Call and Response: Devon Smith

by Laurie McCants


“It made me realize how important theatre was to how we process what’s going on right now– it got me really interested in what I call ‘non-fiction’ theatre– theatre that is about what’s happening right now in our world.”
-Devon Smith, I AM THEATRE

Wow. This really hit home. Considering what’s happening in my world right now. I’m a little late in posting this response because my world’s under water. My town, and my theatre, just experienced a devastating flood. One of several we’ve been through in the years I’ve lived and worked in Bloomsburg. My theatre company’s made work about these recurring disasters and recoveries– in 2006, our ensemble created SUSQUEHANNA: MIGHTY, MUDDY, CROOKED OF THE LONG REACH, a piece about our mistress, our river. In 2006, together with community members (including the community choir), we presented FLOOD STORIES, a “non-fiction” evocation of our “real world,” (to borrow Devon’s terms) in a performance in our town park (it’s currently submerged). And now that, once again, we’re all helping our neighbors in the bailing and the digging out, we keep hearing folks say: guess it’s time for another FLOOD STORIES, isn’t it? People need to tell their stories. People need to hear their stories told.

Which leads me to another thought inspired by Devon’s video. Documentary theatre, or “non-fiction” theatre, as she calls it, need not be expressed through words alone, the “found material” of interviews and story circles. Movement, music, profound silence– we’ve used these tools before. But Devon makes me think that when we create the next iteration of FLOOD STORIES, I will be looking at how to evoke and reveal those moments, those meanings, that just will not, cannot be told through words alone.

A further question: Devon seems to assume that there’s a fundamental difference/dichotomy/enmity (?) between “theatre” and the “real world”. I think this is a common assumption. It’s something I’ve certainly struggled with. I just wonder why that is.

Let us know, or better yet, don’t just tell, show.

Call and Response extends the conversation surrounding the I AM THEATRE videos (and hopefully inspires you to make your own video). You can watch Devon’s video and catch up on I AM THEATRE here.

LAURIE McCANTS co-founded the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble in 1978. Her original work includes THE ALEXANDRIA CARRY-ON (with composer/performer Theo Bleckmann); OUR SHADOWS, a bilingual puppet play (with Egyptian theatre WAMDA) ; and SUSQUEHANNA: MIGHTY, MUDDY, CROOKED RIVER OF THE LONG REACH. Recently, she played Winnie in HAPPY DAYS, and directed BATTLES OF FIRE AND WATER at Perseverance Theatre. Her solo show, INDUSTRIOUS ANGELS, opened the 2011 Ko Festival of Performance in Amherst, Massachusetts. She’s on the Board of the Network of Ensemble Theaters. In 2010, she was named an actor of “Distinguished Achievement” through the Theatre Communications Group/Fox Foundation Fellowship.