Devising a Festival

Devising a Festival

For our EDPP thesis projects, each of us is responsible for submitting an inquiry that we will investigate through performance. We can create between one and ten shows to house these inquiries, so long as everyone is contributing to the research. The easiest thing would probably  be to create a few shows to encompass the themes in which everyone is interested. Since we are the inaugural cohort, however, we decided we needed to be as challenging as possible…so ten shows it is!

We will present our projects at the beginning of May. How exciting!

Except…only one of us has ever put on a festival before. (Ashley is the exception.)

Thank goodness we are not alone in this large undertaking. We are teaming up with the Masters of Arts Management students to produce the festival, and a practicum class has been created exactly for this purpose. But where to start? This has been the process so far:

First, we needed a name. We felt a bit of pressure for this one, since this isn’t just the name for our festival, but the one that will carry on to future cohorts. After about 50 ideas were thrown around ranging from “Ex-Nihilo” (translation: from nothing) to “The New and Improved Fyre Festival” (ha!), we found this quote from Jacques Lecoq:

“There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are, and the one we have in common.”

Thus, we landed on The Third Mask: A Festival of New Devised Theatre

Next, we needed to create a system to liaise between departments. (I imagine no theatre department would be terribly happy if ten brand new shows were to pop up in the middle of the school year, so we wanted to make things as easy as possible.) Again, since this a brand new festival, there was no template for us to use. My cohort member Claire took on liaising with tech and set, and I took on costumes and props. We have weekly appointments with the departments to pull from Columbia College Chicago’s resources, master lists in Excel (yes, I’m learning Excel), and a wonderful, newly organized storage closet to hold all of these goodies.

Well, now that we are communicating with the design departments, I can just walk in to the scene shop and start building, right!?

Nope! But we have an amazing faculty to train us on the tools we need, as well as lend us student workers to help with construction. Special shout-out to Grant from the scene shop, Frances, Patti, and Tom from costumes, and Pete Dully for everything else! Last week, Grant trained us for two hours in the shop on how to use power tools. Here’s proof!

These have been the steps so far. Currently, the MAM students are working to curate each night, gather marketing materials for our shows, and secure more funds for the festival as a whole. We, on the other hand, are working to finish the shows themselves. One of the biggest challenges I have found has been creating design presentations and marketing blurbs for a show that doesn’t exist yet, but that’s going to be the nature of producing devised work when we graduate. Sure, it could be that one day I have a renowned company like Gob Squad in a country like the UK, where funding for the arts is more secure and institutions are willing to take a risk on funding research and development. Until that day though, there will be a different reality. I will often need to submit a synopsis of an unfinished show to apply for grants. I will often need to create an official company with a mission statement so that I can send a show to a festival. I will often need to sound very certain about aspects of my work that I am indeed very uncertain about…in order to make it work.

Most of us hope to tour our shows or take them to festivals upon graduating, so it’s great to meet some of the challenges we’ll face in a safe space. By seeing the other side of the table, we are able to understand how festivals must curate seemingly unrelated works of art as well as the paradoxes that come with bringing new works into fruition. We are also learning how a new festival has to establish its own voice, just as we are trying to with our own pieces.

We still have a lot to do, but with the team of people we have working on it, I guarantee it’s going to be a great event.

Mark your calendars for The Third Mask on May 2-4!