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  • emilymccdesign

Collaboration - Between or Among?

One of the things that has struck me as I've been tracking how collaboration is written and talked about in various forums is how often collaboration is simplified into a solely 2-way process. When I wrote my HowlRound piece last year, many of the books and articles I looked at focused on collaboration between a director and a playwright, or a dramaturg and a playwright, or a director and an ensemble (my hypothesis: directors and dramaturgs and playwrights love to write, so those are the collaborations that get written about most). That ensemble example may seem like more than 2-way, but it still posits "the ensemble" as an individual in the collaborative process, because the actors are receiving input as a single group. Pop culture loves collaboration, but "collabs" in retail or music are Artist X Artist or Artist X Brand.


I get it - a binary relationship is easy to talk about, easy to visualize. It's why there are a ton of Google search results for the question "is collaboration between or among?" Between is so much more straightforward - each party puts forward a suggestion, the parties give each other feedback, you reach a satisfactory agreement, you move on to the next problem.



This simplification can be dangerous though. It doesn't adequately prepare anybody for what happens when collaboration goes from being "between" to being "among" - when there are more than 2 people or groups involved, with different sets of priorities, different deadlines, different types of knowledge to bring to the table.


And in reality, isn't that how most collaborations actually work? Most project teams involve more than two people or two groups in actual practice. Even those "collabs" that get so publicized are going to have lots of different people working to realize the end product.


Theatrical design collaboration provides an excellent model for this - each person who is part of a design team is bringing in specialized knowledge and expertise that no one else in the room has, and yet they all share a common goal. And the final production will be all the more effective if that collaboration among multiple parties has been successful.


These kinds of collaborations are going on at all levels across the country all the time - from community theatres in small towns to storefront theatres in big cities to regional houses to Broadway. The details of the process will differ depending on personalities, timelines and budgets - but theatrical designers and technicians of all stripes are experts at multi-faceted collaboration (what a lot of businesses call "cross-functional communication"). We know that even the simplest of collaborations is never just "between" - it's always "among".


(Photos: from "Interrogation" at Artistic Home, and from "She Kills Monsters" at RU/CCPA)

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