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45 Considerations for Making a Play

Stages of Resistance
Black and white photo, a stage filled with paper cutouts, resembling paper snowflakes but bigger and in different shapes and structures. Two women are obscured by the structures.
Performance still from "In Which _______ and Others Discover the End", created by SuperGroup and Rachel Jendrzejewski at Public Functionary, Minneapolis, 2015. Installation by Liz Miller. Photo by Theo Goodell.

This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more!

Below are some questions I’ve been mulling as a writer and collaborative performance-maker, over the years but especially now. I offer these questions up to you, in case they’re useful in your process. I propose not reading them quickly or even all at once, but sitting with individual considerations for stretches of time. I propose asking “Why?” (or “Why not?”) after each question. You may be tempted to think that some of these questions have a “right” answer in my mind, or a judgment attached, but that’s not the case. The answers will be different for every person and every project, at different stages of different processes.

1. Who is involved?

2. Who is not involved?

3. Is this process structured hierarchically, or horizontally, or some other way?

4. What are the values of this process?

5. Are those values embodied/made priorities in this process?

6. Is payment a value?

7. Who is getting paid and how much?

8. How is presence or absence of payment affecting my contribution to the work?

9. What factors are determining my time commitment to this work?

10. How are we defining “play”?

11. How are we defining “story”?

12. What are our assumptions about “story”?

13. Does or should this piece have “characters”?

14. Does or should this piece have a “plot”?

15. Does or should this piece tell a story?

16. Does or should this piece ask a question?

17. Does or should this piece test a theory?

18. Does or should this piece make a proposal?

19. Does or should this piece speak truth?

20. Does or should this piece call out bullshit?

21. What if I don’t attempt to define or sum up what this piece is “about”?

22. What if I let this piece be as complicated as the world around me?

23. What if there’s no such thing as “universal”?

24. Does or should this project ask me to be uncomfortable?

25. Does or should this project require me to give something up?

26. Does or should this project offer comfort?

27. Does or should this project manipulate or influence audience emotions?

28. Does or should this project ask the audience to notice their emotions?

29. Does or should this project build capacity for recognizing intersectionality and interdependency?

30. Does or should this project exercise and expand imagination?

31. Does or should this project cultivate empathy?

32. Does or should this project dream a way forward?

33. Does or should this project heal?

34. Does or should this project ask me to love myself?

35. Do I need to take a walk right now?

36. What is the piece that wants to be made, regardless of what I think I’m making?

37. What if there are no solutions to certain problems, but instead accommodations?

38. What if that obstacle or block is the whole point?

39. Who will experience this piece?

40. Who do I wish would experience this piece?

41. How can and should we contextualize this work for audiences?

42. When does their experience of the piece begin?

43. How does payment or non-payment affect an audience member’s experience of this piece?

44. How far can I push this work?

45. When is it time to let go?