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"We're all building it together": Collaborative wisdom from the 2024 Merritt Awards

I'm back! The end of the school year pulled me away from regular posting, but I am getting back to it after a few months off. And there's no better way to re-energize than writing about one of my favorite events of the Chicago theatre year, the Michael Merritt Awards, which took place this year on May 13 at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Award recipients included Emmanuel Jimenez (Emerging Technical Collaborator), Lauren Nichols (Emerging Designer), Maggie Fullilove-Nugent (Excellence in Technical Collaboration) and Mikhail (Misha) Fiksel (Excellence in Design and Collaboration).

These awards are special for a lot of reasons, but one is that the event truly recognizes all the hands that go in to a successful theatrical collaboration, including managers and technicians. During the panel discussion, I asked the panel what they wished people outside that audience understood about how managers and technicians contribute to the collaborative process. Maggie likened the process to a spiderweb - all of these roles contribute to it, "we're all building it together." In response to an earlier question, she described the special quality of theatre collaboration:

"Most art is done in a vacuum, but we can't do this work alone."

(Photo of a theatre on Purdue's campus, taken January 2017)

Another theme that emerged was how we as theatre artists have evolved and continue to evolve our sense of boundaries around healthy work-life balance. Misha spoke of finding balance between setting boundaries and the full commitment to a project that is so thrilling for many of us. Lauren spoke movingly on how collaborators who could not embrace her bringing her child to work were collaborators she would not work with again. The panel was eager to continue discovering how to bring the full force of artistic power to their work while maintaining flexibility and openness to change.

If you're following this blog project, then you are probably also a collaboration enthusiast - I encourage you to follow the Merritt Awards on Instagram and plan on attending the event next year. You get to hear these wonderful discussions as well as see the portfolio exhibits of student and professional designers. It's an evening to revel in the community of design and technical collaboration, and to rejuvenate your excitement about this unique art form. See you there next year!

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