INQUIRE: Experts Talk Collaboration
We asked a number of arts + marketing leaders to share their insights + perspectives on the art of collaboration. These experts agree; collaboration is at the heart of every project, program, and conversation and is crucial to creative and business success!
Norman Armour, Artistic & Executive Director, PuSh Festival
Since graduating from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts in 1986, Norman has collaborated on more than 100 projects for the stage and other media. In 2003, he co-founded the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and has been its Artistic and Executive Director since 2006. An annual, three-week, mid-winter festival, PuSh engages Vancouver audiences and artists with adventurous contemporary performance, while promoting cultural exchange and development. Through creative residencies, commissions and industry-focused initiatives, PuSh also looks to play a larger role in the evolution of new aesthetics and creative communities—in Canada and abroad.
John McCall, Event Manager, Jam Theatricals
John oversees both event/market management and talent buying at the Chicago-based entertainment company Jam Theatricals. After graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in Philosophy John began his career as a Company Manager for NAMCO and Troika Entertainment on road shows like Chicago The Musical, Smokey Joe’s Café and The Gathering. John then moved to Chicago where he began working at The Chicago Theater as the House Production Manager. After eight years in that role, he left to freelance as a Production Manager and Technical Director for concert, cultural and industrial events, working for such companies as Live Nation, The Black Orchid Night Club, AEG, and Jam Theatricals/Productions, with whom he eventually took on his current full time role.
Erin Mussolum, Project Manager, TELUS STORYHIVE
Erin has worked in film, television, and digital media for close to 20 years and in a variety of roles including production, communications, and public relations. Erin ran her own documentary production company for 10 years, pitching and selling content to national and international broadcasters and has been an active story producer and development producer for many of the top television and radio companies in Vancouver. For the last 10 years, she has given her eyes and ears to the Leo Awards as one of their jury members, and sits on the board at The Cinematheque in Vancouver. In her role as Project Manager with TELUS STORYHIVE, Erin plans and manages multiple editions, speaks publicly about the exciting and innovative program, and is thrilled to work with talented and imaginative content creators in BC and Alberta.
Tavish Crowe, Musician and Songwriter (pictured in header)
Tavish is an accomplished musician from North Vancouver, Grammy-nominated for his co-writing on the pop hit Call Me Maybe. He played in bands throughout high school with his brother, during which time met Josh Ramsay from Marianas Trench and got involved with Vancouver’s 604 Records. Tavish met Carly Rae Jepsen soon after graduating high school and played a gig the next day. Seven years later, he travels the world in Carly’s band and writes music full time.
1) How do you personally define collaboration?
Tavish: Working with another person or group to create something greater or different than it’s individual contributors otherwise would.
John: Giving all stakeholders on a particular project ownership in that project and a role in achieving success from each individual’s perspective.
Erin: I personally define collaboration as the sharing of ideas, passions, viewpoints, and new ways of doing things with the outcome of collectively getting excited and motivated to put a plan in place.
Norman: It’s when the result is something that causes a fundamental shift in the thinking of the collaborators.
2) How does collaboration amplify your work?
John: Our work here at Jam Theatricals, as with any promoter, demands that all aspects of a show be understood and analyzed throughout the booking and promotion process. We have various people on our team to help bring both analytics and fresh perspectives to the table. Before a show is booked we need to fully understand all production requirements, the market’s reception to a particular product, and the economics of pricing tickets appropriately based on research. After a show is booked we work with various parties to promote that show and make it a success. Creating a profitable and successful event is the definition of the collaborative process.
Norman: At PuSh, our curation, communications and identity is very much wrapped in notions of collaboration, generosity, and resource-sharing. Within the organization, ideation and problem solving are seen as a team sport. And with respect to our organizational counterparts and peers, it’s our modus operandi and underlies virtually every project and conversation we undertake.
Erin: Collaboration is at the heart of STORYHIVE. The platform and overall program encourages content creators to connect with each other, share ideas, build their production teams and working relationships and, in the end, make cool content. It also encourages the greater community to come together and share their opinions on what projects they would like to see funded and made through our STORYHIVE program. Our actual STORYHIVE production team also cannot be successful unless we collaborate together, as all of our roles intersect.
Tavish: In a team project, you play your strengths and admit your weaknesses. I have been writing a lot with Ryan Stewart and he is great at honing in on the strong points of an idea and presenting them in the best way. Ryan will hear something that sets up a good hook to be even stronger, something I wouldn’t have thought to do alone.
Collaboration also hugely amplifies my work during the brainstorming process. When sitting alone and writing a song, you have to be your own critic. When writing with someone else, you can read their face and get instant feedback. And, of course, when you’re just stumped on ideas, your collaborator might have one.
3) What has been one of your or your organization’s most successful collaborations, and why?
