Never Stop Revising, or Shiver: The Lost Episodes… from The Dustbin of Project: Project’s Process, or, All The Things We Didn’t Use

by Jeffrey Mosser, and/or/with/inspired by Nina Morrison (too), 

What's great about Devised theatre is that it is never finished. Ensemble-based theatre builds layers upon itself. And yes, your darlings will be cut, but not forgotten. Since day one, we've written, improvised, danced, thought, revised, been inspired, written again, edited, and written some more -- or any other combination of those actions. We close in 4 performances… and I will wager that we'll continue to tweak. Sometimes it means saying goodbye to darlings… two nights before opening. 

The teeth woulda been books. See it? See it?

The teeth woulda been books. See it? See it?

For example -- our show has a dragon in it (standard). And so we wondered, how do you put a dragon on stage? Well, what if it's a bookshelf that turns into a dragon. Your set designer, who says yes to everything by the way, comes up with an ingenious prototype and dedicates both time and skin hot-gluing a bad-ass dragon puppet that emerges magically from where it has been hidden among the books in the ancient library that is your set.  It’s brilliant.  Only when all the puzzle pieces of the lighting, the space, the actors and the seven other magical things in the scene finally come together, all of a sudden we realize this magic hidden dragon isn’t going to work. So what do we do?

"Oh, Lori[, the ASM,] has been doodling backstage and created an amazing dragon that could serve as a transparency on the projector!" 

"GREAT! Lori! Can you draw that up, run to Staples and get it printed on acetate tomorrow for us to try in less than 24 hours?”

"Sure!" She says.

"Save your receipt, and thank you!"

And just as you’re reinventing the wheel with option #2, option #3 emerges like a phoenix from the ashes of intense group efforts solving problems.  #2 is (insert sad face here) relegated to the ever-growing Project: Project revision graveyard. Sorry, Lori, it was brilliant, but without your inspiration we wouldn't have jumped to the next idea (you'll have to see the show to find out just what we did).

This was how we made this show. Over and over, we invented and reinvented and reinvented.

We wrote.

We wrote COPIOUS amounts of material that arrived in the form of five drafts of the script over two readings within one year, eight months, and twelve days. We wrote fake dramaturgy, imaginary histories, and songs. SONGS! Songs reminiscent and researched for cadence and compatibility to 16th century traveling minstrel music.

(If you can, imagine your fife and lute playing under this, oh and read with one of those indiscernible English/Irish accents.) 

Oh, and how about we do some research on what political lines were drawn in Europe in 1542.

Oh, and how about we do some research on what political lines were drawn in Europe in 1542.

The Howls of Hoch Schwarzeburg
The howls they come both loud and long 
  and cannot be the cause of song.
Of cats that scratch and play their cards 
  and pins that fall in bowling yards. 
Brave men receive a woeful dirge 
  for sleeping in Hoch Schwarzeburg. 
Stones of black and hearts of stone. 
Stones of black and hearts of stone. 
A life of bliss the king supplies
  A home, a life, his daughter’s thighs. 
To trade three nights for all your life 
  Or all your life for broken pride. 
The devil lives, the devil dies
in stones of black and hearts of stone. 
In stones of black and hearts of stone. 

- Folk Song c. 1542
It’s not that we didn't think it wasn't good enough. The song accompanied a false history of a haunted castle.  And part of that did make it in the show. It's that there wasn't a place for it! At the same time, it's astounding what talents you share with a group. One of us thought it was appropriate to write a song befitting a wandering minstrel who might pass down the legend of the haunted Hoch Schwartzburg. Huh. Collaboration you say? Yup. 

How about an entire scene made up of mostly stage directions -- written by a choreographer BTW.

“Married the Hempen Maid”

Seven corpses stand on a platform, nooses around their necks. A Youth enters and build a fire while whistling. He rubs his hand together and squats at the blaze. The Youth progresses from whistling to singing in full voice—something German.  Perhaps a polka. He skips in between the hanging corpses, and his movement creates a breeze which cause them to sway. 

“You must be chilled, too! A dance shall warm us both!” says he. 

The Youth cuts down one of the corpses and, placing the corpse’s feet on his own, proceeds to move about. When the duet finishes, he places the corpse next to the fire. He lays down next to it, and sleeps. The sound of crackling flames can be heard. 

Lights out. 
Whispering is heard. The corpses are confessing their crimes…real or imagined, guilty or innocent. 

Lights up. 

The clothing of the corpse by the fire is now burned. The other corpses have moved and are in various poses by the fire. 

WTF. Do you have chills too? Can't you see this? THIS COULD BE AN ENTIRE EFFING PLAY!

Ask a choreographer to write, ask a writer to paint, a painter to do road construction. I am certain that the results will be surprising. The work is going to be hard. Creating as a group is hard. You will have to let go of all the darlings.  But the results and the satisfaction therein are so worth taking the time and risk. Never stop revising.