Drama Games for Devising
Nick Hern Books
When you've been teaching drama for twenty years, it's hard, when you see another new book titled "Drama Games", not to think, "not another one"—but Nick Hern Books has started to produce a series of slim volumes of games, each with a specific purpose.
This particular book is on games for devising, a process of creating theatre whereby the script is created during the rehearsal process by the actors, director and sometimes one or more writers using improvisation, research and other techniques. There are some companies and practitioners that regularly use some form of devising as part of their process—the book gives short profiles on the work of Max Stafford-Clark, Shunt and Mike Leigh and also refers to the work of Kneehigh, Filter, Complicite and Phelim McDermott—but it is in the drama classroom where devising has really proven popular, and that is where this book will be most valuable.
Swale puts great emphasis on giving the process of devising a structure, which is often where devised projects fall down if they are allocated a similar rehearsal period to a scripted piece and do not separate the creation from the rehearsal stages thereby coming across as under-rehearsed. Swale proposes a very sensible five-stage process for creating devised work, and she divides her book into five sections to correspond with these stages.
The book is called "drama games", but true games only really have a place at certain stages of the process; at other stages they can be a diversion from the work and can encourage superficiality rather than deeper exploration if not applied carefully. The games for the early stages encourage bonding between the members of the group and are designed to stimulate the imagination in various ways to find starting points and ways of developing ideas, which work well. Many of these games are based on ones that will be familiar to drama teachers but they have been cleverly adapted for this new purpose.
The "games" in the later stages are not so much games as we would normally understand them but exercises in developing a script and performances, in many cases using greatly-simplified versions of Stanislavski's techniques (although I'm not sure he would have been happy to be referred to as the "Father of Naturalism"). These exercises may provide good starting points for rehearsals and something to fall back on when stuck for inspiration but are often a bit simplistic to rely on entirely at this crucial stage in a project's development.
The final section is for the performance stage, with some great exercises for group warm-ups for the voice and body that would be useful throughout rehearsals.
Interestingly, many of the examples in the exercises are from scripted plays, which may seem odd in a book on devising but does show that the same exercises can be useful in more conventional rehearsals as well, especially those based on the techniques of Stanislavski who worked exclusively with scripted plays.
As a whole, the book isn't a definitive guide to the devising process, but then that isn't its function. The five-stage process is a very useful template and is probably the book's most valuable contribution, but the imaginative games and other exercises, if applied carefully with other techniques and closely supervised by a director or teacher who understands the devising process, are very useful additions to any deviser's, drama teacher's or drama student's toolbox.
Reviewer: David Chadderton