The rehearsal process for object-based, non-narrative theatre is very different from the creation of a more traditionally structured play. Rather than starting with a script or a story or premise, we tend to start with a pile of stuff, or perhaps some sketches, that we find interesting. “Wink” was largely inspired by a glowing, LED juggling ball. “Under the Tree” started with the idea of a tent that looked like a tree. We start to play around, finding what these objects are capable of and what is interesting about them. What is interesting to us.
Theatre for the very young is based on the kinds of questions that very young children ask about the world around them.
What is that?
What does that do?
Can I touch it?
How does it work?
Young children are not particularly interested in a story or character arc, so neither are we. Our stories mirror the experiences of young children, exploring the world around them, making sense of new experiences, discovering how things are similar or different to other things that they already know about. Theatrically, this is achieved by creating visual and tactile moments that are familiar enough to put into a context, but that include some element that is magic, illusion, or mystery. In our rehearsal process, we focus on creating these moments or these objects that will stimulate our audience’s curiosity and engagement (and in some cases their active participation). After we have a bunch of those moments, we have to find a way to string them all together. This involves a lot of stuff. Bags of stuff. Piles of stuff. Sometimes half a rehearsal is spent just unpacking and repacking the stuff we need and making lists of what we still don’t have.
In a traditional theatre-making process, tech week is the final week before opening night and all of the props, costumes, and set arrive to complete the visual aspects of the play. In object-based theatre and puppetry, tech needs to have happened long before this point because with no set and props, there is no show. The tech is everything.
In our recent residency at the Miranda Arts Project Space, we discovered the joys of an extensive workshop-performance phase. We were able to do 12 public performances for which no tickets were sold and the whole community invited in to be a part of our process. Sometimes only a handful of people showed up, sometimes it was full. But each performance was very different and we were able to experiment with different timings, moments, effects, and objects to work towards our desired effect. Because of this process, we can now confidently head into our official premier in Brooklyn for our home audience, confident that we are on more solid ground.
We’re still developing our rehearsal process and finding the best way to develop new work. There’s a lot of trial and error and sometimes we find that we skipped a step that should have been finished weeks before. But that’s what I love about this process: it’s always new, always evolving, never perfected.