Have you heard met the ghosts of the Superstition Mountains? I hear they roam the land of Apache Junction now. Maybe you'll see one some day.
For the last 13 weeks, I have been working on a collaborative scale with my friends and creative partners in crime in Dr. Stephani Etheridge-Woodson's Projects/Community-based Theatre class at Arizona State University (ASU). Our goal this semester was to learn how to be ethical community partners as artists who are choosing to collaborate with a specific community. How do we produce a work of art that is mutually beneficial to both partners? How do we tell the stories of the land with respect? How do we as artists honor the voices, assets, and desires of the community we enter?
The above image is what the ideal creative process looks like to me. On the left is my brain - angular, avant-garde (aesthetically), and (ideally) built upon the foundation of love, compassion, and a listening ear. On the right is my partner. Their flame is their spirit, the roots - their history, and the flowing staccato lines of motion - their rhythm and speech. In the middle is where we meet. Out elements combine and interact to form a new product that is a blend of both partners' assets, skill sets, and knowledge. As this new product is being built, I (as a partner) will continue to practice empathy and a listening ear - represented by the nets flying above that attempt to catch the stray thoughts and ideas from my partner that seems to have shifted off course. This I will do for my partner and I can only hope they do the same.
THE PROJECT: POSITIVELY GHOSTLY
On April 15, 2018, we staged a public performance in Flat Iron Park, telling the ghost stories we had gathered from various residents of Apache Junction (AJ). The experience was later accumulated and shared at a final presentation for all the partners involved in this partnership between ASU and AJ.
I will never forget the feeling I had when I looked at the elated faces of our fellow partners as we performed a snippet of one of our stories in the formal meeting room in Memorial Union.
To be honest, I was fearful of how our theatre class would be received by the crowd. We were casually dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, had no powerpoint presentation to present, no numerical statistics, nor any sort of in depth background to our process. We just had our creativity and performance skills to offer.
Turns out, that was more than enough.
The thanks and gratefulness we received from each person after the performance meant the world to me. To be recognized as legitimate scholars and artists in the field. To have the lead facilitator acknowledge theatrical performance as a form is research and presentation of data. To have a moment of magic in the room through language, music, and movement. It was an absolutely meaningful experience to give and share with the leaders of AJ, ASU faculty, and out fellow graduate students in the school.
However, it was not all fun and games. Creative group work is difficult and requires much patience, understanding, and compassion.
Sometimes communication felt like this. One thick dark wall between us as we attempted to express our ideas and needs to each other. There was a lot of mouth - talking and sharing; a lot of ear - hearing, absorbing but not necessary listening; and a lot of miscommunication. Sometimes it felt like we were trying to break down a wall between us - the wall that somehow seemed to reword and reconstruct every thought, need, or desire before it reached the other group member. It was the wall that created the difference between what we intended to say, and how the words were received in reality. Sometimes that wall was built through emotion, other times stress or pressure. At times, it appeared simply because we were missing a voice in the group during a discussion. Needless to say, this process was frustrating at times but it did open my eyes to the importance of deliberate ensemble building strategies, a listening ear (or ears), providing a space and time for confusion and clarification, and last but definitely not least, compassion - for myself and my colleagues.
All in all, I know that I have grown incredibly as a creative collaborator both in the small group I had the opportunity to work with, and in observing the humility and grace of our partners from Apache Junction.
On the left is a giant hand/arm. It is open and accepting. On the right at the schools of thought - ASU. There are many of us. We are all hidden in our scholarly academic buildings poofing out idea clouds and sending them over to AJ. Despite the often enclosed, elite, and privileged nature of graduate studies, the leaders of Apache Junction welcomed us with open arms. In every step of the way, they placed full trust in our (the graduate students) ability to help them gather and analyze information on their home town to produce tangible outcomes for the future growth of the city. The little dots within the arm/hand represent the seeds of information the leaders of AJ picked up and gathered during the final presentation.
I deeply admire their humility and open heart throughout this entire process as a first-year graduate student, as an artist, and an international student from Singapore. As a devised theatre + dance creator and collaborator, I hope to adopt their welcoming attitude toward partnership in my continued artistic practice. I see my work with youth and performers of all age groups as projects involving multiple partners. In order to establish a strong foundation for us to build upon, each member needs to put their best foot forward, create space for honesty, and risk-taking. We need to trust each other in the process as we strive to create a product that most effectively communicates our message, and promotes growth for all parties involved. As a creator, performer, facilitator, and educator I hope to take these lessons of compassion and grace, and implement them in all my creative projects, rehearsal rooms, and classrooms - building spaces of radical inclusivity and advancement for all involved.