Working within a community that embraces a systematic and homogeneous process of theatrical development and production, I often find myself struggling to reconcile the rigid structure of that process with my own desire to create freely, without any predetermined artistic or institutional restraints in place. In my experience, work developed through a free and informal process tends to be more courageous - is this the word I'm looking for? - and revealing than work created through a more standardized process. As a theater artist interested in utilizing my artistic practice as a mode of research and investigation, the three-week rehearsal period established by various theatrical unions does not allow for the level of research my work demands. "Playing by the rules" often forces me to alter my practice and make structural choices based on institutional expectations and commercial restraints.
In a perfect world, I would somehow find a community completely free of those institutional restraints. But I doubt that mythic community exists. So the goal then must be to transform the practices and customs that have become standardized without removing them completely. In other words, how can I simultaneously play by the rules and break them in order to create the type of work I want to create?
This process of transformation begins, in my belief, in the rehearsal room with my own artistic practice. There is a universal - well, universal to standard American rehearsal practices - structure in place that most theater makers must follow. This structure consists of rules and regulations that we often take for granted, or accept without giving much thought to their intentions or origins. Take, for instance, the union requirement of taking a ten minute break for every ninety minutes of rehearsal time. This has become such an accepted and standardized element of any theatrical rehearsal practice, but has anyone actually given much thought to its original intention? And if so, does that intention support the needs of any given artist's overall intention for being in rehearsal to begin with? If not, could the practice of taking a ten minute break be approached with a different intention in mind? There must be a way to bridge the rules of the institutions dictating the commercial elements of the process with the rules of the artistic practice in play.
I'm then encouraged to wonder more about process as performance. If I'm beginning to bridge standardized rules and my individual artistic practice, am I then incorporating those rules into an eventual performance? If so, when does that performance begin? Do I invite audience members to my rehearsals as a means of understanding the performance as a whole? By opening up the standardized rehearsal process to outside spectators, am I then successfully transforming that process into a sustainable artistic practice? Can the transformation of traditional theatrical practices be presented as its own performance?
I also seem incapable of suppressing this overwhelming need to reclaim the rehearsal process as my own, as well as my unavoidable anxiety towards deviating from institutional rules and regulations. Whoever first stated "rules are meant to be broken" could have easily been attempting to reclaim his or her own individual right to create freely. But let's not forget that rules have been established for specific reasons, and are traditionally meant to be followed. I fully acknowledge that this attempt to "transform" institutional standards is my own way of reconciling both the desire to develop my own rules for an individual artistic process and my deep-rooted fear of breaking the rules. I also acknowledge that this fear, and any artistic suppression resulting from it, could be preventing me from unlocking my true potential as an artist and researcher.
Moral of the story - rules are tricky and worth exploring. The practices that have become standardized in response to institutional rules may seem limiting, but small series of transformations within those practices may eventually lead to larger changes beyond those practices. And the process of developing those transformations - the exploration of the rules and their intentions - may make for an interesting and exciting performance piece.