“Whether he likes it or not, a writer for the stage must face the fact that the making of a play is, finally, a collaborative venture, and plays have rarely achieved a full-scale success without being in some manner raised about their manuscript level by brilliant gifts of actors, directors, designers, and frequently even the seasoned theatrical instincts of their producers.” (Tennessee Williams)
The question is frequently raised, “what is true collaboration?” And similarly, in the theater, who makes up this “collaborating team” this “dream team” and is it necessary for a successful production? Let us begin with vision, a production process has to start with a vision. Melissa Silverstein says, “Keep fighting for your vision...your voice counts. Your vision matters.” It is important to initially set the stage with a clear vision and purpose for how you plan to tell the story. Once this is established, communication can start to flow. This is where the playwright, director, and designers and begin effectively collaborating. If it is not purpose driven, it is simply like drawing circles in the sandbox!
If the playwright is a part of this collaborative process, as Tennessee Williams wrote, “he will listen, he will consider; he will give receptive attention to any creative mind that he has the good fortune to work with. His own mind and it’s tastes, with open like the gates of a city no longer under siege.”Ok, I know you, as the reader, are quite possibly laughing at this quote thinking “you have never met a playwright before!” It is true that playwrights can be contrary individuals when coming to others tweaking and prodding the inner workings of their masterpieces. They can be quite opposed to the group’s collaborative efforts, dare I dub them, opinions. But, if the baseline of trust has been established in the room; a simple two-way communication system set into place that the playwright can feel a safety in the created group.
After vision questions such as, “How does that tell the story?” and “Does that fit the vision?” Then the actors become involved. If the actors are not on the same page in rehearsals, and are holding back ideas or lack in the shared vision, they become obstacles. Obstacles are what stop communication, and communication has to happen in collaboration. This does not mean “everyone agrees all the time!” It means people are wrestling with ideas and tackling the story from different angles and verbalizing them. This means the actors are in the scenes with each other, and when they are not on stage they are watching, thinking, grappling and discussing with the director and the designers ideas about how to draw the audience into their world. This is true collaboration. It involves conflict, and disagreements, talking and listening which are all essential for creating value. “Theatre is a communal art, “ as Mamet said, “it’s for all.” We must simply, “Trust the collaborative process as art.”