I’ve been thinking about collaboration a lot recently.
As a dramaturg who works with writers and composers of all stripes, and as a writer myself, collaboration is 99% of what I do every day. Every word of feedback I provide, every talkback or Writer’s Group I run, every note of encouragement… it’s all part of trying to help someone create the best possible work that they can.
Sometimes that collaboration can be hard work, however. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear that something isn’t being received the way you hope it will, or you’re afraid that you’re losing your own artistic voice in the development process.
A client of mine wrote me the other day with concerns regarding whether they should fight for what is “theirs” or go with the flow of collaboration and see where it all takes them. The analogy of children and nannies was bandied about, an idea that seems all the more relevant to me as I balance work with raising a 14-month old: both you and your caretakers theoretically have the best interests of your child in mind (just as you and your collaborators do with your project), yet new perspectives, ideologies and methods can seem foreign or unwelcome until common ground is found.
But that first time you put your baby out there in the world, allowing yourself to trust in the abilities of someone else… it’s absolutely terrifying.
The first day that my wife and I left our precious baby alone with a babysitter we were nearly as petrified with fear as we were the first day the hospital said “yeah, you’re all set… take him home (I’m sorry, what? Who said that we’re capable of this responsibility? Where’s the training manual?!).” We clung to our phones like life preservers, fighting the urge to text or call to check in, sighing with relief at each thumbs up or happy baby pic she sent.
In the end, my wife and I had to agree (as did my client) that our friends at Frozen have the right idea… sometimes you just have to… Let it go… (cue collective artistic groan) and trust those that we have chosen to share our life/project/baby with.
There are many of us, however, who tend to work in a bit more of a vacuum. We live and write, uncertain whether we are going down the right path or unclear whose opinion we should seek out. Friends and family are no longer quite helpful enough when they simply smile and encouragingly state “it’s great!” Their support is meaningful, but the actionable value of their feedback is limited.
As I come to the end of our first experiment with year-long Writer’s Groups, I’ve been struck by how a group of strangers, many of whom have been operating in just such a vacuum, have grown both in their ability to receive and act on feedback both positive and constructive, but have also learned how to communicate their own emotional and academic responses to other people’s work. Conversations become tailored to the person who is receiving feedback, and, in the end… we’ve all become collaborators. We all have the best interests of each other’s babies at heart, and our own experience and tales come to bear in helping to raise them to be clear, vital and valuable to our community. We may not have an active hand in constructing the work, but our feedback, support and care have aided our fellow artists. To cop from another Broadway giant… we are not alone.
This is all to say: my Writer’s Groups are one of the best things about my job, and something that I honestly look forward to with joy each session. I am loathe to use this space to sell myself, however I encourage anyone looking to become a better artist, a better collaborator, a better member of your artistic community… to consider joining us.
In art, as in child care, it sometimes takes a village.
ERIC C. WEBB is the Director of Creative Development for Davenport Theatrical Enterprises and Artistic Director for March Forth Productions as well as a writer and freelance dramaturg.
For Davenport Theatrical, Eric scouts and aids in developing new stage and film properties as well as providing script consultation and educational programming for the playwriting community.
Writing projects in development include Taking Step Three13 (a rock/rap adaptation of “Crime and Punishment” with composer Matt Doers, developed at the 2015 Johnny Mercer Colony at Goodspeed Musicals and the 2015 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat), Breakup – The Musical (an irreverent new musical with composer Stephanie Bianchi), Thompson/Gifford (a Gothic chamber musical) and Bonus Day (also with composer Stephanie Bianchi). Previous writing credits include Krampusnacht (segments commissioned by March Forth Productions), Tania (commissioned by White Rabbit Productions, published by Indie Theater Now), “Orion” (short film, produced by Second Star NYC), The Angels of Mons (March Forth Productions/Horsetrade at Theater Under St. Marks), Ubu – a twisted puppet show co-adapted from Jarry’s Ubu Roi, Playwriting is Easy and Strange Currencies.
Previous Literary Management/Dramaturgy credits include Literary Management for La Vie Productions (2009-2013), Associate Literary Manager for the 2008 John Gassner New Play Festival, Dramaturg for Stephen Sondheim’s Young Playwrights Inc. (2008 – present), Un-American Activities (new musical by William Norman), Escape From Happiness and Lynn Nottage’s Las Meninas (directed by Talvin Wilks).
Eric received his MFA in Dramaturgy & Literary Management from Stony Brook University (2008).