To Collaborate or not to Collaborate

Every set of granting guidelines that come across my desk these days speaks about partnerships. Every. Single. One. So, what’s a NFP theatre producer to do? Find some people, work with them, and then wax eloquent to our public funders about how beneficial the relationship was. But what if it wasn’t?

These collaborations can take many different forms from co-productions to multi-disciplinary workshops and so on. But are all collaborations equal? Just like any successful marriage you really need to weigh the benefits with the problems that you are going to encounter and find the scales tipped in your favour.  Yes, you are the Cold-hearted Pragmatist.

Money is tight but nothing is worth working with another organization or artist that doesn’t seem interested in helping you achieve your artistic goal. There must be mutual benefit here beyond the financial. In Kingston, we work with a lot of non-professional arts groups (‘cause otherwise, in this town, we’d be working with nobody!), and I am very upfront about my long term goal to build a network of paid opportunities for professional artists in Kingston. Yes I have an agenda. One that I feel is important for Theatre and for Kingston. You have your own agenda (cross-pollinating with my audience base, accessing my business partners, borrowing my car) and the more you are forthcoming about it, the stronger the relationship will be. Because honesty is really attractive in a partner. Hot, in fact. Even if the truth is…well…kind of ugly.

The other big partner qualifier I borrow from Jill Keiley at the NAC:  “No Assholes”. There are backstabbers in this town and I don’t work with ‘em. There are rehearsal room yellers in this town and I don’t work with ‘em. No matter what the benefit might be to TK, there’s no room for assholes in this business and that is a cardinal rule for collaboration. You gotta like the person that you’re working with – you may not agree with them (ideally, you don’t!) and you probably have different agendas, but, at the end of the day, they have to turn you on.  Otherwise, the two of you will make bad art together. And there’s already enough of that out there.

So, when you’ve found a group that you want to partner with – cheer! There are a million different permutations that this union can take, so…get it in writing. In the arts world, we suffer a lot from, well, artsy-ness. There is nothing wrong with getting together to discuss potential potholes in the relationship ahead, jotting down the expectations of each person or group and signing it. It doesn’t need to be a big legal document, just a physical point of reference that everyone can use if things start to get bumpy. And they will. Marriages are like that. Now, go make some beautiful babies.

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