Site Specific Group Project: Impressions of The High Line

By Aliza Moran, EDTC Student

A devised show sets sail without quite knowing where it will land. For this reason it feels quite risky but it can produce surprises and respond to possibilities unrestricted by fixed narrative.

(Collective Statement of IOU Theatre)

Absurd, naturalistic, funny, touching, and lyrical are words that best describe The High Line group devised site specific project, which was created during the Educational Theatre Devised Theatre class in the Summer of 2014.  I was challenged by the process of devising a piece of theatre that was fashioned by numerous writers, the explorations through movement, and the observations of the space. Throughout the start of the process I would ask myself questions such as:  How would a group of ten people create a work from scratch in three weeks? What would our piece be about? How could a performance travel through The High Line? The answers to those questions would come along through a creative process that had me wondering at every turn.

Upon the first day of class, I was unsure of what our group project would entail. I originally thought that we would pair with other classmates and create a piece that would be performed in the classroom setting. When I realized that it was the entire class creating a piece of site specific theatre, my thoughts were filled with questions and worries. How are all of these people going to be able to agree on anything?

I was nervous and excited when the suggestion of performing on The High Line was proposed.  I had never been apart of a site specific theatre piece. I did not know what to expect from the process or how the piece would be created.  It was not until the assigned readings of theory and technique did I understand the methodology for Devised Theatre, which is all about experimentation with ideas, images, and concepts. The process is creatively chaotic but will lead to editing, revision, and re-shaping.

The writings that the group created brought about some unique challenges and insight about The High Line. The writings varied in style. For example, there were several works about children and parents interacting in the space, there was a young woman stalking a past lover, and a daughter relaying her dissatisfaction of traveling with her mother by the use of hash tags. Because of the different tones and subjects within the group writings, the question of cohesiveness came into play within the process. What would our work be about? Should we incorporate some fictional historical narratives or should we remain in the present day experiences of The High Line? Should we fuse the two and meld the past and the present to create one cohesive unit?

Another challenge in the process creating the piece was The High Line itself. We needed to effectively perform on a 1.45 mile elevated railway park that is surrounded by construction noise fitting our written pieces and new historical narratives fit into the space. We asked: What do we want our audience to gain from the work we created? How would we perform around so many patrons to The High Line – a multitude of tourists, business people and casual onlookers?

The role of director became important to the eventual flow of the piece. Dr. Smithner created a proposed outline of the pieces and suggested rewrites that created a more cohesive project. The inclusion of a few members of the group to brainstorm and edit the structure continued, but the only way to really understand where the different scenes and monologues would work was to physically return to The High Line. Returning to The High Line allowed the group to make adjustments and trouble shoot instances when certain locations would not be available due to noise or patrons lounging within the performance space.

The day of performance was an exciting time because we had no real concrete idea about how the performance would be received. The actual performance on The High Line was subject to several challenges — construction noise, unexpected patrons being in performances spaces, and an interruption by the park police all created sense of adventure among the group.  I think that the use of music, movement, and text gave our audience members a varied and playful experience. We came together as an ensemble and worked together to problem solve and create a piece of devised theatre that was unique to that day and the collaborative. What I learned most through the group collaboration was that you must expect the unexpected and move forward. There will be times where the work will not make much sense, but if you stay true to your purpose and goal it will end in an adventure that you did not expect.