6 Easy Steps to Collaborating with Artists
Words by Kara Chamberlain
Natalia and I have been collaborating as Crossline Theatre for 7 years now, and in that time we have worked with a wide variety of artists. Teamwork is not always easy, even when you are working with your best friend, so here is some advice we have learned from the ups and downs of making theatre.
1. Be clear about your roles.
At the start, our job descriptions were a bit murky. We both did a bit of everything: marketing, money, submissions, writing, acting, tech, directing...you name it! These were early days, and we were still developing our skills, so working together as a team on every element of a production was necessary.
But that was when it was just the two of us. When we began working with larger teams, production assistants and directors and technicians and actors, it became clear that our all-hands-on-deck attitude wasn’t going to cut it. So we sat down and discussed our strengths and interests. By dividing up the workload we were able to complete tasks faster (note mutual trust is also an important part of this journey), master the parts of producing that interest us, and communicate more effectively with other collaborators.
It can be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone needs to be part of everything, and it can be very difficult to let go of things you are not in charge of. This is especially true if a member of the company is directing other members of the company.
2. Talk about conflict.
Even best friends disagree sometimes (Natalia and I joke about the Great Dirt Showdown of 2013, when she wanted to fill the stage of our fringe venue with dirt and I didn’t want to deal with cleaning it up during our 15 min get-out every day), it is all part of the process. The important part is how you handle disagreements.
Talking about conflict can be difficult, especially amongst friends, but it is vital. The old saying ‘don’t go to bed angry’ applies to any artistic endeavour, especially when working with a small team. Lean-in to conversations, and really listen to the perspectives of the other person. It can be very easy to sit in your anger and dwell on your own feelings, but that will only add tension and awkwardness to your work. Do your best to be reasonable with each other and find ways to compromise. Advice actors are given when they want to try a scene in a different way to the director’s vision is to try it the director’s way first, then ask if they can also try it their own way. Sound advice when it comes to compromising with any art.
3. Bring in guest artists.
This is especially useful when working with a small team. Whatever stage your project is in, if you feel stuck or have conflicting ideas it can be very helpful to bring in a fresh set of eyes, be it a guest director or a trusted friend. Here are some ideas:
Take a friend out for coffee and pitch them your show, see how they react any be open to any feedback or thoughts.
Ask a new director or assistant director to come in for a rehearsal, show them what you have and let them muck around with it a bit.
Bring in actors to read through your script who have never read it or heard of it before, let them play around and see what comes up.
Do a short performance at a scratch night and ask for feedback.
The key thing to remember is that you do not have to take any of the feedback, nor are you obligated to do the director’s blocking or cast the actors. This is about shaking things up and bringing in fresh perspectives.
4. Make contracts.
This sounds super boring, but do it anyway. Even if there are two of you working on a project, make up a little contract with the dates for the project, who has rights to copyright (probably everyone involved in writing/devising, but up to you), what the expectations are, etc. This will keep you and all the members of your team accountable to each other. It also sets out the expectations from the start, which is an important conversation to have.
5. Talk about money.
MAKE A BUDGET. I cannot stress this enough. Even if the budget is nothing, make a budget. Costs come up when creating a project, and it is easy to get carried away. When collaborating be sure to talk about who is investing in the project, whether people are being paid and, if so, how much they will receive, how much money will be allocated to production costs like set and rehearsal space, etc. If you have no money to put in, that is okay too, talk about how many hours people can give to the project and what skills they have - make the expectations clear. Money can be a key source of conflict, so sorting it out right off the bat and keeping everyone accountable will help everything run smoothly.
6. Always have biscuits.
Okay, you don’t need to have biscuits specifically, but having access to snacks during a day of devising or a long meeting helps quell any hanger in the room. We rarely have a meeting that isn’t in the vicinity of biscuits and coffee, whether it is at a cafe, someone’s house, or in a rehearsal room. Yes, both of us have an affinity for a dark chocolate digestive, but that’s beside the point.