Everyone has their own idea of what exactly it means to collaborate on a project and what their role is in the process. For us here at Working Title Productions we have some guidelines that we would like those who work with us to keep in mind.
Treat Everyone with Respect
We all know this to be the Golden Rule we’ve heard many times, “treat others the way you want to be treated”. While we may have heard this phrase time and time again as children it has not lost its potency. Everyone is here to make great theater and we need to respect their views and processes.
Establish How the Group is Going to Collaborate
What is the goal for this workshop? The playwright and director will have the opportunity to discuss this together prior to the rest of the cast/crew’s involvement. Goals may involve further developing characters, working on dialogue for a specific scene, or simply observing what a director and actors take from the script and how an audience responds. However, it is important that the goal is shared with everyone involved once it has been identified by the playwright and director. This will guide the rest of the process.
How will you communicate in rehearsal? Directors and playwrights should establish how they will communicate with each other during rehearsals. Once the cast/crew has been gathered for the first time, directors should establish how communication will work throughout the process with the help of the playwright and stage manager. For instance, if a director is focusing on staging a scene or working with an actor on a specific moment, they may welcome feedback from others, but may not wish to be interrupted while working. If the playwright wants to speak with the director about blocking questions they will have discussed prior whether they can say something while the scene is being worked or during a break time. If the actors are having a problem with the dialogue it will be established who the actor should go to about the issue, the playwright or the director. Of course every communication hierarchy cannot be planned for but the goal of this discussion is providing enough structure that one can figure out the best route without overstepping boundaries.
There is a time and place for everything. The director will establish intentions for each session of rehearsal. These will involve both time for actors, director, and crew to share their feedback and ask questions of the playwright, time to explore scenes in greater depth, and time for the director to focus on the staging for the performance. As a collaborator, it is important to work within these intentions. For instance, if you as an actor have questions about your character’s dialogue, it is not appropriate to bring those questions up in the middle of a tech rehearsal.
Someone has be the one to make the final decision. This person will, more often then not, be the director but it is important to discuss the makeup of the chain of command before any real work begins. When creating this chain we must remember the people involved and what stakes they have in the outcome. It is also important to remember that the context of the issue may cause a different order in the chain. Some examples: an issue with dialogue should have the playwright as the final decision maker, an issue with blocking will likely have the director at the end of the chain though it could be an actor if it is something they are not comfortable or capable of doing, and an issue with props may have a stage manager at the end of the chain but it could also be the director or a props master.
Use Your Voice (Embrace Your Part in the Process)
Theatre, by nature, is collaborative. Everyone is bringing their own gifts and talent to make a production great. As a collaborator, embrace your role. If you are acting, advocate for your character -their intention, their physicality, their voice. Make strong choices and do not be afraid to share your take on the character. Be generous and honest about what you are taking from the page. If a line of dialogue feels off, ask about it. If you character feels an impulse to move, try it! If you are directing, work with the playwright to make sure you understand the story they are trying to tell, then advocate for the audience. Is the storytelling clear? As a director of new work, you are the first person to bring a playwright’s story to life. Be generous and honest about what you are taking from the page. As the playwright present in the room, observe what is happening. Watch how your words and characters are being interpreted, does what you are seeing reflect what you had imagined? If not, ask questions. The actors are a resource for the characters, the director is a resource for the audience. They are there to help you tell the story you envisioned and make your script stronger. If you are a stage manager, own your role in helping the process run smoothly. Handle the logistics so they do not interfere with rehearsals. As an objective observer, what feedback can you contribute when appropriate? Be generous and honest about what you are taking from the page.
Keep an Open Mind
As playwrights, it can be hard to hear critiques about our work. One must be willing to listen and hear out suggestions and opinions regarding the play being worked on. It can be hard to give up control of your piece but more often than not those suggestions ultimately lead to a better and stronger piece.
This is also important from a director’s perspective because sometimes suggestions will change and shift their view of the piece. Be willing to test out any suggestions given.
It is theater’s nature to go awry, both during the process and during performance. One must be able to move with the changes.
Enjoy the Process
This theater thing is supposed to be fun! Enjoy yourself as you explore these new pieces of work. Enjoy learning new things about the characters. Enjoy working with your fellow cast and crew members. Enjoy!
Take Notes (but not in the way you’re thinking)
Every time a new piece is put on its feet new things are discovered. Take note of what works and what didn’t work. Share those discoveries with the person who could benefit from hearing them. Was there an issue regarding a character that was never resolved that you think should have been? Mention it to the playwright. Was there a moment in the script that you think the director missed out on illuminating? Share your view with them. Did you starve throughout the process because we didn’t give you enough time to get food? Tell us!
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