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The Joint Stock Theatre Group was a groundbreaking theater group with a characteristic method of developing material for production known as the Joint Stock Method. Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine) and David Hare are probably the two best-known playwrights to write for the theater group itself, but the method is now widely known and well-respected, although rarely used (for primarily financial reasons).

The group was founded in 1974 (by director Max Stafford-Clark, among others) in London as a conventional theater company. One of their first productions, Hare's Fanshen, an exploration of Chinese peasant life in and around the Communist revolution, fundamentally transformed what the group was about and laid down the model for how (most) future Joint Stock productions would be put together.

The innovation of Fanshen was a workshop period that went on almost as long as the run of the play. Later, when the group became a democratic collective, this would be codified as one of the Group's four central principles:

  • Significantly more decision-making weight given to those involved in the creative process
  • Equal pay for everyone involved
  • A production period precisely as long as the workshop period
  • A touring period precisely as long as the London run

"A workshop period" is not an adequate description of the Group's process. Before anything is written, the actors research the decided-upon topic. This research is an odd mixture of shallowness and depth. Every actor researches aspects of the topic that interest em, so there can be fantastic depth in some places, but a light gloss over others. With some topics (i.e. life on the fen in the play Fen), the actors live in the culture of the play for some time as part of their researches. There are frequent meetings where discussions of the results occur.

After a sufficient research period, there is a hiatus during which the author writes a script (usually with an ensemble cast, meaning that an actor gets either one large part or several smaller parts, most of which would have interesting scenes), and then the play is rehearsed and performed.

For those of you near the East Bay, there will be a production at UC Berkeley in March 2002 of Gary Graves's The Dante Project, a contemporary adaptation of the Divine Comedy developed with the Joint Stock Method.

Of course, if you're near a major metropolitan area (i.e., New York, London, or perhaps L. A.), you may be able to see other Joint Stock material, either new or from the original 70s-80s period of the Group.

Main source: Rob Ritchie's The Joint Stock Book

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