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Techniques for Devising Theatre

Devising is a voyage of discovery without knowing where we will land

Devising theatre is a way of creating original theatre with your group.  It is worth noting that improvisation, where something is created spontaneously with little or sometimes no preparation, is a tool often used in the devising process but they are two different things.

Creating stories from images

There are various starting points for group image making or still images as they are often called.  The leader can source photos and get the group to recreate them or allow small groups to create an original still image.  If you go for option 2 and get the group to create an original image, rather than give a theme like safety,  try giving an object, an environment or something abstract like a colour to avoid getting stuck in a single storyline.  

You can then very quickly create characters and stories using these techniques

  • Who are the characters
  • How do they know each other
  • Where was the photo taken
  • When was it taken
  • Tap people in the shoulder to get their inner thoughts at the moment the photo was taken
  • What happened just before
  • What happens next
  • Group A use Group B still image and vice versa to create a scene.  It could be that one of the group found the photo, doesn’t recognise anyone and shows it to the others or it could be someone they know.  It could be an old photo that was taken years ago or it could be recent.  Encourage different scenarios – it can work quite well to ask that the image be incorporated somewhere in the scene as a still moment – not necessarily at the beginning or the end

Creating stories from objects

A case is found in a railway station, it contains some objects.  The group are automatically enrolled as investigators

  • What sort of person would the objects belong to
  • Why has the case been left
  • Divide the group up and give one object to each smaller group – they can then create the story of the object and a scene showing how it came into the possession of the owner of the suitcase
  • Once you have all of these clues, the whole group can create scenarios of why, when and how the suitcase was lost and decide whether it ever gets reunited with its owner.

This kind of starting point has so much potential to run over many sessions.  Let’s take the railway station – creating characters and backstories for everyone who was there on the day the suitcase was left.  To up the stakes, how about creating a dramatic incident in the railway station which impacts the characters.  To up the stakes further, create the news reporting of the incident …. and so on.  

Devising from existing stories

Take a well known story, make sure that everyone has the same version.  Here are some suggestions for development

  • create additional scenes for each of the characters that tell us more about who they are
  • recreate the story with the aim of role reversal – for instance in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, how could you turn Riding Hood into the baddie and make the wolf the hero of the piece?
  • Take the characters and put them into another setting – this could be a reality talent show – what talent would each of the characters have?
  • Create a news report about the story with the participants playing the news team, witnesses and bystanders

These are just a few examples of ways to devise new material and generally work more effectively than deciding to make a show about ‘bullying’.  If the young people want to do something like that, how about using one of the starting points above and introducing a bullying event. 

Tips for success

  • Try not to anticipate or control the outcome, allow the random to materialise and find ways to make it work – this will create a much more interesting and exciting piece than a single narrative
  • Encourage theatricality and creativity – no idea is too big
  • Value all contributions and if you can, use as many as possible through the process. You may have to prune later on but some of the early material which you instinctively want to reject may be the most interesting later on
  • Think about how to record your material along the way – perhaps build in some filming or ensure plenty of time at the end of the sessions to build a storyboard trying to capture each scene or idea
  • If something isn’t working with the group, take a break with some games and have another go – if it’s still going nowhere, move on.
  • If you are working towards a performance, allot time for making material and then move into editing and rehearsing.  It can be tempting to just keep creating new material but you need to move away from this in time to compose a piece that can be put in front of an audience. 
  • Whilst it is good to work democratically and important for the group to own the material, someone has to make the final decision about what stays in and what has to come out

Most importantly – have fun!

Related resources


A short educational video about devising.

Additional Reading


A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theate

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing (UK) 2019-09-19, London, 2019

ISBN 10: 1350025941ISBN 13: 9781350025943



House of Games – Making Theatre from Everyday Life

Published by Nick Hern Books

ISBN: 9781854599056