What Does ‘Work In Progress’ Mean?

By Téana David

In the world outside of the theater, work-in-progress can mean an out-of-service escalator or a park that is cordoned-off while undergoing renovations with signs warning, “Keep out!”

Within the theater, a work-in-progress, or WIP, is a performance piece that is shown at a certain stage in it’s development, usually with the intention of garnering audience feed-back to inspire further realization. With today’s theatrical landscape made up mostly of polished works, foolsFURY is excited to offer artists avenue to share their unfinished pieces with you, the members of our community, so that you can “Keep in!” This year’s FURY Factory showcases seventeen companies performing work in various stages of construction. We welcome you through the yellow caution tape to have a look around – there is no hard hat required!

Why is it important for audiences to be invited into an ensemble’s work as it develops? Amy Clare Tasker, founding member of Inkblot Ensemble says, “WIPs allow us to engage the audience as creative partners rather than passive recipients. These early responses allow us to incorporate fresh points of view into the future of the play.” Similarly, Joan Bruemmer of Band of Toughs shares, “Audience responses are incorporated into the ensuing rehearsal process and directly inform the development of the final production. This process profoundly improves the quality and impact of our productions as the local community deepens its investment in our work.”

WIPs can prove especially beneficial to the ensemble theater process, wherein actors also function as creators. Lisa Leaverton, artistic director of Inquire Within observes, “Iam committed to the “slow movement” of artists creating ensemble work. Like many of the companies, most of my projects tend to take three or more years in the creating, so these opportunities to bring the work to a point of articulation at various stages is essential.”

“While a WIP can be a half-finished motion toward an endpoint,” says Benjamin Stuber of One Continuous Mistake, “it’s also important to consider it as a self-contained whole. It is of itself complete containing a jo-ha-kyu (beginning, middle and end) born of its momentary execution, creating a unique and exciting space for the audience and theater artist to meet.”

Many of the WIP’s presented at the Fury Factory will include brief post-show discussions in which a member of the performing company will guide you in offering feedback. Participating in an ensemble’s feedback process can prove as illuminating as witnessing the show itself, opening a wider window into the collective psyche of the company. It is also an opportunity to connect with fellow audience members: the diversity of our experiences when watching the exact same material can do nothing but increase tolerance and compassion within a community.

In the ground-breaking book, Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process, co-author John Borstel writes “The point when an artist is ready for feedback is as important as any event in the development of a work of art. For the artist, the moment of presenting work in progress for response is both one of distinct accomplishment, as hours or months of preparation culminate in a showing and exchange, and of deep vulnerability, as everything the artist has invested comes under scrutiny.”

FoolsFURY supports the 2011 WIP artists in creating theater that provokes discussion and stimulates a conversation with the audience. So step into the FURY Factory, duck under the yellow tape and enter our colorful under-construction zones. Together we’ll build a bridge between artist and community.

FoolsFURY Company member Téana David is an actress, theater-maker and teaching artist based in New York. 

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