10 things I learned from multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Last night I had the great pleasure of being part of a panel discussion in a massive derelict warehouse (wow!) about the benefits and pitfalls of multi-disciplinary collaboration. It was organised by Miniclick Jim, an architectural photographer who has recently collaborated with illustrator Billy Mather, to open their exhibition. I chose to speak about my experiences as a puppeteer working with physical performers and a classically trained musician in Norway last year.

Here are the notes I made for our discussion:

1. Multi-disciplinary collaboration is by its very nature about exiting your comfort zone. You have to be willing to look for the points of collision.

2. It takes someone from outside your own frame of reference to point to the things you did you know that you did not know.

3. Leave home, take your culture with you, but be prepared to have difficult discussions on integration. This is where you find the magic seeds for your new language.

4. Start the phase of ‘doing’ long before you are ready to. Exploring together without using verbal language is the first step towards creating a new language.

5. You’re looking for the point of chemical reaction where stories collide and create something new. Like alchemy, something rich and unexpected will emerge, and you won’t recognise it at first.

6. Work between being bold, with all your engines firing, and hanging back while others fire their engines. Always be ready to pick up any slack.

7. A good friend and fellow puppeteer once warned me “Don’t lose sight of yourself (meaning your discipline), you will be tempted to enter the middle mush, but don’t let it happen” (possibly paraphrased).

8. A collaboration is an exercise in self-awareness. It can test how much you know about your discipline, what you believe in, what you stand for, how strongly you can stand for it, how easily you can let it go, and how you choose to communicate it outside of your community of practitioners. 

9. “Hold things tightly, let go lightly” Anne Bogart says. Bogart is a choreographer who has created a set of principles that can be used in cross-disciplinary collaboration. She talks about the practice of making ‘offers’. Its about putting your hand up when no-one else dares, or pointing something out that no-one else has seen. It takes a brave move to make an offer, of being bold enough to step in. You might be taken up on your offer, or you might not.

10. Say “Yes, and…”.

Thanks Jim, doing the talk gave me a nudge to take a retrospective look at the exceptional multi-disciplinary collaboration I went through with Skeyne Theatre in Norway last year – whom I’d like to credit with these findings too.

It was interesting to find that there were so many parallels in our experience, and I’m still working on the question of who my dream collaborator would be? ‘Scrap heap challenge’ wasn’t really an adequate answer I feel.

I left the evening feeling inspired to embark on a new project, this time with a sound artist, photographer and maker…let’s see what happens.