Holding Space for Collaboration

Yesterday in Music Theory, we were talking about opera and my teacher mentioned that most composers only wrote the music and someone else wrote the lyrics (or the libretto). I asked if there were any composers who wrote both and he told us about Wagner, who was a bit of an auteur. He wanted complete control over his ideas, so he wrote music and lyrics, and even designed sets for his operas. It reminded me of a friend of mine who is a filmmaker.

My friend has a very hard time with collaboration. He wants to have his hand in every part of the production. And I can understand how he feels. He is very attached to his film ideas, and he has trouble trusting others. Once he made a film entirely alone, including acting as three different characters (well, they were three parts of himself, but you get the idea). He told me he did it to see if he could. I don’t know if he learned any lessons from that project, but as much as I love to work alone, I’ve done too much theatre to not realize that collaboration is the cornerstone of the best of the performing arts.

Theatre is a collaborative art, it can’t help but be. You can do a one-person show, but someone has to turn the lights on. The cool thing about collaboration is that it takes some of the pressure off. As a director, I often look to my actors to lead the characters in the direction that they think they should go. I may have an idea, and I certainly have an overarching concept for the show, but I trust the actors that I cast to do their work, and their work is all about getting inside the mind of the character and embodying them. So, if an actor has an idea that’s different than mine, and they can justify it from their character’s point of view, they usually win. That’s the actor’s job and I don’t like to interfere with that if I can help it.

Collaboration can be difficult. When you get close to opening night, and your lighting designer has a new idea they want to try, sometimes it’s hard to allow them that space. I think it’s hard to do that in any situation. Holding space for others when you are stressed, or have a deadline looming, can be a difficult thing, at least for me, but you never know when an extra 30 minutes might completely change things and take them in a new and exciting direction.

I have learned that I almost never have the best idea in the room, especially when I’m in charge of the project. Being in charge comes with a lot of responsibility, and whether we like it or not, a lot of times the pressure of that responsibility can hinder our creativity. But that is what your collaborators are for. They all have expertise and ideas that they can bring to the table, they all want the project to succeed and be the best it can be. And if you allow them space, they can help you take your art to a higher level.

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