Section 3: Collaboration
3.1 My Background in Brazilian Theatre as Context for my Collaboration
I argued in the section on Material Constraints that the people involved in a creative process are shaped by their socio-cultural background. This construct is a significant part of what each collaborator brought to the process of Conduct. I have come to believe that awareness of such constraints and contributions, awareness of the lens through which proposals and situations are perceived, is a precondition for collaboration. Thus I begin my discussion of collaboration on Conduct with a form of self-reflection. In the following section, I contextualize the ‘norms’ that I learned as a student of theatre in Brazil.
The Brazilian Arts Industry is concentrated in the southwest of Brazil, between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Both cities are the richest and more populated regions of the country. Rio contains the big-budget Carnaval and the Escolas de Samba (schools of samba). Their production schemes are supported by a combination of public grants, earned revenue, and private investments. The Rede Globo is the world’s second-largest commercial TV network (in 2017 produced $4.4 billion dollars).
São Paulo has significant funds allocated from the State to grants. The city is known for using theatre as a tool to engage with the different social realities. The public grants require theatre groups to inhabit different regions of the city and engage with its urban and social issues.
The other regions of the country fall behind in terms of Federal support and grants from their respective States. I studied theatre in the city Curitiba in the State Paraná, South of Brazil. Although Curitiba is not part of the Arts Industry, it is home to one of the biggest Theatre Festival of Latin America, the Festival de Teatro de Curitiba, and it is recognized in Latin America for its alternative, indie, and amateur theatre scenes.
I started studied acting for theatre from 2007 to 2011 at the Teatro Lala Scheneider, a private company created by João Fiani. As well as student work, the organization also runs a professional theatre, Cia Máscaras de Teatro, melodramas [comédia de costumes]. It is the only conventional theatre house in Curitiba and its biggest theatre has 140 seats. The productions are low-budget and the company does not have the funds to afford a production team or shops for construction of the scenic elements. The conventional theatre culture in Brazil is comprised of plays suitable for casting telenovela actors from Rede Globo. The spectators expectations are different of productions without the involvement of celebrities, leaving the remaining industry open to alternative, amateur, and indie theatre.
After graduating from the acting school Teatro Lala, I started my undergraduate studies in 2012 at the Universidade Estadual do Paraná, (UNESPAR) Campus II Faculdade de Artes do Paraná (FAP). This is a public University without any private investment or tuition fee. The public Universities in the country are suffering with the economic crises.
Since the beginning of 2015, corruption scandals involving the country’s biggest oil company, Petrobras, led to the impeachment of the President Dilma Rousseff. This resulted in the raise of right-wing administration, trying to close down high level Public Education: Professors and other employees are very often not paid for more than six months, leading to strikes (from 2015 to 2018, FAP has been through three strikes, the lengthiest lasted 4 months) and facilities are not replaced, if broken. Besides the lack of structural resources, such as discipline specific equipment, there is even a lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper.
The daily financial crisis led to constraints experienced on an educational and professional level in Brazil. They resemble the conditions Caetano Veloso responded to during the raise of Movimento Tropicalista (tropicalist movement) in the 70’s when he stated: “I deny myself the ‘folklorization’ of the underdeveloped as a means to compensate for my technical difficulties” (Campos 285). My professors were strict, not accepting excuses such as “but if we had the money we would build this…” We were taught to think of creative ways to stage what we thought was necessary for our piece. The introductory courses of my BA were on postdramatic and performative theatre, performance creation, and performance art/installation.
Teaching students how to develop technically well-executed design concepts (artistic renderings, ground plans, models, and technical drawings) was not relevant in a context where the largest portion of the industry does not rely on that. Instead it was more important for the scenographers to be trained to propose design for the embodied experience of a spectator while taking into consideration the material resources available, affordances, and the pathos for the piece as well as performative tools to make scenic elements afford dramaturgical relevance by embedding them in the creation process. This use of the scenic elements gives the scenographer agency to co-develop the piece while requiring that he/she/they make careful choices.
