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Devising in the Twenty-First Century University: Contexts, Constraints and Creative Messiness

Version 2 2023-03-22, 00:09
Version 1 2023-02-28, 05:02
posted on 2023-03-22, 00:09 authored by Glenn D'Cruz, Rea DennisRea Dennis, Yoni Prior, Kate HunterKate Hunter, Louise Morris, MARY LUCKHURST
This chapter considers the impact of the increasingly stringent institutional constraints that shape pedagogical strategies and creative outcomes in a unit in devised performance within an undergraduate drama degree. It unpacks the pedagogical problems generated through our ensemble devising approach and speculates on why it is challenging for some students and engaging for others. We reflect on our own teaching and artistic practice and evaluate the strategies we use to manage student expectations concerning issues of agency and ownership within creative ensembles. More specifically, we pose the following questions: what is it about students’ perceptions of collective creation, their entitlements as fee-paying students and their current and future aspirations that generates responses like those shared below? How might creative pedagogy absorb the kind of concerns expressed by some students who experience anxiety about participating in an open-ended creative process? How can we provide a flexible and engaging devising environment for this diverse cohort – supporting those who require a firm directorial hand, whilst making space for the creative possibilities that our more independent students crave?









From Book Cover: Collection of essays exploring ways that theatrical devising supports and defies higher education’s institutional goals. Considering power, timelines, colonial structures, inclusion and exclusion, research, community engagement, and student learning outcomes, the authors examine devising in Canada, Australia, and Aotearoa New Zealand. In the theatre world, ‘off book’ signifies a deadline in the creative process: the date by which performers are to have memorised their lines and will no longer be allowed to carry their play script – the ‘book’ – on stage. As such, Off Book makes a strangely appropriate title for a book about devised performance in higher education. In its usual context, ‘off book’ captures the tension between ephemeral, live performance and durable, author-ized literature: in one sense, the book – the written play – is the essential core, the seed that gives the performance life and meaning. Yet the opposite could be equally true: an ‘on book’ performance would not really be a play at all, and an actor reciting lines out of a script in hand is not really acting. A play is only realised in, or through, a performance. We cannot really learn, or play, our part until we can put the book down and enter the stage without it. Devised performance might be described as ‘theatre without the book.’ Yet devisors also often use books – books like this one, practical guidebooks and how-to manuals, as well as a myriad of literature outside the discipline mined for inspiration. This is particularly manifest when devising in the context of higher education - a milieu, like theatre, wherein books traditionally signify authority, status, and meaning. So, to the extent that theatres and campuses are places where one expects everything to be done ‘by the book,’ devising on campuses is rebellious, even sacrilegious. But on the other hand, both the theatre and the university are expected to challenge tradition, defy expectations, and conduct experiments. The book is presented in four sections reflecting the range of roles devising plays in higher education. The first section, Devising Pedagogy: Teaching Transferable Tools, examines how and why practitioners, educators, and programs conceptualise and plan for devising with adult learners in a range of higher education contexts. The second, Devising Friction: Ensembles, Individuals, and the Institution, shifts the discussion to the classroom, where abstract, pedagogical rubber meets the road of concrete reality. The third, Devising (by) Degrees, Practice-led postgraduate devising projects features contributions by emerging scholar-practitioners who engage with devising as both an object and method of creative scholarship. Finally, the chapters in Devising Bridges: University-Community Engagement explore how devising connects higher education institutions with the public they are intended to serve — particularly in populations and communities that are marginalised within, or even explicitly excluded from participating in, higher education, such as children and people with intellectual disabilities. A valuable and unique resource for drama educators in universities, university students in education, drama, and arts managements, graduate students conducting research, theatre historians, practicing devised theatre artists.


McKinnon J


Intellect (UK)

Place of publication


Title of book

Off Book Devised Performance and Higher Education