Devising a Time Capsule on Stage

Devising a Time Capsule on Stage

“Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock…”

These were the first lines delivered by the four student performers in CAPSULE, an unorthodox “devised” performance, and they announced that the piece’s major theme would be time. The interactive performance, which encouraged audience participation, moved gradually from spectacle to activity as a clown-like skeleton and four companions passed out notecards, pencils, and “genderqueer multivitamins to promote radical vision.” At the end of the show, all in attendance were welcomed to send a message to the future via those notecards, which were gathered by an employee from Haverford’s Quaker and Special Collections (along with other items) for a time capsule that won’t be opened until 2036.

CAPSULE, which was directed by Visiting Assistant Professor of English Jaclyn Pryor and written by Tuttle Creative Resident Beth Nixon, was created as part of Pryor’s class “Performance and/as Research: Devised Theatre Workshop.” Unlike a typical play, this piece was built from scratch around a central concept by a lead artist and ensemble, including the show’s student performers—Maggie Alvarez BMC ’17, Emma Wells BMC ’17, Theodora Rodine ’19, and Madeline Shuron BMC.

While most devised theater shows undergo a process of creation and refining over months or years, Pryor, Nixon, and the students only had a few weeks to create and mount their production. Following an abridged preview performance in downtown Philadelphia, the on-campus show on April 12 was the cast’s first full runthrough of their “work-in-progress performance.”

“I think devising is really compelling because it’s so much more personal than a play [of an existing text] could ever be,” explained Wells, an English major who hopes to pursue theater after her May graduation. “It’s coming from the bodies and minds of the people who are performing, so everything is relevant and pressing.”

That spirit of immediacy was evident from the show’s start. Without being told anything beforehand, audience members were given a few minutes to write down something on a notecard that they wanted to put in a time capsule. During the talkback that followed the performance, some of the viewers shared that they were unsure if they had contributed to an actual time capsule. (They had.) But they, nevertheless, participated in the show’s rituals, which were led by Nixon, who performed alongside the students.

“I’ve been stewing on and learning about time capsules, and trying to respond to the current political moment by making theater that speaks to the time we are in,” said Nixon, who is an interdisciplinary artist with a background in clown and puppet shows. Currently pursuing an MFA in writing and performance at Brown University, Nixon hoped to bring experience and thoughts to a “fertile ground” to pursue a strange idea, asking, “What are ways to combine the making of an actual object with an actual group of people in real time with the imaginary goofy possible realm of what can happen in a theatrical space?” (Continued below the gallery.)

CAPSULE grew from an idea, and its creators fleshed it out on their feet. Most of rehearsal time was spent “generating possibilities,” as Nixon put it. In place of traditional dramaturgy work, which involves textual analysis of the characters and directions of a pre-written play, students responded to prompts about time capsules and brought their own proposals to the table. Alvarez described Pryor and Nixon as “sewing together” the show’s various components based on the group’s imaginative work.

“I think we are leaning into the unknown, which is something you don’t usually do,” said Alvarez, another English major. The process of creating the show and building the time capsule prompted the show’s students, as young people occupying a pivotal moment, to think about who they are now and who they could be in 19 years, when the capsule will be opened.

“In college you’re both pressured to think about who you’re going to be in the future… but also you’re not encouraged [to think long-term] in some ways, because everyone is also saying, ‘These are your golden years,’” said Rodine, who just declared an anthropology major. “For me, it was really interesting to go into a class and be reminded of that every week.”

“One thing I’ve been thinking about is the benefit of chaos, and how healthy that can be to the creative process,” added Wells. “If you have too much of a plan, you might end up making something really predictable.”

CAPSULE was certainly unpredictable. Its lasting effects may be seen in the future work of its participating student performers as well as in the time capsule itself, which was sent off to Magill Library as soon as the performance was over.

-Michael Weber ’15

Photos by Wanyi Yang ’20

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