Upcoming ‘Devised Play’ sells out first show

Arguably one of the most challenging jobs is performing for a live audience. The theater students at Cal Poly Pomona are all too familiar with it, but they were pushed even further in Stacy Stearn’s devised theater course. The final project: Work together to write, produce and perform an original piece. 

While most theater classes are student-driven, Stearns took an even more unorthodox route to teaching her class. She preferred a non-hierarchal structure, in which the students held equal power to herself in the classroom. She feels this allows for the most amount of creative freedom for her students. 

Matthew Covalt, a fourth-year acting student, rehearses a scene with a skeleton prop.
(Courtesy of Stacy Stearns)

“It’s going to be like looking at someone sewing a piece of clothing, rather than going to a fashion show,” Stearns said. “If (the students) can live in the live moment of being in these moments of activity and creation in front of an audience … that is going to be pretty cool for the audience and it’s going to be a learning experience for us.” 

Stearns implemented a specific technique to facilitate the creative process called “Deep Pieter.” This is an exercise she picked up in her study under Jmy James Kidd at the dance space Pieter. “Deep Pieter” mirrors the way a brave space may function in community engagement meetings. The students began each class by saying their names and pronouns, what they need and what each could offer the class within session. 

“I am here to make a space where (the students) can actually learn by doing in a very collaborative way …. Agency is my number one for people. What I feel with this group is that we have engaged ourselves consciously in a lot of (these) actions,” Stearns said. 

It’s a mixed bag of reactions to the technique from her students, with some for and some against. With much of the performance ad libbed, theater student Matthew Covalt found the practice beneficial.

“(Deep Pieter) is nice because it feels like I see everyone and everyone sees me …. We are able to work off of each other,” Covalt said. “It feels like everybody is involved.” 

Others, like fourth-year design and technology and stage management student Margaret Saba, struggled with the disorganization of the course.  

“I hate the class for a few reasons … I disapprove of the lack of structure. In a traditional play, there is always something to come back to, it’s the script …. In a devised piece, there is no script,” Saba said. 

In an alternative reality plot, the performance is satirical and silly, yet deals with heavy topics such as violence, loneliness and seeking friendship.

 Veronica Cortez studies theater and works as a stage manager for rental performances.She found that in the early stages of creation, the class was mostly just playing around. Soon, they recognized a recurrent theme of violence and death. In discussion, they realized that they weren’t just having fun but processing heavy, real-life events within a safe space.  

“It was really interesting …. We all realized how fun it was to play with violence. It was, in a way, exhilarating,” Cortez said.

The ensemble kept to these themes, but with light and humorous narrative. The audience can expect complete immersion in the performance, and some members may even be called to participate in a scene or two. 

The first performance at 8 p.m. Dec. 5 has already sold out, but there are four more shows: 8 p.m. Dec. 6, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 2 p.m. Dec 8. It is a $5 entrance fee to attend.    

“I have a strong feeling the audience is going to be very confused, but also so taken aback that they’ll want to see more,” Cortez said. “Personally, one of my goals is to see some of the audience members walk out from outrage.” 

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