New Victory Arts Break: Devised Theater

Welcome to the 2021-22 Season! Whether you’re attending a show in person at New Victory, enjoying one of our New Victory On Demand titles, or just looking for some creative playtime, New Victory Arts Break continues this season with free activities that offer performing arts engagement wherever you are.

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New Victory Arts Break: Devised Theater

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Stories from Scratch

Devising is a way of creating a story or a piece of theater from scratch—you can start with an idea, a question, a memory or even a piece of music! From even the tiniest discoveries can come big pieces of art. In this activity, follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Ugo Anayanwu as he guides us through a free-writing devising exercise that inspires a piece of movement.

Materials: Pen or pencil, paper

Step One: It’s time to free-write in response to the following prompt: write about a moment in your life when you were afraid. Set a three-minute timer and begin writing. Remember that free-writing has no rules and is judgment-free—put pen to paper and write down anything (and everything) that comes to mind. The only rule is don’t stop writing until the timer goes off!

If you get stuck, head back to the guiding prompts Ugo gave us:

  • What do you remember about that moment?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • What was the thing you were fearful of?
  • How did you overcome that fear, or, if you haven’t overcome it yet, what are some ways you might overcome it in the future?

Step Two: Pick three words or phrases from your writing. Remember Ugo’s advice—try to pick three that really resonate with you, and that aren’t too similar to each other.

Step Three: For each word you chose, create a movement or gesture that comes to mind when thinking of this word. Get creative!

Step Four: Once you have your three movements, see how you can connect them into a sequence, and try saying each word as you perform its movement.

Take a bow! You’ve just devised your very own theatrical performance, based on something you wrote. See how many different ways you can perform that sequence to tell your story, or try collaborating with an ensemble of family or friends to devise something new! Who knows? This could be the start of a whole piece of theater, made entirely from scratch.

Memory Map
Some of the best devised theater springs from stories of our own lives. In this activity, we’ll reflect on some personal moments and create a tool for devising stories inspired by… well, ourselves! It all starts with a timeline.

Materials: Pen or pencil, paper, printed template

Step One: A timeline is a simple map that shows the passage of time. We’re going to create a map of memories and chart them along a timeline. To start, print out the template below, or recreate it in a notebook or on a piece of paper.

Memory Map timeline template

This timeline is all about you. On your own, think of eight different memories that you have, starting from when you were born through to today, and list them in order along the timeline. They can be simple, silly moments, or important events that truly impacted you. Here’s an example:

Memory Map timeline template filled out

Step Two: Create a fortune teller! This papercraft game is usually used to predict someone’s future, but today we’re going to use it to inspire our theatermaking. To fold a fortune teller, grab a piece of paper. If it’s not already a square, fold it in half diagonally and trim the excess:

Animation of a sheet of paper folded and cut into square

Then follow along with Emily from Inner Child Fun to see how to fold your paper into the fortune teller shape:

Step Three: Now that you’ve constructed your fortune teller, it’s time to fill it out.

  • Open up your paper so that it is a perfect square and you can see your folds.

Unfolded fortune teller with many diagonal creases from folding

  • On the outside four corners, write the names of four different colors, and color them in if you want!

Writing names of colors in the outer corners of an unfolded fortune teller

  • On the neighboring eight triangles, write numbers in any order you’d like. Picking numbers from one to eight is easiest, but this is your fortune teller, so the numbers are up to you.

Writing numbers around the edges of an unfolded fortune teller

  • On the eight inner triangles, write down titles or key words representing each of the eight memories from your timeline.

Writing memories inside an unfolded fortuneteller
Here is a finished example:

Finished fortune teller unfolded

Now it’s time to use it! Fold your fortune teller back up and insert your fingers into the bottom to get started.

Finished fortune teller held from underneath
Step Four: Pick a color and open the fortune teller, first one way and then the other, back and forth, for as many letters as are in the name of that color. For example, you would open it with three movements for r-e-d or six for y-e-l-l-o-w. With the fortune teller open, pick one of the numbers on the inside and repeat the same opening back-and-forth motion that number of times. Finally, pick another number, and then flip it open to reveal one of your memories.

Step Five: Now it’s time to reflect. Think about how you would tell the story of that memory. How do you feel when you remember it? What means the most to you about it? Has it taught you any lessons, or revealed anything to you about yourself?

You can use this fortune teller for all kinds of storytelling or theatermaking—to inspire a new piece of writing, a dance or even a game of charades—all devised from a map of your very own life experiences. In the next activity, we’ll devise a theatrical performance using our fortune tellers, so have yours ready!

Stories to Tell
The performers in Ping Chong and Company’s Generation Rise are all young people speaking their own personal stories. Just like the timeline from the previous activity, the show proceeds through the performers’ lives in chronological order, from birth to now. Here’s a clip featuring Serena, recalling a moment in her life from January 2020.

Using the fortune teller from the previous activity, let’s create a spoken word performance based on one of your memories, with a little help from New 42 College Corps Member (and Generation Rise performer!) Farah Carson.

Materials: Pen or pencil, paper, completed fortune teller

Step One: Use your fortune teller to choose a memory, and reflect on that memory, following the prompts from the previous activity.

Step Two: Using the memory you chose, fill in the blanks in the template below, writing out the full piece on a sheet of paper.

My name is  .
The year of this event is  .
I remember (the title of your memory from the fortune teller).
(the story of the memory in one sentence).
Because of this, I am now  .

Step Three: Now it’s time to get ready to perform! First, prepare your voice with this vocal warmup from the National Theatre in London.

Step Four: Once you’ve practiced out loud a few times, gather an audience and perform your piece of spoken word! You can perform for an audience of one, or for a group of friends and family members. Once you’ve performed, think:

  • How did that feel?
  • If you’d chosen a different memory, would you have performed it differently?
  • What did you notice about your tone and posture when you read this piece out loud?

BONUS: Find places in your spoken word performance to add movement, just like Ugo devised after free-writing.

We hope you’re inspired by all the potential you have to devise compelling performances based on your own life experience. If you fill out the template for every memory in your fortune teller, you could even combine them all into a single performance! Tune in next week, when we’ll dive even deeper into the world of individual performance through monologues.

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.