Devising Personal Experience by Amber Wood

Posted on April 17, 2013 by Haymaker

In the lead up to our upcoming draft performances, we’ve asked a few of our friends and collaborators to share their thoughts about Elektra. We hope to see you on April 22 and 23: http://elektraprocess.eventbrite.com/

I’m a performer. I’ve often viewed what I do as using a coloring book. A real artist has created something that tells a story and I function to merely shade in what they’ve done. I facilitate the telling of that story but I am not a creator. As an actor I am normally quarantined from artists. Unless you are one, it’s rare to be with artists while they create. There’s something incredibly beautiful and humbling about being in a room with them, sharing common space, purpose and vision. In the devising process I am expected to create, a) because I was invited and damn well better make myself useful and b) because they actually think I’m useful. Both are appropriately terrifying. While there is still performance, participating in the creative process requires actual creation which is not something I thought I did or could do.

The act of creation has begun to shift the way I work. Devising requires access to everything I can get my hands on: text, images, materials, gestures, dreams, memories, etc. The first few things on that list I’m familiar with employing. The last two I’ve fled from at all costs because of The Method. I’ve found actors who employ it to be selfish, cutting off real emotional relationships on stage in favor of personal catharsis.  But with devising, dreams and memories are essential. Maintaining psychological distance from an idea or memory of my Mother allows me to mine it objectively. What is personal and specific may be common universally and therefore useful.  Catharsis is no doubt in ready supply, but is certainly not the point. My personal experiences matter, not just to me, but to the other creators in the room.

On the road home from rehearsal I used to play the lunatic, spouting Shakespeare at 65mph. Elektra has found me more introspective, recording thoughts about my Mom while I travel. I am more mindful of the process while I read leisure materials* or watch a film. And while sheets of butcher paper, magic markers and lists of personal family rules may look like group therapy to those on the other side of the glass, they are merely tools with which to create a world accessible to a greater audience.

*Terry Tempest Williams wrote a beautiful book about journaling, wildlife conservation and the death of her mother: When Women Were Birds. It is a lovely read and I have found it rather useful in orienting myself during this process.

Prior to moving to Durham,  Amber Wood was an actor with Virginia Stage Company and resident teaching artist at Park Place School in Norfolk, VA. In addition to being in our draft performances on April 22 and 23, she is an Urban Garden Performing Arts collaborator and can be seen in Manbites Dog’s “The Homosexuals” opening on May 2. She is the kind of good people who says ‘hello’ with a smile.