Welcome to the first issue of Inside UP, bringing you an in-depth look at connections between artists and our community.
This issue is written by U of U Theatre major Cece Otto, pictured below in the green and black tanktop, with Universes cast members and fellow workshop participants. Cece writes about her experience at a workshop with the theatre group Universes, and how that experience impacted her education and her career goals.
The Universes Experience
by Cece Otto
Seeing Universes was empowering as a young artist because the group is a great example that it is possible to create original work, and successfully share it with audiences around the globe. During this workshop we were not only given examples of original material, but we also were able to create our own. These pieces were only about 2 minutes long, but have the potential to be expanded into fuller productions. Creating the work was much easier than I expected, and left me with the impression that devising pieces is something that I could continue to do in the future.
As an actor, I often find I am at the mercy of the playwright’s words, the director’s staging, or the designers’ choices for the productions I participate in; my only job is to act the character based on the guidelines I am given. Universes demonstrated a different approach where they all work together to complete all aspects of the theatrical experience. By creating original work, I can have a hand in every piece of the show.
Universes is a unique experience because the poetry, music and opinions that can be heard throughout their performances are all products of the people on the stage. Many times in traditional theatrical settings, the playwrights do not perform their own pieces and may not even be alive. The actors become a mouth piece for the playwrights to speak through. Universes stands on the stage and shares their personal ideas with audiences which creates a special experience between audience and performer.
The basis of the work that Universes does is that everything heard in a performance is created by using their bodies on stage. They do not use any supplementary music or sound in their performance. The workshop began with a few activities as a full group to get us comfortable in the setting as they taught us how they create their pieces of work.
The first stage of creating a piece came from the basis of all their works: The One. The One is the heartbeat of the piece. The One is the rhythm that is constant the entire time. The One can be anything, but is typically simple and consistent.
After The One has been established, the group continues to place other layers of sound on top of The One to create layers. This process is what creates the full sound that can be heard in the Universes music. These layers can consist of a variety of sounds, rhythms, and tempos, but all must be inspired by The One.
One of the Universes company members found his entry into music as a child by beat boxing, and he still uses that skill in their work today. In order to teach his sister, also a Universes member, how to beat box, he broke all of the sounds down into phonetic phrases. One of the simpler phrases is: puff-tippy-cah-tippy-tippy-puff-cah. By using this process, beginners can get the feel for what the rhythm is and gradually work into where the sounds live in their mouths to create a full beat boxing sound.
The last component we worked on was text. Each of us took some time to sit down and write a haiku poem about something we found very important, or that has affected our lives. After sharing these poems with the group we expanded them into full bodies of text. This could be a monologue, a free verse poem, a compilation of many small haikus, or whatever the writer found appropriate.
When we had our building blocks established (The One, layers, beat boxing, and text) we then split up into groups to create our own pieces. Each group was given 30 minutes to combine the text each member had written and create a piece using music created and sung by the group. As we were working, the Universes members came around and worked with the groups to provide suggestions and feedback throughout the process.
At the end of the workshop we performed our pieces.
I greatly enjoyed being able to work closely with this talented group of artists. I am thankful for the basis they have given me of how to continue creating my own work in the future. I appreciate their willingness to work with students and young artists to inspire new voices to share their thoughts and opinions with audiences. I hope to have the opportunity to work with them again in the future!