For some, when looking at a blank canvas, they can feel very intimidated. When one can create anything, what does one create? There are virtually limitless possibilities. This liberty can be a very stressful burden at times.
Many create original theatre as a response to the status quo. Others do so as they prefer to create something original, uniquely theirs, as opposed to sometimes commonly produced plays. Some people like to live outside of the social restrictions of the “game” of the entertainment business and like to carve out their own path, their own process. There are many reasons to create original theatre and an equal number of methods.
In terms of creating original works of theatre or writing, I have found these steps to be personally effective. Here are a few tools you can use to generate inspiration for creating original works:
1. Inside Out: Create from something you personally have experienced or know. Feel free to change the names, wrap the characters in costume, change the sex, age, height, etc. Feel free to make your characters unique, though their inspiration may be personal and deriving from your personal experience.
2. Outside in: Peter Shaffer wrote Equus as he had read a newspaper article about a boy who blinded horses. He wrote Amadeus when learning that the lesser known composer Salieri, upon his deathbed, was reported to have said he killed Mozart. These little tidbits stimulated his imagination and sent him off.
3. Stream of consciousness creating: Put your pen on the paper and start writing. Do not stop for at least half an hour. Don’t censor yourself in any way and see what comes out on the page. This is a great way to access the subconscious mind and marvelous things can emerge that you may not have consciously come up with.
4. Have an audience in mind: Whether a group of people or a specific individual you know, create a piece for them and speaking to them. Having this audience in mind can stimulate the imagination and your voice.
5. Determine the aesthetic of the piece. Is the piece absurd? Is it based in realism, heightened realism? Is it to be a musical? Knowing the aesthetic can help give your ideas shape.
6. Give yourself a structure: Structure can serve as technique and technique liberates artists. Try the following: Articulate the conflict. What is the attempt at resolution, what are the elements of push-back and what transformation the principle character might experience. Start creating from that.
7. Work with an existing playwright. Produce another’s work, perhaps something that has yet to be produced. Collaboration can yield dynamic results. Often multiple minds’ contributions can aide in multiple forms of inspiration.
8. Do Something Experimental: If the piece is experimental, what is your experiment? Have a hypothesis. Treat it as you would a science project. But if creating something “new”, know your history. Otherwise, you will likely ignorantly repeat forms of the past.
9. Use The Hero Journey, a structure of storytelling found in most cultures of the world, for inspiration. Very often, when a story does not work, it is missing some element of this structure.
10. Ask the question of “What if”? Stanislavski commonly used this technique. Asking “What if?” of yourself, stimulates the imagination. Ex. What if you were cheating on your lover and you learned they had cancer? Let your imagination follow.
11. Improvise: Solo or with others, improvise. If you find something seems to work, whether it is physical or text based, write it down. Then repeat, so as not to lose the inspiration.
12. Draw inspiration from imagery: A picture speaks a thousand words. What does it say? Create from that.
13. Draw inspiration from past productions: All artists steel from other artists. If you find something stunningly effective, use it. Chances are what you saw was inspired by something else as well.
14. Draw from world theatrical traditions. Look globally. What theatrical forms have other cultures realized? Use such as inspiration. As Julie Taymor does, feel free to borrow from many aesthetics simultaneously and blend these with your imagination.
15. Have political interests? What do you have to say? Create from that voice.
16. Create from music that inspires you. Is there a piece that stimulates your imagination and emotions, let your imagination play.
17. Dance. The Russian theatre director Meyerhold said, “Motion creates emotion”. Often freeing the body can free the mind. Follow those impulses. Perhaps a physical theatre piece might emerge.
18. Play with archetypes (the mystic cast of characters). Play with their fears, their weakness, their ambitions, their transformative potential and write from that.
19. Think about community needs. Articulate what you wish to see and what change you wish to foster. Create from that.
20. Adaptation. Adapt an existing work, ideally (c) free.
21. Collective Brainstorming. Brainstorm with a group of people for a considerable period of time, allowing impulses to build upon other peoples’ impulses. Collective brainstorming can lead to remarkable results. For more on Collective Brainstorming, check out this post.
Remember that creative minds play with what interests them. Play with things…with objects, with ideas, with images, with language. Whatever floats your boat, play with it and impulses will inevitably arise.
There is only one way to become a writer–one must write. If you want to serve as a theatre maker and produce original works, you must create.
Jim Hart is the founder of The International Theatre Academy Norway.