Riding the T to South America: A Workshop in Creating Theatre with Thaddeus Phillips

Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

For two hours on a Saturday at Emerson College, a group of students got together to ride the T to stops that never before existed, creating a world of subways, mountains, and beaches inside the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre. Thaddeus Phillips, director of Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, an innovative devised theatrical piece which is currently being put on by ArtsEmerson, held a workshop for Emerson students that centered around devising theatre. The group entered ready to work and experiment without material or specific inspiration, but they left with the beginnings of a new piece of theatre and the tools to create more in the future.

The workshop began with a collective group brainstorming through drawing and writing together, accompanied by an instrumental soundtrack. Participants drew images, wrote words in a stream-of-consciousness manner, and highlighted locations and characters that were of interest in the group’s experiences. Out of this group image, Phillips helped organize the resources into categories of characters, locations, and plot devices. The T was an extremely common theme throughout many people’s stories and imagery, and it became a device to connect the stories and characters together in the space.

Emerson students participate in workshop led by Thaddeus Phillips.
Emerson students participate in workshop led by Thaddeus Phillips.

Splitting up into collaborative groups, the students turned their characters into Boston residents riding the T. As they began to interact, their worlds began to expand and collide. Each exit led to a new world. Spanish-speaking girls found their way to a beach in Rio as they got off the T. Two shy riders ended up on a date as a waitress came to their seats across from each other. Each moment and improvisation flipped their perspective on the space. The way space could be manipulated and loads of ideas on how to continue the piece started to flow in a collaborative effort. Though Phillips was the leader, there was an equal effort and cooperation throughout the group.

Shy Riders of "The T"
Shy Riders of “The T”

After creating a “sea-dragon” and hitting a creative block, Phillips transitioned the workshop into a discussion on utilizing the “R.S.V.P.” method to devise a piece of theatre, breaking down the steps that were just undergone in the previous piece. The “R” stands for Resources, or material that could be drawn upon for inspiration, such as our stories of people we saw on the T. The “S” stands for Score, or the spine, core and composition of the piece. In this case, the score would be the T itself, or potentially the subway map. In other instances, it could be a completed script. The “V” stands for eValuation: looking back at the materials and deciding how best to combine them. The “P” stands for performance, which is pretty self-explanatory. The discussion and overall experience was extremely enriching and inspiring for this group of young theatrical creators and performers. Because ArtsEmerson is offering this opportunity to students, it could lead to a new trend in devised theatre which, as Phillips pointed out, is much lacking in America when compared to theatre in other parts of the world. Perhaps it takes a bit of deconstruction and reconstruction to step outside our creative comfort zones and create something entirely new.

For a look at the rehearsal process for Phillips’ Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, see this link to Emertainment Monthly reviewer, Mary Olsen’s, article.

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