Aesthetic diversities II: Collaborative creation or devised theatre training for actors

Aesthetic diversities II: Collaborative creation or devised theatre training for actors

In this video, Diana discusses collaborative or devised theatre and the role it can play in actor training—especially how it provides young artists the ability to create original and complex work that extends the more specifically technical part of their training.

Collaborative creation or devised theatre training for actors, by Diana Belshaw, actor and director of the Theatre Performance Program at Humber College

Diana Belshaw

Diana Belshaw is the Head of Acting at Humber’s Theatre Performance Program where, over the last fifteen years, she has developed a unique cross-curricular approach to creation and devising which has become the training core of the program. Diana received her MFA from Yale and spent over thirty years working professionally as an actor, director, and dramaturg across Canada.  She recently co-edited Canadian Theatre Review’s Actor Training in a Changing Landscape (CTR 160) with David Fancy. She has received awards for her teaching and research, as well as the Maggie Bassett Award from Theatre Ontario for her services to theatre in Ontario and a Harold Award from the independent theatre community in Toronto.




  1. Diana Belshaw outlines the 3 main streams Canadian teachers of devised theatre originate:  “improvisational collective creation, Lecoq methodologies of clown and mask, and the training-into-creation model developed by Jerzy Grotowski and Eugenio Barba and their followers.” These schools are predominantly the source of training for actors interested in devising their own work. What key concepts and skills might a student of one of these streams acquire during their training?
  2. Devised theatre training tends to base its work heavily on the body—it promotes a concentration on physicality, and creates actors that are well-versed in improvisation. How can this concentration on the physical body embrace the diverse physical and intellectual capacities of the actors? How can diversity strengthen the ensemble?
  3. Diana discusses that “[o]ne of the great challenges in actor training is how to wean actors off their need to illustrate their emotional circumstance through stereotypical behaviours.” She goes on to state that “traditional realism-based approaches simply reinforce personal mannerisms and encourage minimalistic physical or emotional decisions more appropriate for film than theatre.” What exercises are useful in promoting a non-naturalistic physicality? How might these exercises build a foundation where physical exploration has the ability to precede text when devising?
  4. Diana confronts the myth that training actors in devised theatre will make them unable to exist in the theatre ‘industry,' and counters this with her own lived experiences. She has seen that “they have been able to engage with the needs of the commercial theatre world, film and television, even voice acting.” What skills can devised theatre training promote in actors-in-training?
  5. Devised theatre training allows for a diversity and a fluidity in inhabiting identities that exist outside of an actor’s own lived experiences. How can this training allow actors to explore gender identities and experiences in a way that may not be possible through studying and staging a classical text? How can it shed light on the complexities of gender and sexuality? How can it work to abolish stereotypes of strict gender binaries?

References and Resources

Barker, Clive. Devised and Collaborative Theatre: A Practical Guide. Grantham: Crowood Press, 2002.

Govan, Nicholson, and Normington. Making a Performance: Devising Histories and Contemporary Practices. London and New York: Routledge, 2007.

Heddon and Milling. Devising Performance: A Critical History. London: Palgrave McMillan, 2005.

LeCoq, Cariasso and Lallias. The Moving Body: Teaching Creative Theatre. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Oddey, Alison. Devising Theatre: A Practical and Theoretical Handbook. London and New York: Routledge, 1996.

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