Up here at York University we are exploring undiscovered territory.
In a truly daring and innovative experiment, all of the various departments in our Fine Arts Faculty are collaborating on a production of a theatre piece written three centuries ago – a work so important, so controversial, so wildly popular that it toppled the London theatre giants of the time, bringing the musical genius Georg Frederic Handel to his knees financially and artistically.
The work is John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and it is going to be a wild and wacky show.
Our Beggar’s Opera production culminates in a week long run at the end of January 2014. It will be a first-time interdisciplinary venture between the departments of theatre, music, dance, digital media – all the diverse tangents of our York Fine Arts Faculty.
Here’s the website for the show:
Producing a complex piece like this, with leadership from all of our departments, involving scores of students and staff, is a prototypic lesson in managing a large, collaborative project. Fortunately, I am working alongside many wonderful colleagues, including Gwen Dobie and Catherine Robbin who share my love for this period repertoire. Our students who are acting, singing, dancing and playing instruments are simply awesome. Every one of them is stepping a bit outside their comfort zone, learning something new about the other side of their artistic practice.
How do you cook up a successful collaboration? My recipe would combine equal portions of the following ingredients:
No single person holds all of the information. Sharing and exchanging ideas is essential. The major players must talk together frequently, so that all the little pieces of the puzzle can eventually come together, and important decisions can be made to mutual satisfaction. Use lots of diverse forms of communication. Go ahead and send hundreds of daily emails, but also speak face to face. Even better if you can talk whilst sharing food and drink. You can solve problems faster, and your creative ideas can take flight.
As you read in my previous blog “Time,” I worship this magical element, which solves all problems. A successful collaboration can’t be turned around over night. Give your colleagues room to percolate ideas, to change their minds several times, to get a bit crazy, to land on the right note. You must take time to think things through, to listen, and to respond thoughtfully, and also get a bit crazy.
Is this a cliché? I hope not because if you don’t have real zeal for the subject, a true love of the material you are engaged with, you should walk away at the outset. The project needs your whole heart, as well as your whole head – and also your feet – and stomach.
Beyond your passion for the material, you need steadfast commitment. When the going gets tough, and your passion wanes, you need endurance to get you through all the various pains you will have to endure.
“Thousands will fall beside you, yet it will not come nigh thee.”
Have you ever worked in a collaborative environment that worked or failed? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.