Reflection: Collaborative Theater-Making

MFA Theater Ryan 3

By Ryan Ferguson, 1st year MFA Theater: Contemporary Performance student

Moment-work: to learn to create non-linearly, with all of the elements of a theatrical production growing and multiplying alongside each other, as an idea manifests into reality. The text, theatrics, movement etc.

This particular practice of creation and the philosophy behind it have perhaps been the most profound bits of wisdom I’ve attained in my six and a half weeks within this community. That is, creation doesn’t need to begin with a perfect understanding of what one is actually intending to make nor some sort of profound, self-absconding, meditation in which the wisdom of the universe is imparted. Beautiful things can have very simple beginnings. One needs only to begin by saying, ‘YES’ to what emerges. Get out of the way of the self and perfectionistic tendencies, and see what manifests.

These images were captured from our first multi-week production performed on September 28.

MFA Theater Ryan 2

I step with a telescope aimed in deep-observation of the audience, whom I observed with various props such as a telescope and a computer keyboard, before painting them in the next scene. I was the painter Diego Valásquez, who created Las Meninas. I interpreted him to be amidst the scene of personalities he sought to capture, for while he studied them and their ways, he did not exclude himself from his own critical eye, symbolizing that he too was a part of this ensemble of real-life characters.

The original assignment for our Practice as Research and Dissemination class was to create a performance that incorporated Las Meninas, La Vida es Sueño by Pedro Calderon, and Allegory of a Cave. With these beginnings, I, along with Nancy Nguyen and April Newman sat in a studio one evening and began throwing out ideas based on our own interpretations of meaning: mirrors, multiple perspectives, audience watching themselves while they watch us, important characters, a comedic stand-up, a musical piece.

My mind resisted such free-form for fear of leaving out a key element of the works. My ego kept telling me to get solitary and seek that divine light to guide my pen to write the entire thing as I saw it. Our start was messy but as ideas were tossed out, we each gave them space to breathe. Nothing was invalid in that first session.

MFA Theater Ryan 4

We soon decided to divide ourselves and the performance into three acts, each representing one of the three works. This gave each of us some autonomy within the collaboration. After discussing our personal interpretations, we did a 15-minute free-write to express our vision for the other’s scenes and the work as a whole.

In the next session, we brought pieces of what we had put together to share. Nancy wrote a stand-up act for the audience in the cave. April dug heavily into a duet scene from Sueño, between the characters Rosaura and Sigismund, and wrote her own words into it. I added a few quotes to her work while in that session and quickly wrote a rap for the fourth act of our performance: a musical.

Though I was originally unsatisfied with my musical addition, I found as we staged it, its inherent incompleteness was filled by the additions of my other group members. In a successive session, April brought Rosaura’s costume and we collectively discovered the wondrous crafts and leftovers of previous performances stored in a prop closet and pulled what we liked. In such a way, we went along without angst, adding and curating elements of the performance. What came to be from our seemingly sporadic and varied contributions was a cohesive narrative that centered around the theme of consistently changing one’s perspective to the phenomena of life.

MFA Theater Ryan

When the audience was led out of the darkness by Nancy’s cavernous comedic act, they were met with mirrors on all 4-walls of the space and an fuming painter who observed them obnoxiously with various gadgets, then illuminated the stories within their minds that prevent clairvoyance of the present – ‘honour, valor, love, greed’ etc – and then painted them. Rosaura (April) then entered in a rage over her lover’s betrayal before encountering Prince Sigismund who invited her to the way of forgiveness. As the tone lightened, the the characters faded into musical:

(April, Ryan, Nancy)

Life is a dream
All human blisses pass and vanish
As a dream
They would rather suffer anything than entertain these notions
Notions, oceans of


Brushes be as thy sword
In lines and swirls of color
All eyes aware of other
Postures and ancestral debt
Cloaked in the cross,
I see you are lost in an image of self
Weighted down by such wealth, abundance,
Enslavement to ego.
Mere shadow plays on the wall.
Who’s real?
Who can I trust?
Who can I love when…


You may think forgiveness is impossible
You may think you’ll never get out of the hole
But if you see the truth and step into the light
You will find that you are strong enough to fight


Fight hate with love
Fight doubt with faith
Fight darkness with light
And the good lord above
Will bless thee in light
And do you know why?


Because you changed your perspective
Because you saw the Truth
Because now you are different from your youth
Because you forgave your farther, your mother, your brother
Life is a dream
Now sing all together
Life is a dream (x2)
Life is a dream
Your perspective can change (x2)


The world is not a prison house
But rather a knowledge cloud
If you seek to absorb it
You must change your perspective


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