Friday, July 13, 2007

Spinning our Wheels in the Orbit of Ego

Update: I'm going to try to get Chris to write his thoughts on this, as well, because I'm not the only mouthpiece for GreyZelda - he's got his own ideas and some differ greatly with mine. I'll see if I can encourage him. He's the writer in the family after all. RZ

The Chicago theatre scene is alive with hundreds of theatres lifting their voices in inspiration, but are we really be heard? Or are the voices getting lost in the noise?

So many start-up companies ... our theatre company started up in the same way ... Chris and I had a vision we shared. He got me, I got him, so we thought, "Hey! Let's start a theatre company because we feel we can do what we do better ourselves then with another group of people who will argue with our vision, therefore our ideas would be sacrificed to another's lesser idea. We work hard and we know we push ourselves hard. " We've had people join us as members who work with us show by show and we're slowly growing, but we share a lot of our collaborators with other theatre companies our size who do similar work as us. Chris and I double our work load because we can't seem to find collaborators who are as passionate as we are at making GreyZelda a successful creation and who only want to focus on our theatre company. I think a lot of our peers have the same problem.

I believe that there are other theatre companies around our size that share the same vision, but we refuse to start a dialogue. I feel the fear just sitting here typing. I want to do it my way. I don't know if I'll like your way. Creativity is such a fragile egg. By starting a dialogue, I'm going to have to speak with someone who might disagree with me. That's scary to an artist. We want to create our warm caves of creative growth. But there are so many caves out there right now and in each of those caves are a handful of collaborators thinking that they know how to do it better than me and maybe they do, maybe they don't. As the Desiderata states there are always those lesser and greater than me. Why do I gag myself from opening myself up to a new possibility? To something bigger and greater than me and mine.

What I'd really like is to be able to have our company absorb with other companies and we could become a SUPER COMPANY. I'm currently working for a company who did just that. I'm talking about my day-job here. They wanted to become bigger so they purchased smaller staffing companies. The company I initially started working for in January has now become something new and all of a sudden, we have new employees and more business opportunities. The company I'm working for now is looking to purchase more small staffing companies in the Chicago market to become bigger and better. Being on the non-profit circuit and dealing with creative egos makes that idea a little tricky. I've started tentative conversations with other theatre companies about this very thing, but it always comes back to the egos and how we can't quite give our initial vision up nor are we willing to compromise. There's a fear. Everyone wants to be in charge. So, we just keep trudging along, competing with each other, and mourning the fact that our audiences aren't bigger, the critics aren't coming, the money's too tight, blah blah blah. We want to build a tribe but have a hard time inviting others or approaching others to see if they'd like us to offer our talents up. Everyone wants to be in the driver's seat.

If we morphed together, like The Blob, say .... who knows what we could accomplish?

But, like weeds, new, teeny-tiny theatre companies keep cropping up in Chicago's fertile creative grounds ... I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I speak to a lot of peers in the storefront theatre world of Chicago and I think .... we all want the same thing .... why don't we just try working together and pooling our resources like most normal businesses? Why do we all continue to isolate ourselves from each other?

I'd welcome any thoughts on this, blogging friends.



Anonymous said...

Well, asking this question can be a brave thing. i think that is what you are attempting...but lets look at something in your post...

"therefore our ideas would be sacrificed to another's lesser idea."

I'm not trying to be critical or damning...but isn't it that anyone else's ideas are almost always lesser ideas when compared to our own? (Whomever "we" are?)

Even if we respect or admire another's work when we are in the role of spectator, are willing to spend time and resource to aid them in production of a vision when we already have our own?

I think most of us deep down honestly believe that...which makes collaboration feel like competition.

This post puts me in mind of Don's response to Scott Walter's tribes...

Can one super company handle multiple visions? Tall order...

And if we did accomplish this, would the result be what we wanted?

Would our audience really grow?

And are we all really in competition with each other?

Here's an idea - 2 or 3 companys do an evening of one acts...the order is decided randomly. The stage is to be a black box with a standard light plot. All cost is divided evenly...

is this the sort of thing you're talking about?

Bob dv

GreyZelda said...

I was throwing the "lesser idea" out there in a facetious manner because I do believe that there are always those with greater ideas and "lesser" ideas - "lesser" not meaning to devalue others ... just acknowledging that we can all learn from each other if we can put ourselves down to a ground zero.

I think the idea you suggested would certainly be a start to open possible communication, but I'm even suggesting breaking down the standard "company" walls and rebuilding as a new, bigger company with the knowledge already built in from the members that join and help found the group. So, in that way, we would be dissolving the competition.

