devised theatre

Worldcon 75: Theatre, Genre Fiction, and the reality of Global Warming

Last week I attended the 75th annual World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki, Finland. Worldcon is an international gathering of the science fiction and fantasy community. The first Worldcon was held in 1939, and, after a break during WWII, the event has been held annually since 1946, with the location changing each year. 

Modern Worldcons are held over five days and are attended by thousands of members – over 6,000 people attended Worldcon 75. Attendees included writers, artists, fans, editors, publishers, academics and dealers, all with an interest in science fiction.

Worldcons are not just about the written word. Over the decades Worldcons have grown to embrace science fiction in all the forms in which it appears, including film, TV, art, comics, anime and manga, and gaming. Attending this convention as a theatre maker (though I have attended Harry Potter and Teen Wolf conventions and The MCM London Comic Con over the past 8 years) was fascinating. I was able to attend panels, workshops and presentations exploring things like diverse representation in fiction and media, collaborative concepts, devised performance, and the science behind climate change and it's implications on the future.  All of these topics serve to inform my work and my creative process. 


Some of the most immediately relevant sessions I attended were those relating to climate change, and humanity's perceptions of the natural world at different points in our history. As I prepare to join my colleague Jack for an international, Climate Change focused devising workshop in London next week, as well as work towards producing a Climate Change Theatre Action in Chicago in November, these conversations were both informative and inspiring. Speculative fiction and fantasy writers have been imagining a post-Anthropocene world for a long time. Chats with and presentations by scientific researchers, anthropologists, historians and novelists have proved to be some of the most valuable research I have done for this project. I look forward to how they will inform our work with the CCTA.

Another fantastic experience at Worldcon was a workshop I attended led by playwright Tajinder Singh Hayer. Over the course of the workshop we devised possible post-apocalyptic scenarios, and the social, political, and cultural implications of chemical, biological, and warfare related disasters on characters and narrative. The folks I was devising with were a retired parole officer and an astrophysicist. It was fascinating to see how our different experiences and knowledge bases affected the story and characters of our fictional world. 

Worldcon, though not explicitly marketed toward theatre practitioners, is a really wonderful opportunity for networking and professional and artistic development. I would definitely recommend checking out next year's Worldcon in San Jose, CA, or in two years in Dublin, Ireland! 

CCTA International: Hive Workshop

My great friend and collaborator Jack Paterson and I are up to something this summer in London! For the second year in a row, I will join NoPassport Theatre Alliance in a global theatre action. Last year, I participated in After Orlando at Chicago's Pride Arts Center. The theatre action centered around the tragic massacre at Pulse Night Club, and was a powerful coming together of the theatre community in remembrance and activism.  This year, our theatre action will focus our artistic efforts around the subject of Climate Change

In the spirit our training, and a further desire to collaborate internationally, we invite you to join us either in person or virtually for our first international laboratory. This laboratory process will begin in London, August 2017.

At the conclusion of the London session, work generated will be utilized to inform a CCTA event in Chicago, Illinois, as well as anywhere in the world our collaborators may choose to participate in the movement. Read on for more information, and if you're interested in joining us please fill out the form at the bottom of this post! 

London: The first phase in an international CCTA collaboration led by Denise Yvette Serna and Jack Paterson.

Artists and Directors will join together in a laboratory setting to

  • Workshop scripts from the CCTA Anthology

  • Create archival record of entire pieces or elements of pieces

  • Create and devise sensory elements that can be utilized by other artists at international CCTA events

  • Examine the potential of International Collaborative Creation & Presentation through technology

  • Explore the interaction between Technology and the Environment

If climate change is a global phenomenon affecting all without regard to region, race, or responsibility (though arguably, some regions of the world topographically suffer the effects more immediately than others), how can international collaboration bring relevance and dynamic conversation about the artist’s role in climate justice and civilian responsibility to the entirety of the population?

Through creative use of technology to fuse international practice and aesthetic, our cohort will expand on the mission of No Passport and CCTA, creating a bridge between traditionally scripted and devised work inspired by climate change.

  1. Choose elements of, or entire pieces from the anthology provided by The Arctic Cycle, and create a digital record of it.  This can be images, sound files, musical composition, video, record of devised movement or choreography, puppet templates, translation - anything that is created in support or inspired by a text. Dream big here - it can be as simple as an audio recording of someone reading the script, to orchestrations of music made with garbage to underscore a text. Truly anything.

  2. Upload archival record of these elements in a drive to be shared by laboratory participants.

  3. Coordinate a conference call style collaboration between your work and the workshop in London, where international actors can devise alongside one another.

  4. Create archival footage of entire pieces that can be showcased at the Chicago production of CCTA, and/or livestreamed on HowlRoundTv.

  5. Organize a CCTA event in your region, and utilize the workshop and laboratory archive we create to inform, inspire, bolster your work.

We hope to foster a healthy collaborative spirit with our international colleagues, alumni and current students of E15, and our communities.


