Our Process: Subject to Control
Some people have asked us to talk about our devising process for Subject to Control, and so we've created this space in which to do so.
But first, a little background...
Kaci and Curtis' working partnership has been mainly in the improvised theatre and comedy realm. While they've both written and performed in many scripted plays and films, the bulk of their work together over the past 7 years has been as the improv duo The Amazon and The Milksop.
Their early impulses to create comedy by pushing the limits of traditional gender roles – putting her in the power position and him in the submissive – quickly evolved into an unspoken artistic thread of pushing the limits in all sorts of ways: the limits of good taste, the boundary between the actors and the audience, etc. Beneath it was always the desire to have as much fun as possible while bringing the audience along for the ride.
Kaci first heard about a devised theatre company called The New Colony in Chicago in 2011, which lead her to create her first devised show, the gigantic cheerleader epic Blood, Sweat, and Cheers in 2013. The New Colony use improvisers and improvisation in their process, but still work toward a fully fleshed-out script. After years of creating successful improvised play productions, Kaci was ready for this challenge. Curtis joined the production as an actor, and the entire cast went through a process of creating characters based on their strengths, improvising scenes from a set of premises, and then working more loosely with the dialog from the finalized script.
Candid STC rehearsal photos taken by Director Rob Yoho
In this stage of the process, Kaci and Curtis discovered they were most interested in the ever-shifting relationship between the two characters, including their power dynamics, rivalry, and sibling-like affection and play. While Kaci and Curtis continued to improvise different scenes and scenarios featuring these characters, Rob Yoho joined the process in November 2015 as director to provide an outside pair of eyes and to begin shaping the play’s structure.
Over the next few months, Kaci and Curtis generated a wealth of written material including scenes and background information about the play’s given circumstances and the characters’ lives while Rob kept watch on the play’s dramaturgy and focused the improv sessions on the creators’ original goals.
Eventually, the team realized they had enough material to fill at least three plays, and thus began the difficult task of culling only the most theatrically viable material which still remained in line with the project’s goals of delving deep into the relationship between Kaci and Curtis’ characters and enriching their dynamic together.
Catchin' Frogs (2012)
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Save The World!
In 2014 Kaci and Curtis co-created and starred in F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Save The World!, in which their Zelda and F. Scott characters were front and center in an R-rated high-brow/low-brow comic romp. While the production had some scripted elements and ventured into character comedy territory, it was still more improvised theatre than devised theatre.
Since her work on Blood, Sweat, and Cheers, Kaci had been looking for inspiration for her next devised piece. In early 2015, she found it in this music video by Japanese pop trio Perfume. She brought the video to Curtis' attention as well as the barest idea for a new play. This time, instead of a 15+ person cast, she wanted something more intimate and much smaller in scale.
Curtis had become fascinated with Scientology and the film The Master, and brought these to the table as other starting points when they began to work more seriously in October of 2015.
From there, Kaci and Curtis created several card decks filled with possible "facts" - about the two characters (originally called HIM & HER, respectively), about the world around them, their living situation, their ticks, their possessions, their clothing, their outlooks on life, etc. They began to grow the world by improvising scenes using the cards as starting points. Soon, cards that resonated less were thrown out, and a clearer picture of this piece started to form.
The Amazon & The Milksop
performing at The Hideout Theatre
From here, the play’s plot and structure went through several substantial revisions and reconsiderations, including one major revision immediately following a staged reading of the first act for a few close friends and colleagues. Oftentimes, revisions would happen in group sessions with the three artists instead of in the confines of solo writing (though many hours were spent in these more traditional scriptwriting settings).
With the play’s structure in place, the focus in rehearsals shifted from generating new material to staging the play itself and making small revisions to the extant script. While the process became more like a traditional scripted theatre rehearsal, the team sought to preserve the immediacy and playfulness of improv in both the work itself and the final product.
Ultimately, the devising process proved challenging, fruitful, and a way to circumvent the traditional process of the solitary work of writing a play.