Our Ruined House: a process of artistic telephone

What strategies allow an ensemble to capture the fierce theatricality that results from a devised process while ...

Project Abstract

What strategies allow an ensemble to capture the fierce theatricality that results from a devised process while simultaneously benefiting from the form and structure of a scripted piece?

This summer Associate Professor Rebecca Lingafelter and her fellow company members of the Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble (PETE) conclude a three-year long process of artistic telephone between scripted and devised material in the world premiere of Our Ruined House by Robert Camp. The piece presents a series of overlapping narratives examining the geopolitical through the lens of the interpersonal. In a fusion of cold-war era Russian spy thriller and kitchen-sink drama, the notion of truth is put into question as a constructed paradox spearheading our desire to ‘win’ in both arenas of romantic and geopolitical relationships. This research project will investigate the creative process behind Our Ruined House as a foreground to examine the manifestation of a successful relationship between devised and the playwright scripted material. Can the artistic collaborators behind the production capture the fierce theatricality that results from a devised process inside of a scripted play, while simultaneously benefiting from the form and structure that a scripted text offers?

More about this project

Our Ruined House marks a continued trend in my creative work that explores the intersection between scripted and devised material in contemporary performance. Devising is a process by which a theatrical performance is generated collaboratively with an ensemble. Unlike a traditional process in which a play is written and then rendered by pulling together work from actors and designers through the lens of the director, devising creates work from scratch as an ensemble of co-creators, spreading both the generative and editing processes across the group as a whole.

Throughout all of this work, I have been particularly interested in ways in which a piece of devised performance is informed by text, both on its own merits and in relationship to the role of the playwright in this co-creator context. Our Ruined House is the culmination of a larger project looking at this question called the Deception Unit. Our process began with a series of workshops on the idea of the “Deception Unit”; a WWII regiment made up mostly of artists and other creatives who were responsible for generating misleading information and artifacts which was then fed to the German army. These included fake radio programs, actors going into bars in France and posing as soldiers to leak erroneous information, and inflatable tanks positioned as decoys. This research led us to cold war espionage and other forms of military and political deception, including Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “Known-Unknowns” philosophy. In contrast to this, I was interested in working on a series of duets with the company, which resulted in an investigation of the interpersonal relationship as a kind of landscape for subterfuge. And thus,
the Deception Unit was born.

Maybe the best way to describe the process that we have undergone in creating this piece is as a kind of artistic telephone, moving back and forth between ensemble generated material and playwright scripted material. First, I directed a non-scripted, movement based piece co-created with the ensemble and performed at Reed College in the fall of 2016. This workshop material was then handed to our playwright, Robert Camp, who generated a short one act; Walkthrough. We produced this piece at The Northwest New Works Festival at On The Boards in Seattle in June of 2017. The company then, took Walkthrough and deconstructed it, going back into a devising process to create the next iteration called the Deception Unit which premiered at CoHo Summerfest in Portland in July of 2017. Our Ruined House is the final piece in this game of telephone and is a scripted play inspired by the Decpetion Unit.

In developing this final work with the company and the playwright, I am interested in the ways in which our work can engage with the most productive aspects of both processes. Can we capture the fierce theatricality that results from a devised process inside of a scripted play, while simultaneously benefiting from the form and structure that a scripted text offers? This is the question that I bring into the room with both my student and professional collaborators as we embark on generating this world-premier performance.

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