Imagine a theater company where everyone – playwrights, directors, designers, specialists, performers – has a voice in the outcome of the work. Imagine an audition process that demands not only personal excellence, but also group improvisation on a theme with only five minutes to prepare and then, another five minutes to prepare something completely different. Imagine a re-imagining of classic tales told in story, song, drumming, puppetry, movement, mime, any imaginable discipline (and maybe some newly minted).
Well, you needn’t imagine any longer, because Alison Garrigan has founded Talespinner Children’s Theatre.
Here’s their process.
The source material – a lesser-known story by a major children’s writer, a folktale underlying a classic opera or ballet, an original idea by an area playwright – is chosen. The playwright pens a “guide script.” A stage director comes on board, casting is done, designers and specialists are hired – no big difference from ‘regular’ theater, so far. Everyone gathers around a big, round table and the guide script is read aloud in the ubiquitous “bench read” or “table read” that begins every rehearsal process.
And then, the fun part.
The company is given five days for each person to work up a 5-minute pitch, how they would create the story from the vantage point of their discipline. The company meets again, everyone makes their presentation – and I mean everyone, director, designers, playwright, specialists, actors.
At the meeting after that, all of the presentations are discussed, chewed over, pulled apart, and integrated by everyone in the room – this is the part that so excites me. For instance, the final piece may comprise two minutes of A’s presentation and ninety seconds of Y’s and the full five minutes from M or L – it’s possible that instead of speaking lines the playwright originally wrote, characters will sing or dance or mime or drum or or or – in this truly creative process, every piece of theater that the team cultivates, well, that’s the point, isn’t it, creation and evolution via collaboration.
Ultimately, the buck stops with the director, but not until everyone’s “fair voice” is heard. The ensemble develops works of theater by respecting, complementing, celebrating each others’ disciplines, gifts, and ideas, an absolutely inspired process.
In today’s world of I-me-mine, Talespinner Children’s Theatre is proving the dictum I’ve spouted since the age of eight: Theater is a Team Sport. Many of us try to make that happen within the current competitive structure of professional theater: Garrigan is upping the game by creating a professional theater based on teamwork.
She’s also laying the groundwork for a collaborative future world by offering classes that cover ages 3-18.