Associate professor examines history of co-created theater in Chicago

Ensemble-made Chicago
(DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
Ensemble-Made Chicago: A Guide to Devised Theater

By: Coya Paz, Department of Theatre Studies; Chloe Johnston, Lake Forrest University

"Ensemble-Made Chicago" brings together the work of a wide range of Chicago theater companies to share strategies for co-creating theatrical performance as an ensemble. The book's introduction offers an overview of the history of co-created theater in Chicago, defined by the authors as theater that breaks down the traditional roles of writer, director and performer in favor of a more egalitarian approach in which all participants contribute to the creation of original material. Each chapter offers a short history of a Chicago company, followed by detailed exercises that have been developed and used by that company to build ensemble and generate performances. It pays special attention to the ways the fight for social justice has shaped the development of this aesthetic in Chicago. 

What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?
Ensemble-made Chicago
(Image courtesy of Northwestern University)


Chicago has a long history of community-engaged, co-created theater that dates back to the work of Neva Boyd and Viola Spolin, a DePaul grad, in the early days of  Hull House. Dozens of companies can trace their work to Boyd and Spolin's ideas, yet they are rarely cited as influences. We also learned, in talking with 15 different companies, that many companies use similar exercises and techniques but for very different reasons - we were fascinated by the many different applications a theater exercise might have.

Persuade someone to read your book in less than 50 words:

Theater is, fundamentally, an act of world-making. In Ensemble-Made Chicago, we introduce readers to fifteen companies who believe in being radically democratic, in finding new ways to make a world together. Our hope is that they inspire you to do the same.

About the author:

Coya Paz is a writer, director and lip gloss connoisseur who was raised in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil and the United States. She is the artistic director of Free Street Theater, a cofounder of the Proyecto Latina collective and has served as the founding co-artistic director of Teatro Luna for nine years. Paz is an associate professor in The Theatre School at DePaul and holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from Northwestern University. She is a regular commentator on race, politics and pop culture for Vocalo.org. Above all, she believes in the power of poetry and performance to build community towards social change.

Publisher, publication date, length:

Northwestern University, November 2018, 244 pages

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