In praise of multi-tasking collaboration

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2011.

Jo Shapland and Phillip Zarrilli in rehearsals, Told by the Wind. The Llanarth Group, 2010.







Increasingly I believe we have to be producer, fund-raiser, tour manager, and publicist as well as whatever our prime role may be (writer, director, performer, etc), in order to have some form of career. I am a playwright and dramaturg, yet some of the more successful projects I’ve been involved with, with real longevity, have been as co-creator with The Llanarth Group, in West Wales. There, I am officially the resident dramaturg, but also maker of good, strong tea, writer of performance text alongside press releases, ‘outside eye’ when necessary, documenter, publicist, and doer of whatever may need doing, frankly. And I love it. I love the new skills it brings to me, and the reawakening of old ones. I love the lack of hierarchy, but rather, the sense of cooperation and collaboration.

Working in this way is demanding, but also puts the artist very much in control. I’m often out of my element when I work with more conventional companies, or building-based theatres, where everyone has their particular role and task. I probably drive everyone demented for the first few days until I adjust to the culture of the company, and realise certain things may be considered inappropriate for me to do – ie, shut up and sit down, O’Reilly, they have a director or marketing department or stage manager to do ‘that’…

I feel immensely fortunate to have worked in both self-generated cooperative dynamics, as well as with theatre organisations, and am increasingly aware of the different skills set and cultures needed for each. Also, with the ever-depressing news of cuts in the arts, I’m aware so much more activity in future really may be this DIY version – so the sooner we get skilled-up for being Renaissance women and men, the better.

This all came to my mind when I came across an extract of ‘Told By the Wind’, a piece I made with Phillip Zarrilli and Jo Shapland, on Vimeo. Filmed in the inner sanctum of the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw, Poland – The Apocalypsis Room (‘more the altar than a theatre space,’ as one of the resident technicians said). We performed there in 2011, to a huge audience squeezed in around the floor stage lights (‘I’m so sorry, you’ll have to move. If you sit there, right in front of the lantern, we won’t see the performers,’ I had to say on more than one occasion. I added more skills on this tour; usher and bouncer).

This short performance, informed by Japanese aesthetics of Quietude, is still in the repertory and still touring internationally. I’m not sure how I missed it before now on the net, but hope you may enjoy Jo Shapland’s terrific solo of the devised section we called ‘verb dance’.

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