Numb and Awake

Numb and Awake being our first devised project, I think I speak for all of us when I say I was a bit daunted by the task. We were asked by the Dark Days 24hr theatre festival team to meet in a warehouse on the west side of Salt Lake City. The suspense was held high and the room silent as they drew the theme from a hat. Isolation. On a count of “3…2…1.. GO!” we all ran and grabbed a bag of props then off to our cars to begin devising a piece. I remember on the car ride to the Arts House at the University of Utah, a dorm where Cece lived, being scared yet excited. None of us really knew what was going to be created or come out of this project or even where we wanted to go with it, but we all had faith and a drive to succeed.

We arrived at the arts house and just began brainstorming. We put on a playlist of music on Spotify — one that I’m now certain is the best playlist for devising theatre: Evening Chill — and began improvising words that came up in our minds when we thought about isolation or the act of being isolated. At the end of a few minutes we came together and shared our ideas, most of which actually ended up aligning with each others. In the end of a quick discussion we landed on devising a small piece about mental illness, the idea of wanting to be isolated, and it’s opposite being forced into isolation when you didn’t want to.

Using these ideas we began facilitating some exercises created by the troupe Frantic Assembly, just simple movement exercises to get us on our feet and choreographing some material. We had used a bunch of similar experimental exercises and techniques in our Acting classes at the University of Utah and got in contact with a previous professor of ours and co-founder of Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory, Robert Scott Smith, to bounce some ideas around and discuss some ways to take all the little parts we had and make it into some thing whole. It was 12 AM when we finished choreographing the piece and time to start writing some text segments.

To start devising many of the text snippets we drew a lot of inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s, “Play,” a play with very fast spoken segments of text with a rapid story that unfolds toward the end. In order to juxtapose our more lyrical movement sections we chose to use a more abstract textual relationship. Then to curtail the process, adjourning at 2 AM, we left the night by asking each member to write a monologue for the grand finale in order to tie the whole piece together.

Going into the performance I was a bit nervous, we spent a lot of time the next day piecing together the various sections that we had and finalizing the script, but performing that was so close to our hearts — something that was raw, that we created — I felt a bit uneasy. But when we took to the stage I was most glad I got to share a part of my art that was so personal. And it paid off, we ended up wining the competition and earning an application for the 2016 Fringe Festival. This was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.

Written by member Dominic Zappala