Group Collaboration

Theatre is a collaborative art form. One cannot get away from others. One cannot create on an island, but must interact with at least one collaborator– the audience. Very often, one is working with a team of others, each of which have creative insight, desires for the production and opinions.

But how do we effectively collaborate when so many people have so many ideas?

How do we synthesize ideas, while not discouraging others, but rather enabling them to feel encouraged and like contributing members to the collaboration?

What is collaboration?

Collaboration is an act of two or more individuals or a group working together to realize a creative act.

The beautiful thing about collaborating is that if you have a group of 10, those ten heads are going to contribute 10 different perspectives, ideas, impulses, etc. They will each bring their cultural backgrounds, their histories, their unique imaginations to the collaboration, when given room. One person creating alone might create something interesting, but working with so many can often lead to ideas that one alone could have never realized themselves. In this way, theatre can be, very often, a communal event.

Leadership is important. If there is not a presently defined leader, it is important to find one. Good leaders have a way of inspiring others to follow them, but more importantly, to make choices. Choices have to be made or the process is like a dog spinning to catch its tail. Such leaders do not necessarily have to know all of the answers or which way to go, but rather make final decisions. Final decision making is important, as it gives structure and shape to the project.

It can be very easy for a group of ten to find themselves in a quagmire of indecisiveness  and in-group fighting without strong and defined leadership.

If you are a leader, here are a few tips for effective collaboration:

1. Give space. Listen to other people. Hear and try to understand their ideas.
2. Don’t be afraid to incorporate ideas of others (different from your won), into the new work.
3. Be willing to kill your darlings–your favorite ideas–those sweetest of impulses that one can often times feel themselves married to. We must sometimes kill such ideas in the service of the larger piece, in the service of better ideas and efficiency.
4. If you find that some in the group have special gifts or talents, utilize those talents in service of the piece whenever possible. Help those people soar. Doing so, you will get the best performance out of them and likely inspire the others collaborating.
5. Play together. This is perhaps the most important need of all. We all love to play–from childhood to adulthood, we all enjoy having fun. We do this, ultimately, because it is fun.
6. Don’t discredit others ideas, especially publicly. Embarrass people and they will retreat–energetically or from the project or leadership. Everyone wants to feel respected.
7. Celebrate great ideas and give credit where it is due, publicly. This will earn the respect of those you are working with and give pride and confidence to the individual with the idea.
8. Be the go to person. Take responsibility. The buck stops with you. Be the decision maker as leader and if things need to go in a different direction, have the courage and honesty to do so.

9. As leader, get everyone thinking towards a common goal. Make as clear choices as you can. Goals are essential in the process of building something. Goal help us know where we are going, how far we have come and where we have yet to go. Goals give our energy direction.
10. Build relationships. If you find you have a certain magic creating with people, repeat whenever possible. The Beatles would not have been the phenomenon they were without BOTH John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Final parting words: though an aesthetic may be realized and repeated, the collaborative process is always going to be different, just as each child is different, though coming from the same parents.

Most of all, again, play. After all, we do call the staging of scripts PLAYs.

Jim Hart is the founder and Rektor of The International Theatre Academy Norway.

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