PTC Program insider: Company Collaborations
PTC’s company collaborations began organically over a decade ago, when Martin Kinch worked with Neworld Theatre on Adrift with Marcus Youssef and Camyar Chai, and Crime and Punishment and The Idiot with James Fagin Tait, amongst others. As Martin collaborated with his writers, I began to bring projects into the company that didn’t quite fit our programs – they weren’t Colony projects, and they weren’t short term workshops – working with Tanya Marquardt on Transmission, or Jeremy Waller on Trunk. These long-form collaborations offer the creator of a new work a partner from first idea all the way through production – even through remount. They reflect PTC’s integrated approach to dramaturgy – that a PTC dramaturg is a theatre maker, who brings all their experience to bear in each collaboration.
Helping to plan is part of our job.
The work often begins with process design – what is the imagined trajectory for the project? Many of our company collaborations have a scheduled production date, so we work backwards from there – what are the crucial elements, the potential funding sources, the necessary collaborators’ availability? We look at what the design collaborators need, what types of experiments and research the writer or choreographer might want, what the creator knows about their own process. Then we look at available resources and come up with a plan – usually more than one. At each step, we see how new information is changing our assumptions, and modify the next step or the whole plan. We talk about potential partners and supporters, and how different partners might impact the work. Who needs to be in the room at each stage? When and how do we debrief at each major decision point? When does the work need to encounter the public? At what scale?
We say yes to a company collaboration pitch when the project is doing something we don’t know how to do. We want to grow our dramaturgical skills, our cultural knowledge, our formal strategies, and our community connections.
Sometimes, it’s hard to convince a producer that they really can share all the information with us. Whether from a desire not to burden the dramaturg, or an assumption that we’re just there for the words, it can take a few conversations to prove the benefits of having an integrated dramaturg. We have the benefit of working with many different producers at different scales. Sometimes we don’t know a lot about a particular process, and our beginner-mind questions are useful. We can help open up the process beyond assumptions that might limit the creative process.
We say yes to a company collaboration pitch when the project is doing something we don’t know how to do. We want to grow our dramaturgical skills, our cultural knowledge, our formal strategies, and our community connections. PTC needs to be contributing something meaningful to the project, so it’s a reciprocal relationship.
Dramaturg Kathleen Flaherty has been collaborating with Tim Carlson and Theatre Conspiracy for 4 years on Foreign Radical. Kathleen brought her expertise in documentary producing to the collaboration, in addition to her incredible capacity for research. She, Tim, and the team immersed themselves in game theory to figure out how to make the show work. Foreign Radical will be remounted in January 2017, with a new audience configuration. In this interactive performance, the addition of a few bodies has a big impact, so Kathleen is dramaturging that right now: “The Conspiracy collaborators have already addressed the technical questions like how big the space has to be to accommodate thirty people instead of twenty performing some action. We’re going to be watching for the effects of additional numbers on the ability of audience members to form alliances and expose their personal vulnerabilities.” As well, the contemporary political landscape shifts constantly, so references in the piece need to be tested and updated if information has changed.
Perhaps my most immersive company collaboration culminated this summer with The Only Animal’s production of Tinkers (Kendra Fanconi’s adaptation of the novel by Paul Harding by). I have had a decade-long creative relationship with writer/director Kendra Fanconi, so when she brought the project to PTC three years ago, I was excited to have a new site specific play to develop. In the process, I learned about the challenges of novel adaptation, the community of Roberts Creek, Elphinstone Logging Focus, managing bullying in the under-10 set, mushroom picking, firewood stacking, representing epilepsy on stage, and other less exciting things like how long it takes to boil a full Camtainer of water to keep the team warm on site. In that process, my skills as a producer, director, camper, and mentor all came into play, thanks to Kendra’s generous collaborative spirit. Dramaturgical conversations happened over dog walks and late night postering runs, which meant we could be totally in sync while working with different groups of performers on site.
PTC’s company collaborations keep Kathleen and me in workshops and rehearsals for at least six months of the year. They are often below the radar until we get to the production phase, but these collaborations are where our dramaturgy is most transformative – and most transformed by the visionary artists we work with.