Saturday, September 22, 2007

Process Vs. Product

In the past three days, my rehearsals have been usurped (or partially usurped) by three different events: student elections, then a group moving project (where my students were asked to spend the afternoon moving equipment from one building to another), and lastly the arrival of an international physics convention which has taken over the majority of the university classrooms.

Not to mention student absences of all kinds, some excused and others unexpected. Life intervenes often, whether in the form of illness, parental visit, Ganesha parade, or India v. Pakistan cricket match.

The advice I got was to just “let things happen.” Which I have no problem with doing. It’s very interesting to be in a place where the flow of life is allowed to freely interrupt the flow of “work.” Things are still getting done, but they’re getting done at their own pace.

Which brings me to this idea of two kinds of theatre: process-based and product-based. The former allows for events like this (for “life” to intervene), and the latter does not. The former judges the success of a performance by how much the actors learned. The latter judges success by how well a performance fits an artistic vision. The former is actor-centered, the latter is often director-centered. The former uses the language “your play,” and the latter is generally “the play” or occasionally "my play."

I have met directors who have followed both theories. (And directors who have followed different theories for different performances.) Working in a product-based theatre is very stressful, and although the results can be quite amazing, a quality “product” is in no way guaranteed. Working in a process-based theatre is a lot more fun, but since the emphasis is on the group experience rather than on the audience experience, the “product” is even less guaranteed.

I love teaching process-based theatre. But I always feel like I’m cheating a bit when I do it. At some point, if they are going to be professional, students have to learn to survive product-based theatre. Which means that if the parents show up or if they run a fever or even if there are dancers and drums outside, the rehearsal door must remain closed and the work must go on. We can’t go out and dance and then come back in and pick up where we left off.


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