one straight line. The first person leads the line. Eyes closed. Break free. Now, find back the person of that is standing in front of you.

Activity 5: Card games – Using no. 1 – 10. Choose a card. 1 represents the least. 10 represent the best. Without seeing your card, put it on your forehead so that others can see. Base on the no., treat the person according to that. Then, on the scale, arrange yourself what u think ur no. is.

Activity 6: With scenarios. Take a card and put on forehead. Two volunteers. Taxi and Doctor scenes. Base on how the other party treats you, find out the no. on your head.

Activity 7: SPICE. Self-development on characters and personality. Get to know their individual personality better. Builds their character. By impersonating or creating characters, they explore the different characters and may even find their ‘self’. Builds their improvisational skills. Aspects of individual: S – Spiritual P – Physical I – Intellect C – Cultural E – Emotional

Ethel Yap of Lab 4 did talk a little about card exercises and how character-development was helped by values being assigned to different aspects of the worldview of each character, for example, one character might be a 10 for patriotism.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

How did they decide on the themes for Lab 4? Oh, Haresh Sharma said, I just made them up – censorship, education, and revolution.

Devised theatre, in this incarnation, is interesting. I’d always assumed that in any sort of work of art, authorial intent was the impetus for any attempt to convey that message.

I suppose just like models of instructional design, theatre-making methodology is dependent on worldview. The methodology of collaboration, says Alvin Tan in his Masters of Philosophy thesis, is based on democratic principles, a major tenet being respect of individual rights.

But I wonder if this erroneously conflates equality of rights with equal function. In a democracy, each citizen has the right to vote, but they do not all perform the same job, nor does this preclude any sort of hierarchy. But Alvin’s view seems to be that any imposition of vision by the playwright performing his traditional function, would be hegemonic – a bad word in these (post-)post-modern and post-colonial times.

Regardless of the validity of such presuppositions, my first thought as a potential member of the paying audience was, would I want to fork out good money from a limited budget to see the result of some people’s masak-masak? I don’t think this value-for-money consideration is uniquely Singaporean.

This is not to say, though, that I am unexcited by the prospect of this sort of collaborative effort. It sounds really fun, and part of any creative process, whether officially or not, includes experimenting and jamming. And a good part of the fun would be the uncertainty of its result. But unless the play (pardon the pun) comes together as a fresh coherent whole (by this I do not mean in necessarily a traditional linear plotline etc. sense), watching the process (or even better, participating in the process) would be more fun than watching the result. Because we all know the usual conclusions of committees – as architectural wisdom goes, the designs that win building competitions are always the second best ones, because committees work on compromise.

The Orange Playground, The Black Box, The Necessary Stage

Now many of Alvin/Haresh’s collaborative plays are excellent. Would love to have been a fly on the wall to see how their jamming sessions worked, the interaction between the different parties, how the plot evolved, and whether Alvin or Haresh had veto rights. However, would anyone else have the self-discipline and editorial ability of Alvin Tan and Haresh Sharma be able to do the same? I would love it if many others did, or if they found their own method of theatre-making.

Akan datang? Edit:

Just remembered Emma Coats’s 22 Rules of Story Basics (from Pixar). Sticking it here for reference:

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Perhaps all the stories in the world that have been told, are being told, and will ever be told, follow a limited number of plotlines? See Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories:

I particularly like Maya Eilam’s infographic presenting more of Kurt Vonnegut’s theories about archetypal stories.

Then there’s the usual dramatic structure, aka Freytag’s Pyramid.

Aerogramme Studio has a little collection of writing tips, but these assume a single author rather than a committee.