Starting a Performance Group

Many of the pages, posts, documents, and links on this website are aimed at those of you interested in starting performance groups and creating original work. Some of the material borrows from my own days of training in methods influenced by Herbert Blau’s experimental group KRAKEN and some from my own attempts to adapt those methods to the teaching of high-school theatre students at the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program.

Collective creation in the theatre is simply my cause, collective creation of all kinds. I believe the work of groups creating original performance pieces needs to continue as a vital aspect of theatrical expression, and while there is certainly no evidence that group expression is dying in the theatre worldwide (a former student just sent me a report on a recent Edinburgh Festival he attended and…”wow,” he said), I worry that young theatre artists in our culture are not being led down certain possibly fruitful paths or are being offered very trivial experiences in group development. I worry that vital group expression in the theatre, in this country, is on its way to becoming a chapter or two in Theatre History, a few quixotic moments of emergence now over and done with.

I am not trying to offer a set of pre-fabricated definitions and blueprints. Many of the contributions on this website are simply addressed to the question: If you can get a number of performers to agree to be in a room together, how might you get things started? Because of the influence of KRAKEN on my work, much of what I’m offering is designed to invite performers to look within, both as performers and by performing, and to offer the search, the discoveries, and the attending thoughts as possible moments of ensemble expression. You need not, however, go the way of KRAKEN-like navel gazing to create group work or use the materials I offer.

One invitation I want to make explicit: A group of high-school age actors can use group creation as an interesting alternative for one-act competition. All you need are a group of interested students, a teacher’s permission, scheduled time, and a place to work. My hope is that such adventurous groups can use this website as a means of sharing information and experiences.

My one worry as I’ve been assembling these materials, and it’s a worry I never managed to escape working as a teacher, is that my offerings are all too indirect to be useful. I do not present a how-to manual. Many students have never witnessed a really compelling or powerful original piece of performance created by an ensemble and so have no frame of reference. They just don’t know what such a thing might look like. Perhaps they need a script of some kind or a set of step-by-step instructions to get started or some kind of guidance on texts and materials. The only way I have found to respond to these worries (since I have no plans of putting together a how-to manual) is to view the “leap into the unknown” as the best source of energy for the group and the strongest glue for holding it together. Suddenly matters of taste and material merge with the existential and the ethical. Thoughts of hanging together or hanging separately and the focus of minds knowing they may hang tomorrow all become incredibly influencial. Honesty and urgency and true originality take on fresh value.
So please look around and see if anything seems useful. Offer your own comments and links. I have other “chapters” from my GHP teaching materials that I will post in the future. And keep an eye of the Lacuna Group postings, as well, as we try to live the paradoxes at play in wanting to create original performances and pursue ensemble acting opportunities. You can always drop a line on the Performance Group Potlatch.

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