Brazilian art is complex, multifaceted, and multicultural. My experience is limited to the South, a region with more European Immigrants than elsewhere in the Country, which unfortunately is perceived by some Brazilians as better and more ‘civilized’ since it has been more ‘white-washed'. My perspective does not include Frevo, Maracatu, Coco, Lundu, Maxixe, Baião, Xoxote, and Xaxado; nor am I exploring the perspective of the Mulato, Cabloco, Mameluco, or Cafuzó. I am also not writing from the pain of the Cangaceiros, Lampiões, and Sertanejos or from the strength of the ones living at the Favelas (slumbs).
To work on theater in Brazil is always a political act, although it is not necessarily expressed in the theatre’s aesthetics. It is an attempt at resistance and a tool for maintenance of democracy and freedom of expression. I understand all forms of collaboration that question hierarchical and hegemonic models of production as political acts. Attempting to work with a person who does not share your cultural beliefs, aesthetic preferences, and political views is an attempt to do something together (Eugenio and Fiadeiro 9) without trying to erase differences and become the same.
3.2 Collaboration Between People
The SCPA’s initial aim for the collaborative interdisciplinary production, Conduct, emerged from conversations between Professors Bruce Barton (drama) and Jeremy Brown (music). Brown has been researching Henry Cowell’s life for the past 20 years. After Barton listened to a presentation by Brown about this extraordinary mid-century American composer, both were inspired to develop the first interdisciplinary mainstage show at the SCPA. Barton invited faculty members, and undergraduate and graduate students from the disciplines of Music, Drama, and Dance to contribute. The following program text lists the final team of collaborators:
Co-created and performed by students from the Divisions of Dance, Drama and Music, Conduct is a small-audience, immersive performance/event inspired by the enigmatic life and work of Henry Cowell, one of the most influential American composers of the 20th Century.
Director and Lead Writer: Bruce Barton
Music Director: Jeremy Brown
Assistant Director: Sarah Bannister
Costume & Set Design: Bianca Manuel
Projection Design: Beth Kates
Lighting Design: Adam Kostiuk
Sound Design: Laurie Radford, Melike Ceylan and Adam Bell
Dramaturgy: Pil Hansen
Collaborating Faculty: Edmond Agopian, Allan Bell, Jean-Louis Bleau, Christine
Brubaker, Laura Hynes, Melissa Monteros and Rod Squance
A first creative experiment on the theme of Conduct was presented at the Spring 2017 Taking Flight Student Festival in the SCPA. It was a tool to learn about collaboration within the constraints of the production system (see the section on “Material Constraints”).
As faculty members and students, we explored what it means to collaborate across different divisions (music, dance, and drama). We learned that rehearsal expectations are different from discipline to discipline. The role of the designer was new to the music collaborators; they were not used to having someone in charge of their space, lights, or clothing. For example, they did not consider the impact an item of clothing added to their costume could have on the piece.
The Production Manager, Andrew North, and Barton began developing time-effective strategies to encourage student and faculty participation in the project. Barton and North developed ways to articulate the expectations of a mainstage production and how the three disciplines employ different procedures and terms in the rehearsal hall. The director and Production Manager were trying to explain the overall framework of the Drama Division’s production model to the collaborators of other disciplines.
Barton decided to have two distinct moments during the play, which he called movements, to show-case each discipline’s strengths. This decision helped the creative and production teams manage different creation and rehearsal norms. The first movement was generated by the actors and the second movement was a concert which included performers from all three disciplines. It was decided that the disciplines would rehearse individually and have an open-door policy for collaborators who were interested in seeing what was being rehearsed. Starting on January 08th, 2018 one rehearsal with all collaborators and their performers would be held per week.
When I started my early conversations with Barton and Pil Hansen (Dramaturg and thesis supervisor) about my collaboration on this devised piece, I did not have clarity about how much agency I would have in the creation process. I knew that the designer typically operates in a role that is secondary to the director within Drama’s production model (see the sections on “Material Constraints” and “Conclusion” for more information). After some exchanges with Barton, in which I positioned myself as a designer and researcher, Barton and I started to explore where our individual inquires could meet. My first main focus was on strategies that could educate the collaborators about the effect of different approaches to the scenic elements of the creative process. Without that awareness it would be difficult to enhance the dramaturgical relevance of the design. I wanted the scenography to have impact on and be impacted by the process to a greater extent than predetermined technical drawings and artistic renderings could facilitate. I wanted to explore what might happen if the design for example is physically embedded in the process. How could the design affect and be affected by the collaborators? How would such an effect redefine the role the designer? Such inquiries were aligned with some of Barton’s scholarly research on dramaturgy and collaboration.