We invite you to join the Climate Change Theatre Action, from wherever in the world you are currently based. Please visit their website to learn more, register your participation, and obtain access to the anthology of scripts.


I spent the year after graduate school as a middle school teacher.  Of the many things I took from that year, one aspect of experience was the thread that became (the)forget_me\knot. I saw several physical confrontations between students that year, and was struck by the realization that so many of them enjoyed filming the fights. They did not try to stop the fight, did not try to help, and did not make it easy for adults to – but they filmed it. After fights, we’d have to round up phones and delete all the footage. I grew fascinated with the ability of a screen to simultaneously detach a person from their humanity, and with the social media revolution – affirm it. Utilizing the collage style I found while creating La Chingada, I began to piece together poetry, movement, and other cultural artifacts that followed that thought. As the piece came together I realized that throughout recorded history, a single cry has echoed from the lips of humanity: Don’t forget me. (the)forget_me\knot became an immersive, multi-sensory  piece that peered through the lenses we utilize to defy our mortality, and glimpsed into our determination to make even the most meaningless moments-and by extension, ourselves- last forever.
The hardest thing to stomach? We won’t.
Those photos in your attic? The people in them are dead.
We don’t know who her prom date was, or why his leg was in a cast. Their childhood home burned to the ground, and there’s a parking lot there now. But the lenses made us feel connected. And whatever the cost, for that moment, we were unforgettable.

It was important to the project that it generate more artistic observations of memory, and that the absurd beauty of the things we were creating compelled people to photograph or record them, creating a cycle of memory.  In one room of the venue guests were invited to create soundscapes, and surrealist snapshots, or join Loren Phillips in acro-yoga.  We also invited artists to join us for the show, sell their projects, and create new work as they watched. Artists such as Ruby Western, Kendra Strebig, and Sophie Wingland created work each evening that underscored performances, was given to audience members who joined the performance, and used to fill a growing gallery of work inspired by (the)forget_me\knot.

La Chingada

Going Down to the River - Conception and Preparation
Growing up in South Texas on the border of Mexico, I heard the story of La Llorona all the time. She was more familiar than the boogeyman and more terrifying than the monster under the bed. Everyone’s version of her tale was slightly different, depending on where they grew up, where they heard it first, or what their family had passed down. One thing was always certain, however: She was guilty. Her wet, grieving soul would wail as it wandered the rios, and her screams would haunt our dreams into adulthood. I no longer fear her hands snatching me away or the riverbanks she is said to appear by, but her story has never stopped haunting me. As I have studied literature and theatre and have seen her story in myths and legend from all over the world, I cannot help but wonder why. What is it about this story that makes it worth telling and retelling? Why do we sympathize with Medea, and vilify La Llorona? Why is it a ghost story and not a tragedy, a fable, or a battle cry? What is it about a woman defying societal expectation that terrifies us? Why is it that no matter how many people I asked to tell me their versions, La Llorona never gets to speak? A whole life of love and loss, and she is reduced to three words, “Ay, mis hijos!” 
Legends do not get to tell their own stories, so if we gave the voiceless woman a chance to set the story straight... What would she teach us? 

Gathering Materials
Assembling the text was one of the most enjoyable parts of the pre-production. In the manner of programmed oral interpretation, I stitched together language, images and circumstances to create a coherent story line.
Given the nature of the story and the way I wanted to unravel it, I decided to utilize found text and devised movement for the piece. I read dissertation papers, poetry, short stories, ghost sightings, plays, and feminist interpretations of Chicano literature. With the rich text of Euripides juxtaposed against the heartbeat of slam poetry, the script quickly found a voice that transcended time and place; it was both ancient and familiar, somber and kinetic. As I gathered versions of the tale, I could not escape the way her story (and the stories of all Chicano women) was deeply intertwined with those of La Virgen de Guadalupe (the Virgin Mary), and La Malinche (the mother of the mestizos, or mixed/Mexicanpeople). These three feminine icons slowly became the pillars of the piece. A holy trinity, if you will. Deity, emotional/spiritual entity, and human. Peace, rage, and grief. This led to the addition of liturgical iconography and ritual within the piece. Pairing mysticism and Catholicism with the indigenous sort of witchcraft attributed to Medea added to the piece’s voice. The poetry of Anne Sexton and Walt Whitman, with their carnal and aggressive imagery, became the Lover’s tongue. He was desirable, well spoken, and made no mistake about what kind of man he was. More complex than a cheater or a villain, he evolved into a complex individual capable of making as many mistakes as La Llorona. To counter The Lover’s voice, La Llorona communicated through movement-denied of a voice until the very end. The chorus became the fusion of the two worlds. Speaking both in poetry and movement, they intertwined both stories with the remaining literature and contemporary texts. At times they stood proxy for the audience, other times for the characters -neither of our world nor from hers-observers, participants and perpetuators of myth.