TRUST OR OPENNESS?
By Paul Anthony Morris
Over the past ten years the steady integration of multiple art forms into the traditional narratives of theatre has opened up a whole new of way practise and enabled practitioners from diverse cultures to introduce to audiences philosophies and mythologies that are enriching the British theatrical landscape.
As a writer director who embraces the cross art form to storytelling (music, film, dance etc) integrating these disciplines into a theatrical narrative is not without its challenges particularly when you are collaborating with artists whose cultural ideology and artistic practise (Noh theatre, Bhand Pather, African folk theatre, Butoh theatre), is distinct from our western theatrical tradition.
The key to managing such a diverse and potentially complex collaborative process is not, as one might think, Trust but an Open mindset which will inspire our artists to discover new frontiers in relation to their practise.
Trust, which is subjective and prescriptive, is a difficult virtue to develop when you are working with a group of artist’s for the very first time. There is also the risk of creating divisions within your team because of bias and favouritism. This could result in making the whole collaborative experience extremely challenging.
A policy of Openness on the other hand is absolutely necessary if one wishes to establish an enriching collaborative process underpinned by inclusion, ambition and innovation. However, creating such an environment hinges on two crucial factors:
a) The personal well being/self esteem of the director and
b) There capacity to provide good professional leadership.
If a director or workshop leader of a collaborative process is unable to embrace the opinions of their colleagues due to personal insecurities then the creative investment of their artists will be severely compromised. If the encumbrance is professional i.e. the director’s persistent failure to create an open environment that allows their artists to evolve the creative process, then questions will inevitably arise about the integrity of the director’s real intentions.
Over the past two years I have been fortunate to collaborate with over 40 highly skilled and experienced artists on the development of a trilogy of plays (Sarai, Conundrum and Invisible Man) which have achieved some very positive artistic outcomes. The mindset I learnt to employ to manage each individual project was to adopt a childlike curiosity towards exploring (theoretically) and discovering (practically) new benchmarks with my colleagues.
This attitude of childlike Openness provided dividends in two crucial areas. The first was that it arrested my tendency to default towards my insecurities whenever gaps in my knowledge and experience surfaced; and the secondly it enabled me to allow me the leadership of our process to change hands among the artists as they trail-blazed the innovations which were fermenting in their minds, bodies and voices.
Poorly managed collaborative processes due to personal insecurities and narrow leadership can be extremely harmful. Far too often there lies behind the scenes of some of these dysfunctional processes a trail of broken relationships, resentment, bitterness and growing animosity. And although there are some directors/workshop leaders who would subscribe to such a process, in return for the positive creative outcomes that sometimes arise, the emotional distress and grief borne mostly by the artists is an expense that has proven for many to be far too costly.
Therefore it is vitally important that Openness and not trust is the vehicle for the exploration of your inquiry. And that one recognises even from the outset that the collaborative process, in of itself, is just as valuable and rewarding as the artistic outcomes that will one day go on to grace the stage.
Paul Anthony Morris
Creative Director and Writer Follow us on Twitter @cryingwildernes