Sunday, November 7, 2010

Broadway Teamwork and Collaboration: The Great White Way and Beyond

Together Wherever We Go

Researching creative teams for this blog, I was surprised how little there is online about the subject. What makes them click? How do they go about the process? What makes a good creative team? Surprisingly, the best exploration I found comes from the world of science. Imagine, a scientific study that analyzes how artists successfully collaborate to create a Broadway musical! Interesting.

American Idiot creative team: Green Day, Michael Mayer and Tom Kitt.
Photo credit: Carole Litwin All images © Berkeley Repertory Theatre. All rights reserved. 
In order to flourish a team continually needs new blood.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? When you work with the same people over and over, you develop patterns and your work can easily get tired and stale. You need that fresh inspiration, that new collaborator to keep the creative juices flowing and challenge you to explore the process, and look in new directions. The whole team doesn’t have to be new, the addition or substitution of just one team member can be the catalyst to propel the group into a creative frenzy. Now that we have the magic key, we can all create brilliant, award-winning Broadway shows, right? If only it were that easy.

There are many challenges to new collaborations and most will not be a good match. Schedule, motivation, personality, temperament, communication and styles of conflict resolution are just some of the elements that affect a team’s ability to create and develop positive work patterns.

Look at who is making the biggest splash on Broadway. Frequently, it is that new voice, or the new collaboration of established artists that have the biggest impact. Everyone’s heard of the one hit wonder, the individual or creative team that makes a big impression on the market, then seem to disappear or fail to impress in further efforts. This could be a good explanation why this happens. We frequently hear, “It all sounds the same”, or “Its been done before”. Collaboration must stay fresh and innovative to remain on top of the market.

The creative team for the musical “Next to Normal”: seated at the piano, Tom Kitt, and standing, from left, Brian Yorkey, Michael Greif and David Stone.  Photo Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times.

Tom Kitt is an artist that has positioned himself well among successful creative teams. In the past few years he composed the score for the musical High Fidelity with one team, he won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his score for the critically acclaimed musical, Next to Normal, orchestrated and arranged the music for Everyday Rapture with an third team, and arranged and orchestrated the music of Green Day for the current Broadway musical, American Idiot. In each venture, one or more of the members of the creative team were different, in effect, creating a fresh and original collaborative effort.
Creative team and cast of N2N. Photo by Walter McBride/Retna Ltd.

In musical theatre, no man is an island. The composer and lyricist need one another to create songs along with the book writer to tell the story. In order for that story to be told on stage, it requires a director with vision to work with the authors. His job is to help focus the story in a way that can be told on stage in an imaginative and entertaining manner and then translate that through the assistance of designers and choreographers and finally with a carefully selected cast of performers. Any single change in the creative process can greatly affect the ultimate outcome.

From my experience, the best creative teams are able to visualize each other’s words and thoughts and take them to the next level by adding their own interpretation to the process. When I meet people in the industry where I feel a connection and an inspiration beyond their creative resume, I make notes to myself as to how I could see us collaborating on future projects. Beyond all else, I want a team of people I can depend on and trust. I also want people that truly inspire me and take me outside the proverbial box; to open up a universe of possibilities. The best creative teams are not just made up of the best in their specialty; they have to be the best together to form a completely successful collaboration.

The creative team I have been working with for the past 12 years at my high school has definitely had its share of ups and downs. In the school setting, your goals and priorities aren’t always the same as in the professional world. Despite our challenges we have successfully produced a continuous series of high quality work. Last year, there was a lot of conflict that overshadowed the team and it definitely affected the end result. Time has gone by and it’s a new year. As we start pre-production for this year’s show, Hairspray, there is already a positive electric undercurrent channeling our energies. Part of that is due to the addition of a new member to the team. Even though they are primarily working on the organization end of the spectrum, the fresh ideas and enthusiasm is just what we’ve needed to unlock that spark of creativity and thrust us forward. Its exciting going in to a project knowing it has the potential to be your team’s best work. You can be sure I’ll keep you posted.

The cast of American Idiot. Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images


 Team Assembly Mechanisms Determine Collaboration Network Structure and Team Performance Roger GuimerĂ , et al.Science 308, 697 (2005); DOI: 10.1126/science.1106340

Lascala, Maria."Tom Kitt’s Big Year"Westchester Magazine, July 2010

1 comment:

  1. Thoughtful and well stated.

    The idea of new input applies across all disciplines, I think. But, it doesn't have to always be the latest arrival, sometimes it's a reworking or rearranging of the existing components - as you noted in your point about collaborations among established artists.

    Good information for us all!