Ellie: Hello. Well Team Grief have been very busy. But now the dust has settled, the Rage Receptacle is tucked up safe, here is a belated blog originally posted on the West Yorkshire Playhouse Website. You can also see some articles about the Rage Receptacle by clicking the links below
On play, plays and collaboration
A performance artist, a sculptor and an architectural designer walk in to a theatre. This is not a joke. This is our process. Collaboration. It is a word we love using in the arts community. But what does it mean to collaborate and what are the conditions it needs to flourish? Surely the purpose of collaboration is to be part of a team with different skills that comes together to make something that is more than the sum of its parts…but how does that work in practice? I am working with Paula Chambers, A sculptor and Bethany Wells, an architectural designer. We are making a piece about anger. I like to make work about difficult things like ‘Anger’ or ‘Death’ and audiences or participants usually respond very well.
I think both Paula and Bethany’s work is brilliant. That’s why I wanted to collaborate with them. We all have our own way of working. So we have 3 different disciplines (performance/sculpture/design), 3 different backgrounds and 3 different sets of values. If we bring the entirety of our individual practices together we will end up with…a lot...all crammed in to one piece. A three headed Frankenstein’s monster of a piece. I’m not sure I want to release a monster onto the streets of Leeds. Particularly an angry monster that’s only just at the start of its life. Images of Frankenstein and Bambi on the ice spring to mind, particularly in this weather. No, we can’t all bring all of our practices to this. We need to bring elements of each of our work together to make something new. But when you’re stripping elements of what you do away, how do you know which bits to keep and which bits to ditch? How do you know which bits of your work will be compatible with which bits of your collaborators practices? These are some of the questions we’ve been asking in our process.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse is vast. It employs hundreds of people. It produces 9 major productions and a further 5 or six smaller pieces a year. And they work together to make plays. There may be tensions, as is inevitable in any workplace, but they seem to get on well with each other, get the job done and do it very well. Then why isn’t every show they make a hundred headed monster, flailing around in the dark, trying not to fall off the stage and crush the audience? And I guess this is perhaps because people have clearly defined roles. The playwright writes the play, the set builder builds, the actor…acts. You wouldn’t get the lighting designer to sing you a song or hand the actor a welding iron and say ‘build that’. And there is an order to this process too. You wouldn’t usually get actors in the room before the play has been written or build a set without knowing which play it’s for. It is a well-oiled and efficient machine producing what it set out to produce.
I look at the team work that goes on in this building and think: would this work if my collaborators and I did this? If everyone stuck to the bit they knew and were good at: Paula made a sculpture and Bethany built something and I did a performance? There would be a few possible outcomes but the two most likely are a) We would have made 3 separate pieces of art that were no more or less than the sum of their parts. b) We would put them all together and get the 3 headed monster.
And then it struck me, and the clue was in the title: West Yorkshire Playhouse. Plays have been around a while. They are not new-fangled things. And over several thousand years since Euripides first started, people have learned a thing or two about how to make them.
But whilst I make performance I don’t make plays. I don’t often make performance for a stage. And I don’t always work with people that even make performance. I work with photographers or engineers or members of the public or, in this case, a sculptor and a designer.
We aren’t putting our ideas through a pre-existing process or machine. We are building a new machine each time. On this project quite literally as rather than using an existing site, we are building our own. And it will make something that couldn’t have been made without it. Something that isn’t a play or a sculpture or a building but is somehow beautiful. But this takes time. Time for Bethany, Paula and I to test things. Time for us to try different combinations, time for things to fail, to be adapted, and then succeed. This, for me, is collaboration. Truly trying to re-imagine what you do by taking on board the perspective of other artists’. Getting to know them, how they work and how you might fit things together. It is hard work inventing something new. It’s difficult to work out which parts of our practices we can let go of when we don’t know at the start, what it might look like or how it might work. Where everything is up for grabs. And I think our collaboration might be slightly different to the impressive feat of team work that goes on at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Perhaps inventors are a little like parents bringing something new in to the world. Paula, Bethany and I are trying to make something unique. And like new parents we are scared and excited and tired. Our work is made over time and with love and graft. It is exciting. And it might make you think or move you in a way a traditional play wouldn’t. It will ask you to interact in new ways and be in the middle of something. And it is not a case of our work being better or worse than a play, cake or death, daddy or chips. There is no value judgement. They are just different. They need different things to flourish and the audience navigate them in a different way. And the fact that West Yorkshire Playhouse is increasingly making space for different kinds of work and different ways of working is good. For plays and inventors and monsters and collaborators to co-exist. Perhaps Transform Festival is transforming things, slowly but surely.