Barton and I chose to develop and test our strategies for the actors’ work with things in the context of the course “DRAM 460 Performance Creation” throughout September 2017. He introduced the class to the concept of turbulence, first drawn from Eugenio Barba, and since applied to Barton’s own praxis-reflection in his article, “Navigating Turbulence: The Dramaturg in Physical Theatre.” After reading his article, I noticed shared areas of interest and slightly overlapping areas of training between Barton and I that could help me in my exploration with the scenic elements. In his article, Barton explores the different roles a dramaturg and dramaturgy can have depending on the focus of the process:
. . .The distinctions between text-based developmental dramaturgy and developmental dramaturgy within a physically-based devised theatre environment are inevitably exacerbated. Admittedly, “physically-based” and “devised” theatre are sufficiently broad categories to incorporate a wide range of very different objectives, techniques, and styles. However, for the purposes of this argument, the terms identify an approach to theatrical performance for which text is a secondary component—in the sense that text is often secondary both chronologically in the development process and in communicative significance. Rather, the elements of visual and aural presentation, as well as the work’s engagement with narrative, emerge out of a set of processes that are based in movement, improvisation, physical discipline, and the set of creative instruments understood and experienced as instinct and intuition. It is, in a sense, an opportunistic form of theatrical creation which, to a sometimes-alarming degree, relies upon an engagement with coincidence and the unpredictable through a heightened sensitivity to possibility and a rigorous ability to exploit its gifts (105)
The difference between physically-based and text-based dramaturgy could be easily related to scenic design. Scenic designers 1) propose a design concept based on a script and a director’s staging concept; or 2) experiment with design elements as they enter into collision with bodies, stories, sound, and much more in the creative process. Barton and I had a shared interest in the dramaturgical relevance of scenic elements. We were both interested in dramaturgical strategies, critical analysis, and the emergent structures of a piece. Our shared awareness enhanced the importance and relevance of the design in this process.
My collaboration with Barton allowed me to suggest that we shift away from the most common understanding of the scenic design as the visual, aesthetic, and sometimes illustrative element of theatre to instead start with a focus on the physical and material design of space; a space that might attract responses from the performers’ bodies through their interaction with the physical surroundings. My goal was to generate stronger feedback relationships, which in turn would give the scenic elements agency and dramaturgical relevance throughout the devising and performance processes. This suggestion worked similarly to Barton’s approach to devised and physical theater. Here, the physical expression and (inter)action carried more significance than the acting style or technique. In concert, our perspectives produced a focus on the emerging, physical relationships between performers and spaces.
It is not an easy task to analyze, reflect, and elaborate on the process of collaboration in this project. There is a real risk of not doing justice to many of the different realms and instances of collaboration that arose between disciplines, professors, students, and technicians. For the purpose of this artist statement, I will center my analysis on the collaborative process that I was directly and mainly involved in.
After a series of initial meetings, Barton and I started meeting with Jeremy Brown who taught us in greater depth about Henry Cowell. These meetings allowed us to combine Brown’s research with our early ideas for the stage design of the two movements. We also began having weekly meetings with Sarah Banister (assistant director), Beth Kates (projection designer) and Adam Kostiuk (light designer) to talk about the overall design and to share a more fluid approach to the design elements. We furthermore met with all of the creative team, including Brown and Hansen, who contributed dramaturgically. In these meetings we mainly discussed the dramaturgy of the scenic elements and how they could prompt the performers’ creation (please see the section “Pre Rehearsal Period” for more information).
In my experience, Drama’s production model compelled the creative team members to become more united in our argument, framework, structure, adopted strategies, and rules for process as defined by Barton (see Barton 9). We were aware that this was the first devised and unscripted theater piece that the school was producing within an otherwise script-base production model. In order for the constraints, such as deadlines, of this system to work in our favor, the creative team had to create strategies and arrive at mutual trust faster than a script-based piece would have required.
