6/27/2013 - A woman in green prances, a woman in red shrieks and a woman in white paints her arms, legs and torso during one of the compositions created for theatre KAPOW’s Perchance: An Exploration of Dreams.
This particular scene is dark, which casts a morbid mood; the only light comes from a couple of small lamps that sit near the three women who represent happy dreams, nightmares and insomnia. It’s just one of six compositions the performers “devised” for theatre KAPOW’s fifth season finale, a production that, when finished, the company hopes will answer the age-old question: Why do we dream?
Though at the time of the interviews, the exact plot of the production was uncertain — and will be until the very last week — the performers explained at the rehearsal. Perchance, they said, is an example of what’s universally known as “devised theater,” whose script originates not from a writer or writers, but through collaborative and usually improvisatory work by the performers.
“We’ve been creating two compositions per week. … The thought is that we will take those and create an original evening of theater that will include elements from several of the pieces,” said Matt Cahoon, one of theatre KAPOW’s founding members.
The show itself won’t be that different from what you might expect from contemporary theater. There will be a stage, there will be curtains, there will be audience seating and, by showtime, there will be a solid thread that ties the dream sequences together. The biggest difference between devised theater and traditional theater is that the story is created by the actors through the rehearsal process.
The compositions they’re using to build the final work were created based on literature and texts that already exist, which includes writing by Romantic writers like William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and contemporary writers like Ray Bradbury. The company has been working particularly closely with Dr. Meoghan Cronin, a professor of English literature at Saint Anselm College, to identify the texts that best illustrate the age-old quest to find out exactly why we dream.
“We’ve also pulled in some scientific texts, from, for instance, The American Journal of Medicine,” Cahoon said.
In addition to referencing already-existing texts, the performers were also required to create using a series of content guidelines each week. Week 3’s compositions, for example, required elements of light, color and running, to name just a few.
The idea to create devised theater began with theatre KAPOW co-founder Carey Cahoon’s experience in New York last year. She took part in an intensive with SITI Company, a major American theater company based in New York.
“It’s extremely stressful, but it’s a ton of fun. You come in with nothing, no script at all,” Cahoon said. “The downside is that there isn’t time to fully explore something in maybe the way you might want to. … The schedule feels tight, but again, but we find those moments, those good things that stand out, and we’ll have time over the next weeks to delve into those things more fully.”
Not all of the compositions will make it to final show; audiences will only see those snippets that “rise to the top” and stand out, the ones that help the company merge these ideas into one fluid show.
There’s nothing quite like a deadline that gets artists going.
“At times, I wish I had a few more minutes with that [the script], but it just goes to show that nothing is too sacred,” Cahoon said.