Self Producing III: Collaborators
Hiring collaborators is, more than anything else, the variable that will determine if your project is enjoyable to work on or not. I do not ascribe to the hard and fast rule of “do or do not work with your friends”. The bottom line is whether or not your and your friends can work together in a healthy, professional, and supportive way. The best way to determine this when thinking about collaborators is to consider your friends not as your pals but as anyone else. Try to be impartial because it is never a guarantee that you will work better with them just because you are friends.
What to look for in a collaborator
Skills and the ability to fulfill the role are obviously the first things to think about. Experience, education, and training are clear earmarks of this, but you must also be specific about the things you need from them. For example, you are putting on a devised play and looking for performers. This performer has been working professionally for years with directors you recognize and has a degree from a distinguished drama school. But you should ask yourself if they have any background in improv? Have they devised a piece before? Have they done ensemble creation work in the past? When it comes to actors specifically: plan your auditions around the skills you need from your actors. Have an improv game or a group audition so you can see how people work together. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on someone that shows promise even if they don’t have any experience. Everyone needs their first chance at something.
Availability is the next big thing to look for. This is not only being available for tour dates/shows/rehearsal periods. This is also how available they are in general. For example, if they are also in graduate school then you will need to have an honest discussion with them about how much time they can dedicate to this project when also juggling work and graduate school. On your side, remember that people have lives. They need to work (unless you can afford to pay them the big bucks) and have social lives. Don’t expect them to allow your project to take over their lives. However, they should have room in their lives for a project.
Communication is the most understated and important aspect of hiring collaborators. Are they communicative? Do they feel comfortable and confident telling you their needs? Are they good listeners? Do they take part in discussion? Do they ask questions? Can they take critiques or suggestions well? Can they give critiques and suggestions compassionately? Communication is a skill that we are all constantly working on. As long as someone is open to working on being communicative, even if they aren’t perfect immediately, that is a good sign that they will be a good collaborator.
Also, trust your gut! If you have a good feeling about someone, most likely you are right. And even if you go through a project with a negative experience you can learn from that. Take away what you can and try to reflect on yourself as a collaborator as well as the others in the project.
How to be a good collaborator
As much as it is important to attract good collaborators, you need to practice what you preach. As the producer, you need to be the most communicative, the most impartial, the most patient. You need to be the calm in the storm. I cannot stress enough that you need to be an incredible communicator and encourage that from your colleagues. You need to be able to raise uncomfortable issues calmly and without an emotional response. Likewise, you need to be able to take someone having an issue with you or something you’ve done without getting defensive. This creates an atmosphere where collaborators can approach issues with one another early, before they stew on them, and clear the air immediately. Listen to one another, forgive, and try to do better. Be compassionate. You need to lead this practice. Not everyone in the project needs to be best friends, but they do need to be able to work together and be friendly acquaintances.
Things you must communicate clearly and early in the hiring process:
The requirements of the role (for example, if an actor needs to help flyer during the Edinburgh Fringe)
The (realistic) aims of the project
The realities of the work (for example, on tour cast members may need to share a bed in accommodation)
Access needs (yours and your willingness to meet the needs of your collaborators)
Boundaries (yours and your willingness to respect those of your collaborators)
Your aim should always be to become a better collaborator! Remember: you can't control how other people react to a situation, only how you react.
Resource creation: Collaboration Questionnaire
It is excellent practice to create a questionnaire for any prospective collaborators. Create this questionnaire based on the suggestions below, constantly go back to it and add to it, and be sure to fill out the questionnaire for yourself.
Good past working experience and why
Bad past working experience and why
What you bring to the project
What you are looking for from this project
Skills you want to gain