One writes in a notebook; two others are going over poster designs
CollaborationTown in Rehearsal
A small group of theater artists, CollaborationTown is still in its infancy. Most of the company has been in New York City for less than two years, and so far it has three shows under its tight belt. But all this gives it the requisites for an effective troupeyoung, fresh, hard-working, and optimistic.
There was a time when Off-Off-Broadway was practically synonymous with "collaboration." Working with little space and even less money, young groups put up shows in lofts in SoHo and the East Village, creating them with a utopian ethic. The Performance Group, the Living Theatre, and Bread and Puppet, among others, worked to create new performances through a physical, textual, and critical exploration of a particular piece, or explored the group's aims in general. Every member had a say in the direction of the piece, and ideas were often generated by group exercises or brainstorming. These works had a vital focus on process, with rehearsal and preparations taking months, sometimes yearsa far cry from today's common four-week rehearsals.
This theatrical modus operandi was also largely a product of its time and place. In the midst of the Vietnam and Cold Wars, the arts were being supported more than ever while simultaneously struggling to find a new voice amid the political and social turmoil. Collaboration sent a message of equality and harmony:these social microcosms could exist without conflict and without oppression.
But times have changed. The utopian lifestyle has vanished, for the most part, and while the ideas and people from that
era still have a strong influence, the collaborative method within theater companies is very rare. Most designate each role in a productionactor, director, writer, designerto only one member, who may or may not excel in it. Every once in a while, though, a group braves the process of collaboration again.
With a core membership of seven and a number of associates, CollaborationTown is attempting to keep that tradition alive and well. The group has no professional boundaries in its members' functions. According to its mission statement, "Actors can be writers, writers directors, directors designers, and designers actors."
Most of CollaborationTown's members met doing their undergraduate work at Boston University in a new program that went beyond simple conservatory training. In their theater studies, they learned about experimental traditions and alternative ways of creating performances. When they graduated, they all made their way to New York, equipped with the tools to create their own theater.
Currently, CollaborationTown is preparing The Astronomer's Triangle"a love story by way of map." On the heels of the unnervingly real and narrative Trading Floor, the group took a much more abstract starting point: a meditation on love Working out of a church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, they came together with favorite books, music, and pieces of their own
A scene from The Trading Floor
writing to begin the script, now credited as written by Jordan
Seavey and the members of CollaborationTown.
The Astronomer's Triangle is "much more about myth now," Seavey said. With their limited experience in the matterall of the members are in their early 20sthe piece is much more about the legends and expectations of love than the all-too-fleeting experience itself.
"This is not When Harry Met Sally…," said Amanda Berkowitz, the company's managing director. "It's about the possibilities of finding love." The result is a story about "an astronomer, a waitress, and a cartographer [who] find themselves in a disorienting, explosive, and unknown scientific state: LOVE," the group's Web site says.
At this point in the process, roles both on and offstage are pretty much settled-characters have been cast, the script has been written, and Matthew Hopkins has taken on the part of "director." But the group is quick to point out that anything goes. "We're really supporting each other," Hopkins said. And despite the collective nature of the process, there hasn't been much conflict or head butting.
"We'll have hardy debates," member Boo Killebrew said. "You have to fight for your vision." The personal negotiation is outweighed, however, by their accomplishments as a group. "As a group, we never have to compromise our vision or integrity," Killebrew added.
Hopkins readily admits that the group is still "just learning." Their process continues to be formed and improved upon daily. It's clear that they are very young and carry all the signs of untainted artistry.
Yet there is no reason to believe that CollaborationTown won't succeed. The art of collaborative theater is by no means dead, but few have learned how to let the process of process evolve.
Grotowski's methodology belongs very much to the 1960's, yet a new form of theatrical collaboration could be important and thrive in the 21st century. And perhaps CollaborationTown's strong base and exuberance will find that form and give it a new home.
Astronomer's Triangle opens March 17.
For more information, visit www.collaborationtown.org.