Sunday, 3 July 2011

Turning an idea into a reality - 'Stronger together'

It has been a long and inspiring week and my head is a flutter with thoughts about an event 'Stronger together' organised by Northern Stage, Pilot theatre and Arts council North East. The event was about how the arts can collaborate, the mechanisms to enable this and the benefits. The event was broadcast online with viewers from across the world with additional satellite venues in Bristol, Manchester and London. As Marcus Romer, Artistic Director of Pilot theatre noted towards the end of the day, over a million people will have seen the hash-tag #artstogether in their twitter feed and that it had been the top trending event in London.

I imagine 'Stronger together' started as a concern (to protect the ecology of the arts?), someone proposed an idea, that idea was shared, a consensus was found by all and the idea became a reality. A seemingly, simple set of steps, but as any collaboration will testify it takes a great deal of time, honesty and respect to achieve and this was certainly a great example of collaboration. The event has resonated with me and I felt compelled to share my thoughts and offer my version of the day as it unfolded, as you will discover each delegate will have a different story and this one is mine.

The event itself was beautifully managed, stepping into the space you were greeted by hundreds of individual chairs of every imaginable design spread across the theatre, instantly raising a smile and making you relax. This simple staging gave you something to talk to your neighbour about, breaking down barriers and delicately creating a dialogue before the event had even started.

The event, unlike so many I attended, allowed you to pick and choose your journey through it, ensuring a bespoke experience for you, this is a format I would encourage other events to follow, as too often they are dry and seldom encourage dialogue and interaction, other than a quick hello whilst trying to grab a coffee, to put it simply the bar has been set. The other great plus, was the event was free, enabling small organisations like Spike to attend, the recent 'State of the art conference' was beyond our pocket, although we really wanted to be there and finally if you could not be there in person you could interact via text, twitter or simply watch online.

My afternoon started with 6 inspiring provocations, each with valuable insights into collaboration, followed by open space. I love open space a great way of generating thoughts from many different view points, I always leave those conversations the richer. I dived into the soup, a speed dating of sorts but a lot less slower than was intended, the fact that we did not follow the rules was lovely and I spoke with some insightful and inspiring folk. The coffee break normally the chance when everyone runs to check messages or e mails, but really is to avoid looking like you don't know anyone, was opened out on to the grass, where ideas were being freely exchanged, I learnt about new monies available, which I will be applying for.

Spike create theatre in a collaborative manner, it is part of our DNA, Stronger Together proposed some awkward questions for individuals and organisations to consider. I can see why it may hold fears for some, but the benefits of working with another artist, organisations or venue are vast. Collaboration can be demanding, it asks questions of your organisation, Are we good enough? How do we deal with something if it goes wrong? Will it work? These are all questions I turn on myself every time I step into a new project. I have an idea, a group of people and in 4 weeks time we will show a paying audience what we have created, pretty scary huh? In a word 'No' you must trust, respect, be prepared to take your time and all importantly have fun, each project will be bespoke, each experience unique to that time, group of people you shared it with, and you will always learning something for good or bad.

I have at times consciously worked with folk who will cause friction, this is not some kind sado maschocism on my behalf but a considered decision to provoke 'from friction comes fire' this was something that was not touched upon at the event, but as long as everyone works with respect and honesty then a little bit of friction can take you to places you never imagined and for the better. I think my colours are nailed to the mast about the joys, benefits and excitement of collaboration, so dive in and have fun.

PS. for those folk who saw Alexander Kelly from Third Angel perform you were lucky, for me it was like watching myself but better.

PPS. A big thank you to Marcus Romer, Erica Whyman and ACE North East

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