I’m currently working on a production with the Skeleton Key Theatre company. I got a part in their chorus to become part of the collaborative development group to workshop this production. A public version will be staged in May as part of the International Children’s Festival. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say about the specifics of the process, so I’ll describe a bit more of what my personal journey has been.
It’s always interesting coming to a new site and working with a completely new group of people. Similar dynamics always play out- in this case, there are 14 of us, so it’s a fairly large group for a collaborative effort. We played a variety of games in order to establish some common ground and learn a bit about each other, while also getting to know each other’s names. I can tell that we’ve all been selected to have complimentary strengths – there are some on the crew who are more involved as actors, those who are primarily puppeteers, those who are dancers, those (like myself) who are primarily musicians: it is truly an interdisciplinary cast of people.
One of my favorite things about entering a new interdisciplinary setting is learning about how the same artistic challenges we have in music are described and addressed by other artistic disciplines. Something I noticed today is that the way the primary choreographer works is similar to a technique used when practicing an instrument – in order to determine the best way to get to a particular location, he works backwards to identify the best sequence of actions. When I am working to learn a challenging melodic fragment, I will often start from my last note and work backwards note by note.
When discussing practicing with some of the actors, I noticed that visualization when studying a script is like visualization practice for music- time can be spent on the bus or when waiting in life reading through parts and imagining what it feels like to do each section.
I’ve also noticed a similarity in between the musical “motif” and the use of “mirroring” in dance and theatre. Mirroring in this context seems to indicate a similar motion or sequence of motions that is repeated from scene to scene in the same way a motif in a piece of music is repeated from movement to movement. In both circumstances, the motion or sounds will mean something new in their new context, but will create a link between the two contexts and enrich the idea through its transformation.
Another new term for me that I’ve picked up during this process is “making an offer” – this helps to facilitate a collaborative approach to developing a scene. Everyone can make an offer and the artistic directors are the ultimate decision maker about what is accepted or refused. It’s a great term because it makes it clear that someone is proposing a suggestion, and that it is the offer that has been refused/accepted and not the person themselves.
This tension between collaboration and direction is also fascinating to me as a participant/observer – I believe the best and most rich pieces of art come from processes in which the participants or team work together to build on ideas that each person feels passionate about and a sense of ownership over. However, it’s also important that there are unified visions about a piece of art so that the overarching ideas are maintained and there is a unified aesthetic overall. If there are no restrictions, it is hard to create a sense of meaning because a spectrum needs to be established in order to communicate something which requires poles of extremes. If all possibilities are included at all times, it is impossible to create a mood and therefore a moving piece.
The process that I’ve experienced here bears the most similarities in my experience to an internship I did with Bread and Puppet theatre where there was an artistic director who served to make ultimate decisions, but the crew of puppeteers were extremely involved in worshiping ideas which would then be refined into pieces of larger works. This is exactly the kind of approach I have experienced here. An interesting thing about this process is the way the conductor and artistic director are similar, but also very different. The conductor has final say and has the whole orchestra in mind in the same way the artistic director does, but the kind of leadership in this setting has felt very different. It has been possible to present ideas and communicate directly a lot more with this artistic director than it is in the context of an orchestra where you spend most of your time playing the music and very little time (if any) having a direct dialogue about it.
It has been an excellent experience working with the Skeleton Key team and the collaborators in this workshop so far. I am completely inspired by their process, the ways they facilitate communication to stay focused on the artistic end goals, and the deeper understanding I have already gained about the similarities between artistic traditions. Going forward, and reflecting on the goals I tentatively outlined during an AOE Arts Council workshop, I plan to continue seeking opportunities to work in interdisciplinary settings and to enrich my own musical presentations with some of the ides I am gaining.
AOE Arts Council–This program is made possible by support from the Ontario 150 Partnership Program and is in partnership with the Cultural Human Resources Council. To find out more about the program, click here!