Production Blog

A behind the scenes peek at rehearsals, artistic choices, artist interviews, and the daily business of running a theatre.

"Things we like in a show"

In Search of the Sublime is a devised show. “Devised theatre” is a form of collective creation wherein a creative team – it could be just the actors and the director or it could extend to the entire production team – is involved in the process of developing the show. There is no formal script at the start. The piece emerges over time based on discussion, play, and improvisation.

Can you tell us about how you went about developing this show?

Writer-director Kara-Lynn Vaeni: So this is the first time I’ve ever devised anything and I may never go back to working on someone else’s script again!  I had a structure – the 5 levels of the sublime.  And I was trying to get outside traditional ideas of theatre. So perhaps we could think of the form as if it were a... poetry slam? Or maybe it’s like a poetry slam about running – because I like working with very physical things.  On the first day of rehearsal I asked the actors to bring in a poem that they would enter in a poetry slam contest about running, and I asked them to bring in a story about one level of the sublime that they had experienced in their lives. 

I would have them tell their stories and then I would give them assignments based on what I heard. For instance, go make a 30-minute dance piece that talks about these four things. Or Make up five jokes, but the punchline has to be one of the things that an actor talked about in their story. Then I’d send them away and they would come back and perform the assignments. We’d all watch together and decide what we like, what to keep. 

The other thing I did, again because devising is so new to me, one of the techniques I used was to talk with the actors about the things we love in a performance. We made a list: ‘I like a show with a feeling of magic,’ ‘I like a show with a big production number,’ ‘I like a show that’s funny but then sad, but then funny again.’ So as I was writing the final script, made up of the best of our experiments, I had a map. I could say, ‘Right, guys, now we need a big production number, we don’t have one yet.  Let’s work on that.’  

We can’t wait to show you what we’ve made. 

What is the sublime?

We have gathered up a few examples of how the sublime has been understood across time and discipline. This blog post is a work in progress. jen [at] (subject: The%20Sublime) (Let us know what the sublime is to you.)

1. "At once tiny and huge: what is this feeling we call sublime?"

"Have you ever felt awe and exhilaration while contemplating a vista of jagged, snow-capped mountains? Or been fascinated but also a bit unsettled while beholding a thunderous waterfall such as Niagara? Or felt existentially insignificant but strangely exalted while gazing up at the clear, starry night sky? If so, then you’ve had an experience of what philosophers from the mid-18th century to the present call the sublime."  - Sandra Shapshay, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington

Read this fascinating contemporary essay about the paradoxical experience of the sublime.

2. The sublime in webcomic form

This entry into the sublime is from philosophy-themed webcomic creator Corey Mohler. Corey's website is a wonderful dive into appreciating philosophy and the sublime. Also jokes.

3. The sublime in video form

Check out this video exploration of the sublime, produced by The video is a delightful, bite-sized retelling of an episode of BBC broadcaster Melvyn Bragg's podcast series "A History of Ideas".  The piece features the ideas of 18th-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, drawing from his 1757 treatise "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful." 

4. The sublime in art

In 2008, The Tate London produced an exhibition exploring The Art of the Sublime, from the Baroque era to the Contemporary. This large collection of academic articles and artistic works provides a rich jumping-off point into the vast body of scholarship and artwork inspired by the concept and emotion of the sublime. We found the wide range of imagery considered sublime through the ages fascinating. What pieces of art do you think of when you think of the sublime?

Pictured here:

Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada, California. oil on canvas (1868)
Mark Rothko, Untitled. Acrylic on paper (1969)
Andreas Gursky, Shanghai 2000. C-print (2000)

Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. Painting by Albert Bierstadt, 1868

Untitled. Mark Rothko. Acrylic on paper, 1969  Shanghai 2000. Andreas Gursky. C-print


5. The sublime in NY Times Magazine/ audio form

We propose, for your consideration, the story of the Cloud Appreciation Society

This blog post is a work in progress. jen [at] (subject: The%20Sublime) (Let us know what the sublime is to you.)