It is often stated in scholarly research on collaboration that it has only been accomplished when something emerges out of the process, which collaborators are able to recognize as a result which none of the individuals could achieve alone.
In his introduction to the book Collective Creation, Collaboration and Devising, Barton suggests that the essays available in the book offer “an understanding of collaboration that provides a practical bridge and a conceptual separation between the ideology from collective creation and the process strategies of devising” (Barton xiv). Devising requires patience and negotiation between the people involved. Conventional theater models involve collaboration, but it takes place across hierarchical roles and thus does not form the core of the work (Barton xii). Although collaborative models do not reflect an ideology that is implemented and shared by the artists involved, it nonetheless questions the working relationships that are supported and imposed in the theatre industry. In the case of Conduct, collaboration also questions the ways in which we work, create, and collaborate within individual disciplines.
In her article, “Thinking no-one’s thoughts”, Maaike Bleeker focuses on the role of the dramaturg as the one that shares a friendship in thinking with the director or choreographer (68). This role is not only limited to the dramaturg. Bleeker argues that, depending on the process, other collaborators might adopt the dramaturgical mode of looking. This approach entails a commitment to investigating the ways in which elements of the performance might be perceived or interpreted (69). The author suggests that creative processes are in fact a form of collaborative thinking. Such thinking is not meant to intellectualize the artistic practice; instead, it involves thinking through material practices. With this work, the creation becomes less about the representation and realization of concepts, sources, and so on; rather, it becomes about how choices and possibilities to enact ideas generate the performative practice.
It is clear to me that the final results of the set, props, and costume design became extraordinary and complex in part because they emerged between people and things (please, see “Through Rehearsals ” and “Conclusion” for more information on this topic). I find it important as a designer to state that I fluctuated between the roles of the conventional designer, dramaturg, consultant, planner, and leader, depending on the moment of the process. As a scenographer I did not want to know all the answers to the director’s vision or to have big ideas. In fact, the methods developed questioned the role, expectations, and authorship of the scenography in a devised piece. I wanted to bring a developmental approach to the work of design that, like physically-based devising, is sensitive to emergent opportunities.
There were moments when the input, ideas, suggestions, and concepts leading the design came from other people involved in the process (actors, creative team members, dramaturg, or production team). Each one of these collaborators gave me their suggestions, impressions, and perspectives on the design. These were offered through a lens specific to their role and revealed ways in which the design could impact the creative practices that otherwise were not accessible to me. Such suggestions involved different mediums depending on the persons’ training. Sometimes suggestions were offered in language, movement, blocking, ground plan, or drawings. As these offers were influencing my ‘territory’ or area of operation, I also influenced the work of my collaborators. The proposals I made through design (materially, technically, or conceptually) affected their roles, behavior, and products in creation. Such events happened not only in these two directions, between collaborators and myself as designer. It happened in the most diverse directions between different collaborators: for example between scenographer and performers, music director and performers, director and dramaturg, and so on. The whole network of collaboration in this process was a lot more complex than the exchanges I witnessed and contributed to directly.
That being said, the collaboration established for the design in this process happened similarly to the friendship of thinking between dramaturg and director, proposed by Bleeker. The process of collaboration for the design elements was not work done together; instead, it was work done in-between people and things. Each collaborator involved in this production brought different tastes, training, and roles to this work. All the collaborators never shared the exact same and vision for the piece. The designs emerged out of the arrhythmia between the collaborators and the material constraints.
In this subsection I want to examine the notion of roles in the creative practice. In the performing arts a role is an area of responsibility or expertise occupied by a collaborator in creative practice. A role also suggests primary authorship of an area. A costume designer has more authorship of the costume design than the director. The costume shop, fitting area, related stores, and wardrobe storage are the costume designer’s territory to a far greater extent than the director or the producer. Training and professional experience also inform and enhance this authorship, thus generating a hierarchy. For example, an actor or dramaturg is usually not concerned with a type of stich chosen to sew a garment, or how many inches are taken from an item of clothing to make it fit the performers’ costumes.
