Open Source Theatre

July 27, 2005
I had an idea today while walking home after delivering some books to a used bookstore. Just wanted to jot it down quickly before I ended up forgetting about it.

Open Source Theatre would allow a community to come together and write a script to be performed. This task would be completed over a period of time, say a month or two.

People would come to the theatre, and have to attend a one hour workshop (perhaps longer) that would involve the director of the piece, possibly designers, and actors. They would have a discussion about the project, what an open source project is, why they’re doing it, and what is to be expected. There would be a talk about the play they’re working on, why it was chosen and what kind of style they may after.

After taking part in the workshop, the people could go into a computer lab or sorts at the theatre and work on the script. There would be at least four terminals at first, perhaps expanding to include more if there was a great demand. There would be no time limit for how long they could work, as long as there was sort of respect if the place was busy.

Each terminal would ideally be running a Linux distro to keep the open-source theme constant throughout the entire process. It would also lower costs, since Linux is free and there are more than enough computers available cheaply for word processing. I would like to have it so the word processor (most likely OpenOffice.org) wouldn’t allow the deletion of text, only the movement of it around the pages. This is to prevent someone from erasing the entire document (backups would be made, of course) or typing crass language continually. Defeats the purpose of the task at hand. Lines could shift between characters, or characters be given long monologues, and so forth.

When the deadline has been reached for the text, a play reading would be given. No actions or movement allowed, just vocalizing the words on the script. There would be discussion afterwards about the worthiness of the script, whether it fit into the whole plan of the project, or if parts didn’t make sense, etc. A period of editing would happen, then another reading. Perhaps this process would continue for three or four drafts.

For the rehearsal period, all rehearsals would be open to the public so they could see the play in development. Suggestions would be listened to during intervals, just to ensure there was progress in the actual rehearsal and it didn’t become a large discussion about the play again. This would continue for two months, minimum, to allow for plenty of time for experimentation, suggestion, progress, etc.

At the same time, a set would be designed. A set designer would supply a basic design that could be flexible to manipulate into other sets. A series of building blocks to be added, subtracted, shifted, placed on top, in different locations, etc. They would also design a palette of paint to be used, to make sure the design was coherent and not plain ugly. Again, volunteers from the public would paint the set the way they wanted it to look. There would be edits to it, repainting over old work, or a few basic additions to it.

Costumes would be handled in a similar way. We would supply magazines and catalogues, letting people cut out the shapes of clothing they would like to see and begin making collages of the characters. This would continue until everyone was happy, then the clothes would be made or bought.

After each performance, there would be a discussion about how to improve upon the acting, the blocking, or the delivery of the text.

A month after the final performance, the text would be archived on a webserver in various formats for people to print off and read. There would also be a streaming video on the website for people to watch. Possibly, earlier drafts of the script or video from rehearsals would be published for people to see the evolution of the piece.

It’s an ambitious project that would depend greatly on the organizers to keep things moving smoothly and quickly, as well as an enthusiastic public willing to play with a creation that would be unique to their community.

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