A panel discussion on collaboration filled Faculty House with an eager crowd of theater enthusiasts on Monday night.
A mixture of professional wisdom and juicy anecdotes, the discussion centered on creative collaboration and touched on the creative process as a whole, and included Anne Bogart, a professor at the School of the Arts, and Martha Clarke, who joined the panel as part of the Mellon Visiting Artist series. Christian Parker, chair of the School of the Arts, moderated the discussion between the women, both renowned directors of experimental theater. Both directors were generous in sharing their own insights and experiences, which ranged from the importance of disagreements to their sources of inspiration.
The directors emphasized the necessity of collaboration between different roles in theater. “The truth is, in collaboration you’re only as good as the people you’re working with. Ultimately, your work is in the hands of the performers and the casting. So whatever we do is the carpentry in the back.” Clarke said.
The panelists also stressed the difference between collaboration and unanimous agreement. Bogart noted, “In this country, we have a misunderstanding on the concept of collaboration, [which] we call the disease of agreement ... There’s nothing worse than everybody agreeing.” With this in mind, Bogart said she tries to cultivate an open culture that encourages disagreements in her productions, making efforts to ask dancers, actors, and chorus alike what they feel could be done better.
Not all disagreement, however, aids the artistic process, Bogart explained. “There’s the kind of disagreement that shuts things down. So, to disagree but not stop is the real issue. You keep moving but also set yourselves apart from each other,” she said.
Clarke agreed, pointing out that when disagreements aren’t productive, it’s better to end the collaboration sooner rather than later. “I don’t think we get enough support or enough money or enough anything to be miserable in a room. I want to feel ... you don’t feel joy all the time. I feel the Obama way is the ... sensible way to go,” she said, referring to the president’s reputation for avoiding drama on the campaign trail.
Both women described collaboration as a source of inspiration. “You develop little crushes,” Bogart said. Clarke explained, “It’s not inappropriate. They’re your inspiration. If you don’t have that feeling of excitement about working with them, then why are you alone with them?”
Ultimately, said Clarke, the benefit of collaboration is its ability to bring artists together. “Every group is a love affair ... They become your best friends,” she said.