You may have heard about the recent late winter storm that rocked the east coast. Thanks to that storm, I was stranded in Washington DC in between a meeting of the RUPRI/NEA Rural Cultural Wealth Research Lab and the Mike Curb MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership Field Experience class trip to NYC. This unexpected extra night in DC afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with a dear friend who happens to be the Properties Director at Arena Stage.

Over dinner, Monique and I got to talking about collaboration. Then she said:

Collaboration is the WILLINGNESS to sit in darkness together.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 4.58.58 PMMic drop. What a great way to think about artists’ collaboration. Being a theatre artist, she meant it both literally (she and I spent a lot of time sitting in darkness together at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in the early 1990s) as well as figuratively. Collaboration requires a kind of mindset, a WILLINGNESS, that is intentional, open, and non-judgmental. Finding companies and “company” where that kind of collaboration happens consistently is rare in my experience. I have seen a director throw a chair across a room, a choreographer get up in the face of a student and stare her down, a faculty member shout down a colleague for no apparent reason other than as an exercise of intimidation. When artists behave in this way they are not collaborating; they are asserting power. In collaboration, even when power differentials exist (and they always do) all the participants enter the darkness together and willingly.

In my arts entrepreneurship classes, we often talk about “uncertainty.” In a way, entrepreneurship, like collaboration, requires a willingness to sit in darkness, hopefully together, but maybe alone, navigating the uncertain with the limited information at hand. Despite the distance of years (it had been four since we last saw each other), Monique and I were able to sit together, willingly sharing our experiences, not in darkness, but in the light of a lifelong friendship.

(photo: Plymouth Theatre; photographer unknown; public domain)

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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