- A History of Collective Creation and Collective Creation in Contemporary Performance ed. by Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva and Scott Proudfit
Epic serves as an apt description of Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva and Scott Proudfit’s double collection of scholarship on collective creation. Genealogies about epic dramaturgy via Piscator and Brecht indeed get discussed in many chapters, but really it is the wide sweep of topics and transnational approaches in exploring the long story of collective creation in the twentieth century that make these volumes epic. Syssoyeva and Proudfit’s big project provides an effective overview of the state of scholarship on collective creation. The strengths of the books include documentation of many different types of collaborative processes and serious provocations to categories for conceptualizing work patterns in theatre rehearsal rooms.
The first volume in the pair, A History of Collective Creation, concentrates on early twentieth-century precedents in Russia at the Moscow Art Theatre, in Poland with Reduta, and in France through Copeau’s methods before opening into studies of “collective creation’s second wave” between 1945 and 1985. The examples in the postwar period range from the expected Living Theatre, Theatre du Soleil, and San Francisco Mime Troupe to the less frequently covered Theatre du Nouveau Monde and Grand Cirque Ordinaire in Quebec, the partnership of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, early Chicano theatre, Lilith: A Women’s Theatre, and the Family Circus Theatre of Portland, Oregon.
Driven by Syssoyeva’s revisionary focus on Meyerhold and Stanislavsky, plus her sophisticated inclusion of dance, improvisation, and public pageants in the framing historiography, this first set of scholarship goes deep and detailed. Atillio Favorini’s analysis in his chapter, “Collective Creation in Documentary [End Page 336] Theatre,” effectively bridges the time periods and geographies traversed in the first volume. Proudfit’s study, “Shared Space and Shared Pages: Collective Creation for Edward Albee and the Playwrights of the Open Theatre,” showcases a smart method: marrying a history of ideas with analysis based on a materialist consideration of performance venues. Overall, this volume forms a powerful foundation that on its own feels like a necessary contribution to and key resource for the field of theatre history.
Collective Creation in Contemporary Performance serves as a companion to the first volume while also pursuing its own project of figuring out “what happened to collective creation after the 1970s” (Contemporary 13). Whereas the first volume’s studies feel densely networked in their concern to rehistoricize collective creation, the selections in the second volume are more like snapshots of working methods and pedagogy, reflecting the contemporary proliferation of compositional approaches. The scholarly methods employ more introductory overviews of a region or approach, artist self-analysis, and participant-observer studies. The effect is saved from feeling scattered by the sequence of informally paired chapters that produces interludes of focus on contemporary British theatre, Eugenio Barba and Jerzy Grotowski, the pedagogy of LeCoq training and the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, and contemporary US collective creation via the SITI Company and the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma.
Naming a “third wave” of collective creation—launched by the founding of several companies between 1976 and 1983, punctuated by the death of Julian Beck in 1985, and ultimately achieving critical mass in the 1990s—doesn’t so much delimit the second volume’s exclusive focus as it allows for the rethinking of continuities in practice and contestations of definitions, especially in relation to ideology, leadership, and the use of text. Such shifts mark the interaction between this project and the existing scholarship on collective creation and devising, like that by Mark Weinberg, Dierdre Heddon and Jane Milling, and Bruce Barton. The most valuable part of volume 2 is its preface, “From Margin to Center: Collective Creation and Devising at the Turn of the Millennium (A View from the United States).” The argument of the second volume about the still visible role of politics in collective aesthetics develops here with examples from the Occupy movement...