by Adam R. Burnett · July 30, 2014
Adam R. Burnett is part of the FringeU panel "Devising Indie Theater at Colleges and Universities" on Wednesday, August 20 at 1pm.
Last year my creative partner Jud Knudsen and I toured our original show Nightmares: A Demonstration of the Sublime throughout the U.S. The show was recast and reimagined at each stop – from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and back— influenced by the personalities in the room and the tenor of the community. The first stop on the tour was our alma mater, the University of Kansas, where we spent two intensive weeks working with students, utilizing devising practices to recreate the show. Having the framework of a script allowed us to construct new chutes and ladders surrounding the piece, giving the students agency as performers, allowing them to question our presence and authority, “What is this piece? What does it mean? What the hell are we doing here anyway?” Our relationship to these students continued throughout the tour and many of them were able to join us on our final stop in New Orleans, where they were treated not as students but as company members.
It was through this experience with the KU performers that I began thinking about what tools we’re giving students, how we can better prepare them, and how theatre training can transform itself to address the realities of practicing the craft.
So often I find students feeling helpless upon leaving school because they cherish the director, the writer, the producer—anyone but themselves—as the “one” who will cast their future for them. They are equipped with the limited knowledge of expectation.
The practice of devising theatre with students is both acknowledgment of the present (“What do we have, in the room, at this very moment? And how can we be successful with our limitations?” ) and a rehearsal for the future (“I carry my own destiny, no one else.”). These dualities are intrinsic to the universalism and ritualism of producing theatre, in that every production is a rehearsal for transcendence, one that can only be found in the union of spectator and performer. If a student is able to trust their instincts—the “gut-stuff” that they bring to a room—the more they will be able to collaborate as a performing artist and chart their own trajectory as a theatre-maker.
Adam R. Burnett is a playwright, director, and producer. Since 2007 he has been Artistic Director of Buran Theatre, an ever-changing ensemble of disparate artists who meet around his theatre texts. His works include The Death of Romance, Prelude; Shores of Lake Michigan, Money Buckets!, The House of Fitzcarraldo (written with Buran Theatre), Nightmares: A Demonstration of the Sublime, and Magic Bullets. His work has been produced throughout the United States and in Lithuania. Adam also serves as an associate artistic director of The Brick Theater in Brooklyn.