Theatre of Collaboration

“But ensembles, nationally and locally, are able to focus more,and develop a style of working and an aesthetic, and that’s what makes the work exciting. Because of that, it’s reinvigorated the field. I think this is only the beginning.”

– Mark Valdez (executive director of the Network of Ensemble Theatres)

Are the days of the traditional playwright dwindling? Or are we simply experiencing a new wave of exciting ensemble-created work?

When thinking of playwrights, our mind often conjures up an image of a tortured artist-type, hunched over a notebook or a typewriter in a pitiful flat in some remote location, painstakingly trying to pull words from thin air and force them down onto a page. But new works created by groups of creatives are challenging this traditional method of writing.

And who’s to say that a multitude of voices cannot be better than one? Sure the conditions for artistic creation must be reevaluated. What could easily be a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen,” is instead a creative playground, pumping out interesting, group-driven work. When all the members of the ensemble recognize that there must a shift away from ego and towards the pursuit of a higher art, ensemble pieces really shine.

One of my favorite recent examples of groundbreaking ensemble work was The Method Gun at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The group, Rude Mechs, put together a show that explored the life and techniques of Stella Burden, an revolutionary acting teacher/guru whose method, The Approach (often referred to as “the most dangerous acting technique in the world”), infused even the smallest role with sex, death and violence. The group collected actual journal entries and personal accounts from those in Stella’s troupe in the 60s and 70s in order to create their mystifying show. The Method Gun re-enacts the final months of her company’s rehearsals for their nine-years-in-the-making production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The company’s challenge? To tell this classic without the four main characters. That’s right. No Stella, no Stanley, no Blanche, no Mitch.

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4 thoughts on “Theatre of Collaboration

  1. I heard about the Rude Mech’s show you describe after it was performed in New York last year. Sorry I missed it.

    Have you seen any work by Elevator Repair Service? In New York City, they’ve presented a Faulkner novel, a Fitzgerald novel, and a Hemingway novel, all created collaboratively if I remember their credits right. I don’t know whether ERS has taken any of them to other cities. Must be other examples, but at this hour of the morning none occur to me.

    By the way, didn’t LA Weekly recently do a cover story on this same subject?

    • I would love to see one of ERS’ shows. I hear that their Gatz is nothing short of extraordinary…8 hours and all.

      And yes they did. A great story bringing a number of newer ensemble groups to light. The quote at the start of this post is from that article.

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