Recently, I have had an Actor confide to me their fears of having to take a stage-craft class, and a Director share how they opted not to take an Improv II class because they weren’t “an actor.” In many other careers, this would (and probably should) be standard fare (you may not want an eye doctor giving you open heart surgery). But we are so fortunate to be working in such a free and exploratory environment; the nomos of the theater is not in stone - we do not have to adhere to “rules” of how to do Theater, there are no “Theater Police” to arrest us should we not create art in the way our society expects us to.
And how do we know what “society” is expecting us to do, anyway? Many of my good friends at this point, I am sure, are shaking their heads in shame, with Richard Foreman or John Jesurun pounding on their frontal lobes (please see notes). But I will abate your fears.
What happens should we momentarily put aside our prescribed titles (Actor, Director, Designer, etc.) in the working of theatrical projects? Would it work towards forming a more collaborative feeding ground for our art? I see a great quality of Theater growing out of Peter Brook’s question 'Why Theater?' and think, because of this, we all should, first and foremost, be Theater Artists.
So what I am calling the Collaborative Theater begins with Theater Artists interested in working with one another. And they come together lacking any preconceived notions of what is to happen, save for ideas they may want to play with theatrically. Here they embark on a discussion of their art, what brought them together, those ideas they may want to play with, etc. This discussion is most vital, not only because it is in the hope that this is the discussion that will lead to the creating of a work of art, but it is also about freeing everyone involved - discussing Theater freely, what one sees working or not working, what one finds interesting and boring - because this establishes the relationship of the artists from here on out. And it is here, hopefully, that an idea is arrived at which can begin to be worked theatrically. Obviously this could be an incredibly wide range of possibilities, depending on the people in the room; working from only fertile soil, the possibilities are truly limitless.
In deciding on a project, the preproduction element (crafting of a conceptualization, the writing of a play – anything) should remain as free and open to discussion as this initial discussion has been – no one has a “job” yet, we are all Artists with equally valuable thoughts. However, in the midst of crafting a project, leaders in certain aspects will seem to emerge – maybe a Designer, or a Director, even Characters. This should happen. For a piece of theatrical work to come to fruition, it is (or at least should be) demanded that each artist involved be their own leader of their aspect of the craft (or crafting).
In the Collaborative Theater, it is good to allow here for the unexpected. A prescribed “actor” may emerge designer, “director” may emerge actor, “designer” may emerge director. These roles, these Leaders, should emerge organically (and in that, it will be more organic that, say, the designer becomes a designer through this process. What we don’t want is, for example, non-collaborative actors to be fighting over a part – that would be counter-intuitive, more of that pie problem).
This term, “Leader,” is important, for who is a Leader without Followers? The idea here is that ultimately everyone becomes a Leader (an emerged designer will be the Leader of their element, an emerged actor will be the Leader of their character), and thus everyone else involved becomes everyone else’s follower. And they are all Followers not by blindly following, but they believe in their Leader, and know their ideas, when voiced, will be heard, discussed, thought about – each Follower is allowed to have an influence upon the Leader. Call it Democratic Theater, if you will.
The Collaborative Theater begins with the simple fertile soil of Artistic minds so as to keep the discussion open and free throughout the process. It is coming from the belief that the more truly collaborative our work, the stronger the piece we emerge with will be. It comes from a desire to keep fear or inhibition of sharing ideas (or opinions) out of the work, allowing for there always to be room to grow, ideas to be voiced by anyone within the group about any aspect of their production. When we all start from the same simple place of a desire to create, we are able to hear everyone more clearly as we move through our personal creation, for everyone else’s ideas were the one’s helping to shape what we ultimately created ourselves.
A Few Notes:
1. Tadashi Suzuki has some excellent thoughts I feel I should point out:
"[E]very aspect of the terrorist group known as the Japanese Red Army is evidently centralized. In such a communal mode of thinking, the communality supports the collective vision in its entirety, and therefore, personal and everyday dimensions of living are fulfilled by the group. When a group, be it theatrical or political, establishes its own logic, the individual constituents of the group are forced to regard themselves only in terms of this framework."
This is very true, and very much the opposite of what my aim with the Collaborative Theater is. This is the reason I have to treat the projects, as they move out of their embryonic states of ideas into actual practice, in regards to the Leaders. Everyone must take responsibility as a leader, doing work necessary to and contributing artistically with their position, as well as being an active follower to everyone else, being involved and curious about the creation of the rest of the piece.
2. The pie. One can cut the theater pie however they may like, but so long as it is being cut, it is being collaborative. So grabbing the pie and running would be selfish theater making. And I’m not quite sure how it would turn out, nor do I think anyone else would know, seeing as how it has been taken. It may also be interesting to expand this idea to the making of the pie itself. It is certainly possible for one to bake a pie by themselves, entirely for themselves. I recently made a batch of cookies in this same manner. In regards to the theater pie, however, this seems doomed from the start – doing it by yourself for yourself sounds as though the audience, if there is one to begin with, will be very disengaged and disinterested. As for my selfish cookie expedition: I wound up sick.
3. There are many artists out there doing excellent work in regard to collaboration, such as Tadashi Suzuki, Anne Bogart, David Levine, PS122, Less the Band, and so, so many others. I did, however, mention Richard Foreman and John Jesurun, admittedly mocking their work in my reference to loosely making theater by unconventional means, and I do not mean to completely discredit these accomplished Theater Creators (…ok maybe a little). But what little of their work I have seen is, to me, extremely selfish, and lacking some serious responsibility. And having a lackluster attitude toward responsibility diminishes any notion of immediacy.