Collaboration & Creativity
Written by Sarah Coffee
Paper Cut creates work through a process of collaborative devising - Tamara has written about the stages of creative development here - so collaboration is obviously key to our creative practice. We share equal responsibility not only for the devising of our work but also for all the production and administrative responsibilities that come with its presentation.
Collaborative devising as a way of creating theatre has a rich history, and we’re just one of many contemporary groups who continue to make work in this way. Alison Croggon writes thoughtfully here about a number of notable contemporary works that exist outside of traditional playwright/director/performer distinctions.
However, there is a general tendency, when discussing all types of creative practice, to view work in a hierarchy with collaboratively made work somewhere near the bottom. It originates in romantic myths about the nature of creativity that privilege the notion of author-genius figures who are imagined to somehow operate outside of external influences.
This is evident historically in ideas such as auteur theory, which sought to elevate film to the level of other previously recognised art forms by identifying a sole author, which was eventually found in the director.
It is also visible in recent criticism of Beyoncé that argues that she is a less worthy or authentic artist because of her collaboration with other song-writers, producers and musicians in the creation of her latest album Lemonade.
In terms of theatre, the diminishing of collaboratively created work is visible in the assumptions that underpin articles like this one, which refers to enjoying devised theatre as “a dirty secret”.
Underlying all of these arguments is an implication that the more people involved in creating a work, the less creative that work - and each of the people involved in making that work - must be. But this view of art is a very historically and culturally specific one. It is not the way art or any other creative practice is, must or should be.
Researchers have for a long time now recognised that all creativity is an essentially collaborative process - whether arguing that all art is a collective activity (Becker, 1982) or that creative practitioners are “part of a system of mutual influences” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, p.336).
At the very least, the process of creativity necessarily involves other people, and this applies whether you make work in an overtly collaborative way as we do, or are a playwright in the most traditional sense of the word.
The essentially collaborative nature of creative practice can be seen in a number of ways. Firstly, in acknowledging how individuals come to be involved in their chosen creative domain. People like teachers, parents, friends and mentors can all influence what practice someone becomes involved in and what that involvement looks like.
Secondly, all creative works are built in some way upon knowledge of the traditions and conventions of the work of others who have come before. This is true even in acting against those traditions.
As Paper Cut we are influenced by the work of other contemporary theatre makers, work in other art forms such as music, articles we read online (e.g. this article provided some inspiration for Hello, Stranger), academic literature, unrelated conversations with each other and other people, and the other practitioners we trade skills and train with.
Learning from others and expanding our knowledge of what is possible is an essential part of our practice.
Finally, we are also significantly influenced by our audience - both in consideration of potential audiences when developing a work and as co-creators of the work during each performance.
Questions of collaboration and influence can be asked infinitely: who built the venue I am performing in? Who made the website we’re selling tickets through? Am I interested in this idea because my English teacher read us that book in Year 6? Who drove the truck to the hardware store that sold the timber we used to make this set? It’s a semi-ridiculous but useful exercise in recognising that creative practice is only made possible by others.
As Paper Cut, not only is our creative process collaborative in the sense of the three of us sharing creative decision making, we also recognise that it applies far more broadly than this. As it does to all creative practice. And we believe this essential collaborative contribution is not only worth acknowledging but also worth celebrating.
Becker, H. (1982). Art Worlds. Berkley: University of California Press.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). Society, Culture, and Person: A Systems View of Creativity. In Sternberg (Ed.), The Nature of Creativity (pp. 325-338). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.