TRU Takes A Crack At The Creative Collective

Andrea Rendall, Omega Contributor  Ω

The tingling feeling that Christmas is in the air is spreading its way throughout Kamloops residents. Whether it’s the anticipation of expecting that shiny new toy or salivating over turkey, the family get-togethers or avoiding the holiday season all together, theatre enthusiasts in Kamloops will get to experience it all at Thompson Rivers University this winter with a dramatic experiment never tried before by the university.

A new kind of play will be gracing the blackbox theatre at TRU this holiday season, a play that might not even have an official script until opening night. The TRU Actor’s Workshop Theatre is exploring a new concept known as the Creative Collective in their new production titled Christmas Unwrapped.

Professor and director Robin Nichol chose the theme of Christmas Unwrapped because with the show slotted for viewing right before final exams, she wanted to keep people interested with a theme they could relate to.

“Everybody has some experience of [Christmas], even if they don’t celebrate it – because you can’t get away from it in this culture. So even if your experience is anti-Christmas, you at least still have some experience of it,” she says.

The creative collective is a collaborative effort involving a group of individuals working together to write, perform and produce a play. In the case of TRU, interested parties were encouraged to audition with a true, personal story related to the theme of Christmas.

Actors auditioned with personal stories that range from playing funny pranks to more serious tones about family matters and tragedy to simple coming-of-age stories.

“[Actors] would come in and tell me their Christmas story… it could be heart-warming or tragic or funny or whatever they wanted to bring in,” says Nichol. “I was looking for a range of stuff that we could create a rollercoaster ride you need to take an audience on.”

Nichol picked the stories she felt could be woven together in a way that would give the stories flow and congruency, and is now working together with the actors to come up with ways to dramatize the show and connect the stories with a common theme.

“The stories are the core of it; then we come up with things to bridge those stories,” says Nichol. “That’s how we shape the show so there’s a connection.”

The play will be performed using a series of monologues and scenes while other stories will have a reoccurring presence throughout the entire production.

Assistant stage manager Dianna Springford describes the play as “exploring the realities of Christmas.”

Nichol is excited to be working with her crew, and especially appreciates the age-range she is working with.

“The age group that is my cast is 19 to 25. So they can all access those pretty vivid childhood memories still. They’re not that far away from it.”

“They remember the detail, which is really important when you’re telling personal stories and you’re telling past experiences.”

What makes this method of playwriting different from previous methods used at TRU is that there is no script. Previous productions at the university have always come from previously written, published scripts, written by one or two playwrights. This play will be written by all those performing in it, a collection of eight individual stories that explore the realities of Christmas.

The creative collective allows the students of TRU to develop their writing skills as well as acting, because they are all working together to create the production that they envision. The process is “scary” for all those involved because this is the first attempt at TRU to use this method and have a play ready to perform.

“Literally I’ve been told – this is my first time doing a collective – but Robin’s told me that she would expect the final draft to be completed even on opening night, as late as that,” says assistant director and scribe Brigitte Ganger, a recent graduate from the theatre program. “Things might be changing up until we open.”

“However [the production] comes together, the first thing is to create a team out of this group,” says Nichol. “Because everyone has to feel safe in putting forward any ideas that we have and be willing to make comments on each other’s stuff. The goal is to make it as good as it can be.”

The most important part of writing in the creative collective is establishing a safe place for the contributors and encouraging the development of a well-oiled machine.

“In the creative collective room, everybody is on equal footing. Everybody’s equal,” says Ganger.

The production will be running from Dec. 8 to 14, Thursday through Saturday. Tickets are $7.00 and are available at the TRU Box Office located in the Old Main building. For reservations call 250-828-5800.