For the past two weeks I have been "embedded" (if I may borrow that colloquialism from war journalism), with actors, writers and play-writes as they endeavored to create a complete, original play using the technique of collaboration. One runs the risk of bias when one becomes apart of the process, but unlike war correspondents, I signed no document stating that I would avoid writing anything that might compromise their position! (Not that I foresee doing so). Due to scheduling challenges, the course was split into a morning and evening session, with the intention of combining the finished plays for the final performance that took place on August 24th and 25th.
I attended the morning course.
This was a project created by the Kumu Kuhua Theater and organized by Managing Director Donna Blanchard. Quoting the program: "Co-lab Kaka 'ako is the result of a collaborative venture between inter-island Terminal and Kumu Kahua Theater. The goal of the program is to nurture the very best creative theater talent in our community to create an open platform for learning about and discussing Kaka 'ako
– an important place for so many generations of Honolulu-ans, and a place to experience great change.
At the center of the web of this creative process was instructor Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano a life member and former faculty member of the Actor Studio Drama School. She is currently the Director of Education at Chicago Street Theatre and an adjunct Professor at Columbia College in Chicago. Her courses have included ensemble development, collaboration techniques, film casting, directing and The Method.
Utilizing a process Lisa originally developed for The Actors Studio Drama School, I observed daily three- hour sessions where (quoting the website) "writers, directors and actors followed an innovative developmental protocol of script creation, character development, rehearsal and performance, as well as team communication" [More on the class description here: http://kumukahua.org/newvoices].
The more conventional mode of play creation provides little opportunity for creative exchange between participants. The play-write first completes a script, and then it is chosen by a director. Then actors are selected to perform the completed lines verbatim. There are limitations with this process because different elements of the play are created in isolation of other elements, which can inhibit a free flow of ideas and talent between participants.
What Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano demonstrated in these two weeks with Kumu Kahua Theater is how some of the best creative work can occur in situations where play-writes, actors and directors work together in an atmosphere of cooperation. For years, Lisa and a few other teachers have studied this process, learning the effective mechanisms that enable a project to succeed.
At the course's orientation, Lisa emphasized the need for clarity in regards to the chain of authority; a system of rights agreed upon between actor, director and writer. (For instance: the play-write has ultimate authority, and can pull his play at any time if he does not feel actors or players are being true to it.) She then asked the actors to improv various scenarios illuminating how this discipline is maintained successfully and how it gets undermined. As the scenarios were played out, it became clear that most reasons why a project might fail had to do with disrespecting personal and/or professional boundaries, and misunderstanding the responsibilities of the role one is playing in the project. The participants were then asked to reach consensus on a set of rights, and agree to comply to these rights prior to moving ahead to play creation.