The Big C: Collaboration

At the end of the spring semester, I really wanted to collaborate with other artists. I had been on an emerging artists roundtable at Theatre Gargantua and talked to so many people about their projects, their collaborators. After a winter of writing papers alone in my apartment and watching the work of so many others, I was ready to get my hands dirty and find my own team with which to make something.

Now it is a few weeks into two different collaborations and I have lost a bit of that initial enthusiasm. It’s more difficult than I expected. So often it’s dragging myself out of my own writing (in cafes, in my comfortable room, in the library, in the park, on the beach–often just feet away from the teapot) in order to come and fight to be heard in a group of people in the Toronto Reference Library or a friend’s living room across town. I feel exhausted after these meetings and I leave questioning why I entered these collaborations in the first place: is the core idea, the seed, at the center of each project something I want to help grow? Do I enjoy working with the people as artists? Do we agree enough to use disagreements and discussions to shape the project, or do constant spats keep us from moving forward? Am I speaking up to make sure my ideas are incorporated and that each creative team stays on track? Am I putting in enough work, but also not breaking my back and taking on too much?


But then I look at these questions and think: I’ve seen these before, I’ve worried over these before. I have collaborated before, both inside and outside of a purely artistic or theatrical context. I’ve worked at non-profits, law firms, publishing companies, tutoring centers, and community libraries. I’ve led theater groups and university clubs through meetings and discussions much like the ones I’ve been struggling with for the past few weeks here in Toronto. I know that the skills and lessons I gained from leading the Rice Players and working as a Summer Mentorship Experience Fellow came with me when I crossed the border into Canada, but it’s odd how easy it is to forget that I have a stock of experience when I’m constantly filing out applications to describe myself as a “newcomer” and an “emerging” artist. In comparison to others here Canada I might not have the same cultural experience or years and decades of experience, but I’m not a blank slate here.

In light of all this, I still ask myself: is it worth it? When I am overwhelmed by all the projects I want to complete on my own, why put my time and energy now into these collaborations?

Why now?

That’s the key I realized. These partnerships are happening now. The opportunities are available to me now and, even more importantly, they are going to deliver results in terms of public readings and performances now. My own writing projects still continue in the background with the understanding that they will sprout leaves and grow into produce-able, share-able plays, screenplays, and other writing soon–but not as soon as these other projects.

It’s a challenge for me, entering rooms where people either constantly ask, “What do you think?” or blast me with all their ideas and enthusiasm, barely leaving me time to digest, let alone consider what I feel about their plans. I’m having a hard enough time listening to my own voice. And that’s another reason why I’m embracing collaboration right now. It may seem easier to find my own voice by shutting the door and hiding in my own quiet room with only the empty page to reflect back to me what I can do, what I want to do, what I feel. But sometimes it’s like the trick of flipping a coin to make a tough decision: when you get one result, your positive or negative gut reaction might reveal which way you wanted the coin to fall before it left your hand.

That being said, I’m still struggling to make time for the screenplay I’m adapting and some new play drafting each week. Between these artistic projects, my internship at the Shaw Festival, my summer course, and continued theatre networking, I’ve somehow filled my summer more than I ever imagined. Some of these projects may die–like the basil plant I bought a few weeks ago–but sometimes I think it’s okay to kill your first plant (or at least that’s what I’ve been told and am trying to convince myself to fully believe).

Collaboration. It’s the most exciting new thing, the buzzword that is making my life and schedule buzz with activity. It’s also a great cause of stress and possibly a big distraction. Only time will tell whether it’s meant to be my main creative mode.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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One Response to The Big C: Collaboration

  1. Pingback: Perseverant? Why, yes I am. | gladlybeyondaustinausten

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