Norman: For me as a producer and director, it is without question a production titled Soulless by Vancouver playwright Aaron Bushkowsky (2004, Rumble Productions). The sheer range of personalities, artistic practices and perspectives that came to bear on a very challenging new script resulted in an extraordinary work of theatre and new writing.
Erin: A big part of why STORYHIVE is so effective is arming our content creators with the tools and skills they need in order to be successful. Almost every edition that we run includes a partnership with the amazing and hard-working folks at the National Screen Institute (NSI). Through this collaboration we work together to tailor workshops that are beneficial to our grantees with notable speakers and educational elements, create customized career training initiatives to help set a career trajectory for our filmmakers, and work together to research film industry mentors to work alongside our granted projects, supporting them throughout all stages of production. It has been such a fruitful and collaborative process with benefits affecting so many content creators and their mentors.
Tavish: Writing with my good friend Carly Rae Jepsen has been the most successful collaboration. I’m not measuring that success based on airplay or online streams, more in a self-discovery sense. I hadn’t done a ton of collaborating until we started jamming in her little Kitsilano apartment or on tour. She is the most prolific writer and person you could ever tackle a song with, but at the same time, she is so incredibly supportive and open-minded. Carly really helped me discover my strengths and encourage my creative side. That is still the case and continues to motivate me.
John: My personal most memorable collaborative experience was working with Cirque De Soleil staff while I was the house production manager at the Chicago Theatre. Cirque produced a show with Madison Square Garden called Banana Spiel, which, while not successful commercially, afforded me the opportunity to work with their staff on a massive 6-month project from its inception to final debut in New York City. My job was to help facilitate the producer’s vision alongside the producer’s staff and Chicago Theatre team. While my focus was on production, I was able to see not only the creative process at work, but the marketing and overall plan to promote and sell the show.
4) Do you have any advice for identifying or connecting with the right collaborators?
John: I believe that if you do good work, people of the same nature will gravitate towards you. Once you find people that work like you do, collaboration will come naturally.
Norman: Go with your gut. Who inspires you? Who are you drawn to? Truly believing in someone’s vision and practice (and sense of humour!) will help get you through the inevitable rough patches.
Tavish: When it comes to finding the right collaborator, look for someone you can be brave with. Some people are more prepared to offer ideas to a stranger then someone they are close with. Work in a capacity where you can be brave.
Erin: Lots of coffees. No but really! It’s important to research the organization or partnership to see if your passions align, understand what you each can contribute to make a solid team dynamic, and assess the longevity of the project. You also have to consider work styles and whether they are compatible with you and your team. It’s really like any relationship – if it doesn’t feel right and you’re not aligned, then it might be better to seek other opportunities. Choosing not to collaborate with the wrong partner can be one of your best decisions.
5) How do you make the most out of a collaborative opportunity/relationship? Please list three ways.
Tavish: I make the most out of a collaborative opportunity by being as supportive as I can. I want to encourage someone else to offer all their ideas. If they are comfortable speaking up, a song usually gets legs. I also make sure the other person is comfortable critiquing my ideas. It sets the bar and gives you something to beat. The final thing I do to make the most out of a collaborative opportunity, is to turn the good ones into collaborative relationships. Schedule a time to do it again!
John: Honesty, dedication, strategic vision. I think all three are required to make successful and collaborative progress.
Erin: Communication is key. I like meetings – call me crazy – but if meetings are done properly, they should leave you passionate and motivated to take the next steps to ensure your project’s success and refuel any tired hearts or minds.
Transparency is at the heart of collaboration. If you can’t say what you feel or think, then it’s not collaborative. Sometimes you need to disagree and find solutions that everyone will agree upon – or have the strength to kill the idea if you aren’t aligned.
Be Fun! Have fun collaborating. It’s the best part of a project. It’s the ideation stage where anything goes. You can throw anything against the wall and see if it sticks and sometimes the best projects come out of ideas within the collaboration of a main idea, which is so exciting. That collective “YES” is what is so awesome!
Norman: 1) Have a conscience. Remember what you conceded, or gave. 2) Always assume an instance of miscommunication is yours. 3) Always think of what more each collaborator could do, not less.
6) If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and on what?
Erin: My wheels are turning on this question – it’s such an exciting one! The branded content / ad space is very intriguing to me personally so it would be such a creative adventure to align with a huge international brand like Apple or Sony to foster opportunities for content creators. I would be so stoked to see what type of projects would come out of this type of creative collaboration. Hey Apple – call me!
Tavish: If I could collaborate with anyone in the world it would be Don Henley. I would love to hear about his experiences in music, travel and life. It would be such a blast to try and write a song with him. His lyrics and melodies are timeless.
Norman: Oh, there are many. But one that comes to mind…The incoming musical director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Maestro Otto Tausk. We’re looking to collaborate on a Vancouver presentation of an Australian/Indonesian film and score for gamelan and western instrumentation.
John: This one is a bit hard for me to answer in terms of my organization. We work with many types of acts and I would be hard-pressed to focus on just one person or project.