By FEMelanin, taught by the ensemble
FEMelanin experiments with new creation techniques for each show. Already, their work has ranged from performance art made for galleries and experimental revues, to a full-length interactive play for children. This exercise was developed as they created the latter, Epic Tales from the Land of Melanin. Throughout this process, the ensemble embraced creative workshops: they scheduled arts and crafts time to develop their characters and drew heavily from their experience as teaching artists, using games meant for kids to create a playful aesthetic. For this exercise, the artists have repurposed a familiar improv game: New Choice. The idea came originally from ensemble member Mariana Green.
From Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Collaborative Creation, by Coya Paz and Chloe Johnston, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press
1. Choose a story.
Each artist identified a story from their own cultural background. For Green, it was a myth from the Chamorro people of Guam and the Mariana Islands. First the storyteller shared the story with the group, and then the performers acted it out through improvisation.
2. New choice.
This is an improv game the performers already knew in which an outside director repeatedly calls “new choice!” in the midst of an improvised scene, forcing the performers to change the last detail of the scene. Green repurposed this exercise and called “new choice” on herself as she told the group the story.
Her goal was to riff on the familiar tropes of fairy tales and play with the audience’s expectation. She left space for the ensemble to jump in with what they thought the next thing might be, based on Eurocentric fairy tales Thus a version of the story emerged that sounded like this:
Green: One day Ha’ani came across…
Ensemble 1: A handsome prince!
Green: NEW CHOICE!
Ensemble 2: A magical fairy!
Green: NEW CHOICE!
Ensemble 2: A sea monster!
Green: NEW CHOICE! A woman named Pulan.
The final option was true to the story, and the narrative would continue from there.
The artists played with this format in rehearsal, and this game determined the final script. The writers wanted the script to feel like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.
- The artists also considered adding a moment to the performance when the actors would go into the audience and read different stories to the audience members directly around them—different sections of the audience heard different stories. Although this wasn’t part of the performance, these techniques underscored their central mission to complicate the familiar patterns of Euro-centric storytelling.
- This is clear example of how games can be used in performance. In this case, the game played in rehearsal lead to scripted text.
- The use of a game supported the show’s TYA (theatre for young audiences) aesthetic.