news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Friday, 10 July 2015

Stephen O'Connell Debunks the Myths Surrounding Devised Theatre

Stephen O'Connell, pictured in promotional image for site-specific work It Comes In Waves

Co-Artistic director of bluemouth inc., Stephen O’Connell guest teaches at this year’s Volcano Conservatory. His workshop, Collective Creation: a field guide to devising theatre, explores some of the essential methods and techniques for collaborating across a variety of artistic disciplines in the absence of a centralized artistic ‘vision’, ‘director’ or authorial voice.

Are there any common myths about devised theatre that you would LOVE to debunk?

That it is easy. And that it is not rigorous.

I think audiences sometimes make assumptions about a lack of clarity in devised work. Often audiences use the same criteria for experiencing devised work as they do they do for playwright driven dramas and this seems unfortunate to me. I am not suggesting that devised work needn’t live up to the same standard of excellence as a well made play, but I regard the plurality of voice is often the result of a devised process and is a unique asset rather than a limitation.

I also believe that educational systems need to start offering training that better prepares young theatre makers for a career in self producing work. In my opinion, there is such an unrealistic emphasis on developing actors for the film and television rather than providing them with the tools needed to develop their own work and the encouragement to project their vision out in the world.

As a theatre artist, with a professional background in modern dance, do you prefer collaborating with a multi-disciplinary team of performers when creating new work?

Absolutely. I am currently collaborating on a sites-specific project between bluemouth and Necessary Angel and I find it incredibly rewarding to be in a room with a team of people who all consider themselves to be the primary artists. That includes the performers, director, writer, designers and the production team.  A brilliant idea can come from anywhere at anytime, and if you are open and listening carefully you will discover it. I enjoy working with people who are generous, sensitive and have a healthy sense of ego.

I’ve recently had a lot of interaction with highly trained dancers and I find them to be incredibly disciplined and generous with their creativity. Perhaps even to a fault.

Challenge: describe your workshop in 5 words not already in the title?

Personal, Ambiguous, Expressive, Exhausting and Rigorous.

NYC is considered a second home for many Torontonians, whether it’s for leisure or career pursuits…was Brooklyn a natural choice for you to build with bluemouth inc?

No. I moved back to New York 10 years ago for very personal reasons. My family lives in New Jersey and I wanted to spend some quality time with my parents. I initially thought it would be very cool to develop work in Toronto and then produce it in New York, but that no longer interests me. I think New York is a very tough place to live and an even tougher place to develop your craft as an artist. There is such a sacristy of resources. The companies who inspire me like the Wooster Group or Elevator Repair Service are all working with very limited resources. Individual companies are forced to huddle around their individual fires making it challenging to nudge your way into their circle. Not impossible just really challenging. Resulting in a lesser sense of artistic community that I personally need to creatively survive.  

I mean I love going to see world-class international work with frequency. I live a block away from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and on any given Friday night something amazing is happening there, but there are also many amazing international companies coming to Toronto.    

We are excited to partner with the Theatre Centre as the venue for this year’s Volcano Conservatory - what do you think about their new space?!

I love the new Theatre Centre, but I am also in love with the Theatre Centre in general. The Theatre Centre was the first organization to offer bluemouth help when we first arrived in Toronto. David Duclos was the Artistic Director at the time. I met him at an Inter Disciplinary symposium in Montreal. He was the first person we contacted when we arrived in Toronto and he immediately opened his doors to us. The Theatre Centre helped produce all of the early bluemouth shows and connected us to a community of like-minded artists.  hen when Franco Boni became the Artistic Director our relationship to the Theatre Centre continued and became even deeper. bluemouth became one of the first resident companies and their support helped to lift us up to the next level.

Where is your favourite spot in the city during the summer?

Toronto Island is pretty awesome in the summer time. I love the fact that you can hop on a ferry and in 10 minutes suddenly feel like you are miles away from the city. Trinity Bellwoods Park is also pretty special. Perhaps you can start to see the trend. These are both places where bluemouth has done site-specific shows.

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