Actors and Performers

A Beginners Guide to Devising Theatre

Read an extract from A Beginner’s Guide to Devising Theatre, written by the artistic directors of the award-winning young people’s performance company Junction 25.

This book is aimed at those new to devising or wanting to further develop their skills. It explores creative ways to create original theatre from a contemporary stimulus.

Exercises that build confidence in using our voices

 Devising theatre involves a lot of time working together as part of a collective but also requires individuals to contribute their own ideas and opinions to the development of a new piece of work. For this reason it is important to spend some time encouraging each person to feel confident and empowered in using their voice as part of the creative process.

There are times where it can be hard to find your voice within a group situation. It is often difficult to identify where and when you are allowed to offer a different perspective and how to go about this. Fears about having something ’worthwhile’ to say or anxiety around the reaction of others can lead some people to opt out of discussion and as a result means that some voices are lost from the group. We believe that it is important to work against this possibility right from the outset with a series of activities and exercises designed to promote each voice in the room in both small and big ways, encouraging differing opinions and exploring ideas from all possible angles. Delivered in the right way this should lead to a creative environment where all members of a group continue to ask of themselves:

  • What are the things I agree with other people about?
  • How do I think differently?
  • What are my opinions?
  • Am I allowed to change my mind?
  • Can I think about that idea from another perspective?
  • What is really important to me and why?
  • Why is my voice important to the conversation?
  • Why do I need to hear the voices of others?



How to do it:

Ask individuals to stand on two opposite sides of the room in response to their preferred choice or two options. For example;

  •      Summer or winter
  •      Sweet or savoury
  •      Tea or coffee
  •      Film or a football match
  •      City or countryside
  •      Rock music or rap music
  •      Night out or night in


Where appropriate you can ask people to share the reason behind the specific choice they made and encouraged discussion around likes/dislikes/thoughts.

Possible Development:

Ask each side to create a still image or short advert about why their preferred choice is ‘better’. How might they encourage the other group to re-consider their preference?

Why it works:

This is a really gentle introduction to autobiography and individual decision making. It encourages participants to offer opinions in a low-risk, ‘everyday’ kind of way and allows for the group to make connections as they share small details about themselves with others. The framing of having a preference also does not require individuals to give too much if they are not yet ready to but instead asks them to make a simple choice between two clear options.



How to do it:

Ask the group to all walk/move around the room. Give them the instruction to find other people who have something specific in common with them by standing in groups of the following categories:

  1.    Favourite food.
  2.     Music taste
  3.     Favourite genre of film
  4.     A place you would like to travel to
  5.     Favourite/least favourite subject at school

Why it works:

The group use verbal language to find out things about each other and make connections in the room. This is a useful exercise to support individuals to begin to feel less nervous with each other as they begin to share small details about themselves and explore areas of commonality.  It also promotes the idea of dialogue and the notion of participants being asked to contribute something of themselves to the process.


30 seconds

How to do it:

Prepare an envelope with a variety of categories or conversation topics. For example:

  •         Animals
  •          Politics
  •          Weather
  •          Hobbies
  •          Food

1.    Ask the group to sit in a circle.

2.    Ask each person in turn to take out a category and to talk about that category continuously without stopping for 30 seconds.


Why it works:

This is an exercise that uses the framing of a timed challenge to encourage individuals to share ideas and opinions quickly and without worrying too much. It allows them to share small details about themselves and their likes/dislikes with the wider group and in doing so make initial connections with others. It also encourages the group to actively listen to each other and to appreciate the quality that comes from having different voices in the room.



How to do it:

Ask the group to agree on a side of the room that is ‘Strongly Agree’ and a side that is ‘Strongly Disagree’.

Make a clear statement on a given subject. For example:

  •          Watching films is an excellent form of escapism
  •          Chocolate is good for you
  •          It is always better to be outside than inside

Ask the group to place themselves along an imaginary line between the two opinions in order to signify their thoughts in relation to it. Where appropriate ask individuals to share why they chose that position and encourage dialogue around the various perspectives in the room.

Depending on where the group is in the process of working together, you can go deeper and select statements designed to encourage a greater level of critical dialogue. For example:

  •          Young people are just underdeveloped adults
  •          Formal education is not for everyone
  •          Gender is about society not biology

Safety note: It is important for this exercise to be carefully facilitated so that individuals do not feel attacked or alienated for having differences of opinion.

Why it works:

This exercise allows individuals to think about their own opinion on a given subject and to actively share it with others. It encourages decision-making and allows participants to see the range of ideas within the group. Using the form of a ‘spectrum’ it also recognizes that we are all coming from different places and have different ideas about things. Facilitated properly the exercise should celebrate dialogue and model a positive and fluid discussion around points of view and ways of thinking. It also asks a group to consider new ideas from a variety of angles and appreciate the complexity in asking difficult questions.

Read further exercises from A Beginners Guide to Devising Theatre, available now from Methuen Drama.