I’m currently in the throes of devising a new play. It’s really hard. I’m doing this with three other classmates of mine at Boston University, all just a few weeks away from receiving our long awaited BFA’s. With three weeks left until we open, we’ve established and (finally) finalized a concept, a basic structure of events, and some (hopefully) interesting design elements. While once head over heels excited about this project, I’ve been kicked in the gut by the reality of the situation: I’m in a room with three other artists, and while our driving desire is mutual, we definitely don’t always see eye to eye. Which is great! And hard. The conversations we’ve had between and about the work are filled with enough tension, elation, confusion, and absurdity to write 10 new pieces. And, as we’ve been discovering, this IS the work. These hard and juicy moments of tension are where we must get our hands dirty and hash things out in order to continue. We must open our chests, let the others see what’s going on inside, and receive their truths as well.
And in the much broader theatre world, collaboration seems to be the name of the game. While perusing Howlround.com the other day, I stumbled upon an interesting article about a twenty-one year collaboration between two theatre companies, Puerto Rican Pregones Theater, and Appalachian Rodeside Theater. The article is about a piece they collaborated on, BETSY!, “a musical about a Bronx Jazz singer and performer uncovering the secrets of her family’s history,” yet I was more interested in the part of the article that talked about the connections their collaboration has to community building. Stephani Etheridge Woodson, author of the article, writes, “People need stories. We build our lives in nests of stories. Stories we tell ourselves about our selves.” For these two companies, stories are an essential part of community building and “human flourishing.” Community building and artistic collaboration are the same thing in many ways. One of the “principles of an abundant community” discussed in the article is the idea that “what we have is enough.” This is just one of the thousands of collaborations happening out there, and yet I see this theme repeating over and over.
A group of people building a community, or four college students trying to make a piece of theatre, really, already have all they need–each other. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but what it does mean is that things may be simpler than they seem. My group has hit our fair share of bumps in the road on our journey in this process, but what I think we keep discovering is that our biggest struggles come when we let the basic notion of our common goal get clouded by individual desires. And no matter how many times we realize this, our own egos creep back in little by little until we are forced to stop, notice what’s happening, wipe away the filter, and just see each other again. This is the process. And somehow by the end of three weeks, we will have a performance. So, for the next three weeks, we will build a piece of theatre by building community with one another. We already have what we need.