I would argue that a role can be more than the definition described above, especially in contexts of devised, un-scripted and/or interdisciplinary praxis. Roles can also be social forms of interaction and therefore they are more fluid and adaptable than the professional definitions the creative and production teams operate with.
During the process of collaboration on Conduct, the material constraints of the production model directly affected the possibilities of how we could collaborate. This produced a gap between the production team and the creative team. The expectations of collaborators who worked on devising processes or musical concerts were different from the production team’s expectations. The specificity of the information expected in the preliminary design package by the production team was incompatible with a devised process. It anticipated the form of design involved in a script-based piece. The reverse was also true. There was a sense of incongruity experienced by the artistic collaborators, who were more used to working on devised pieces elsewhere. Thus, the artistic collaborators could not easily anticipate the expectations of the production team at the Drama Division.
It became clear to me that a wide range of notions and expectations, which derived from different models of doing and understanding performance, were directly affected by the people involved. Since live art is created by people, the roles are more than just functions in the process. Roles are social relations and responsive to the expectations of the other as well as individual constraints. The feedback experienced between such behavioral responses may be able to stretch, perhaps even adapt, the constraints of a context and its inhabitants.
I started analyzing the responses of my collaborators (as well as my own) to the constraints of this creative process. For the creative team, the first constraints that became evident were a set of deadlines for the delivery of fully conceived designs, which fell before the devising process would start and were inherent to the production model. The production team were in turn presented with a set of new constraints; that is, a lack of stability, answers, certainty and a script to communicate the needs of the show. In addition, they had to work with designers who were more interested in the process than the result and therefore relied less on artistic and technical drawings representing a finished design vision than the production model anticipated.
I noticed archetypes of behavior depending on how the situation presented constraints to each collaborator and whether or not they were able to use them positively. The description of these roles is as follows:
The victim: adopted when a moment and the collaborator’s perception of it afforded the collaborator to position themselves as being wronged.
The guilty: arose when a collaborator felt and/or was perceived by the others as not living up the expectations associated with their official role.
The listener: the one who in a given moment was listening more to their collaborators’ opinions, feelings, and complaints.
The always-right: when someone positioned themselves as if their perspective on and perception of the process was the imperative one.
The exempt: when someone had opinions, preferences, or suggestions but for some reason decided not to position themselves collaboratively.
The lazy: implicitly assigned when a collaborator wanted others to complete tasks that were perceived as the responsibility their official role or when they instead attempted to transfer guilt of failing to complete such tasks.
The bureaucrat: when someone performed understanding, while in reality positioning themselves to work the system strategically and to realize their own preferences.
The leader: the one that besides the hierarchical position of their role in the overall project is more familiar with the process and its possible directions and thus able to keep the work in progress.
In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) Ervin Goffman discusses the different roles people adopt depending on their situation, and how these roles inform their personality. Goffman says that whenever an individual interacts they are playing the role that they perceive and learned to expect from a situation. He states, “We are all actors playing roles in our everyday life and our notion of self is a construct of the compilation of these roles” (Chriss 65). I would like to add that it is demanding to learn such roles.
It may take years to know a person fully, to understand the true complexities of a particular social situation or the sets of situations that comprise a particular institution. Yet most social interactions demand instant judgments, alignments, and actions. (Meyrowitz 67)
The competence described by Mayrowitz may take two years to achieve in an unfamiliar institution. However, it is even more time-demanding to arrive at a shared social intelligence when collaborating across disciplines in an institutional context that anticipates a discipline-specific mode of working. We had six months to collaborate and create a piece. How can one truly recognize and consider the material constraints of people and things in such a short time?
At different moments, during the process of Conduct, I found myself playing all the roles described earlier in this section. I realized that most of these roles did not support the kind of collaborative contribution I aimed for in this process. When my responses were mainly at a personal level, they disrupted my collaboration and became another negative constraint. I realized that I could not change the institution, the educational program, or other collaborators. Instead of focusing on the dissonance between my interests and the unfamiliar material constraints, I could attempt to map my responses and my behavior in order to better see opportunities and unexpected, collaborative effects as they arose within the constraints. As a result, I increased my ability to distance myself from my initial responses and personal preferences in order to support “no-one’s thought” in this process.
3.3 Thinking noone's thoughts