Yeah, so that's exactly what I wonder ... can one super company handle multiple visions? I think with enough initial ground rules and sense of adventure it could happen, but ... you get the whole "I'm holding the conch!!!" thing ... and we know what happens according to William Golding.

There are a lot of sub-ideas I've had as well ... creating an Umbrella company with 2 or 3 different companies under it ... 1 company does 1 show and when they're not doing their show they aid the other company with their show ... going in on a co-production or doing an entire season based around that teamwork ... and then the Ubergroup idea which always gets the biggest questionable look from folks because people don't want to lay down their arms just yet without trying the other company's people on for size.

It comes down to trust, too, I think, not just competition and ego.

It's exciting for me to think about though because I know GreyZelda runs into the same walls that so many other groups run into.

GreyZelda said...

I went back to check on a blog Don Hall wrote a couple of days ago in response to another person saying that he wanted to start a theatre company ... there's been a lot of discussion about theatre tribes and Joe left the following comment which I think is dead on to what I'm trying to get across:

"Forming a tribal structure doesn't suddenly confer equal rights on everyone. Historically, whether it be American Indian tribes or Celtic clans, people fulfilled roles according to their ability.

Certainly the tribe took responsibility for making sure people were well trained. But if you are injured and lack the ability to defend the tribe, you aren't going to be taken along to engage in battle.

People judged as especially skilled by the group were chosen as clan chief, war leader, shaman or what have you. In some cases who got a chance to enter these roles were more regimented than in others.

Rarely did people get to rotate into the jobs or get them despite being a bumbling fool because they tried hard.

These are things you need to recognize about this structure if you are going to join a tribe. If the structure doesn't share some of the basic elements of being a tribe, then it should be called something else.

Agreeing to work the box office to get your foot in the door is one thing. Thinking that hard work in the box office is going to make up for the fact that you don't bring anything to the stage is foolish.

At the same time I think the tribe has the responsibility to clarify the role of each member as they enter the tribe. Some people are being admitted as actors who help out with the box office and distributing posters. Others are being admitted as box office people who work in the box office."

Chris and I had a lot of discussions about this blog ... what I love about us is we don't agree on everything so he called me to task on certain statements. When I read Joe's comment on Don's blog, it really summed up what our final discussions led to today.

Michael Brownlee said...

Great post. As a member of one such company, Speaking Ring, I can tell you that we've had this discussion amongst ourselves many times. But I agree, that it's fear that keeps us from doing anything about it. I would be very interested in starting a discussion about this. Because, in the end, whether or not we go about in the same manner, we're all here for the same reason.

Paul Rekk said...

As the founder of an in utero company which is adding to this situation, I'm on your page with the ego-driven fears that often stifle potential working relationships, but I think the idea of a super company is putting the cart ahead of the horse (or some such metaphor that I'm probably misusing).

If the primary problem is caused by a lack of communication which stifles collaboration, why don't we start by opening up those lines? There are groups of companies in the city that have very close working relationships because they have close personal relationships. Which relationship came from which is irrelevant -- it seems that the solution is as simple (yeah, right) as swallowing our egos and trying to work and play together. If that results in two companies permanently pooling their resources because of how well they work together, great! If not, at least new relationships have been made.

And hell, to lead by example, I've had a project long in my head that would be a perfect collaborative effort. I would like to take a broadly known work (I think Romeo and Juliet would work brilliantly) and play it in repertory with itself with an identical cast on a standard set but with two directors, each working completely blindly of the other production. The purpose? To provide an audience with a solid display of the nebulous effect of the director.

Like I said, just a thought, but Per Diem's game and as a new company, we would love nothing more than to be continually creating new working (and personal) relationships. Chicago theatre (and beyond) has an amazing web already in place, but every new thread brings us all a little closer.

GreyZelda said...

I think the next step, for anyone who may be interested, is to get a meeting together where we can start opening up the lines of communication about something like this and just start brainstorming.

So ... keep your eyes peeled for an announcement and feel free to contact me via email at


Dave said...

i think a cool sort of experiment might be to get five or six companies together, give each one of them the exact same script, let everybody use the same movable, undecorated set pieces, and show them all back to back in a black box theater. give each company absolutely free reign. obviously, the script would have to be short. maybe it would be a scene from a well-known play.


GreyZelda said...

Dave -

That's a great idea and similar to something that's been swirling around in my noggin .... I'm excited to hear about all the possibilities we could consider ... meeting announcment coming soon!!! (Or, if anyone else wants to call a meeting, feel free ... just let me know the time and the place.)