The World Wide Lab has come together each year with a specific goal in mind.
In 2011, we gathered at the Watermill Center to discuss what we wanted to be as a group and how we could find a way to collaborate on new work together. The decision we reached was simply to begin: we would gather in New York the following year and start working together with an ensemble of actors.
In 2012 we did just that. Multiple directors worked together and began the process of creating new collaborative works with the participation of an ensemble of actors and a design team. The resulting collection of 10-minute pieces was staged for an invite-only audience at the Irondale Center. We were very successful in learning to collaborate among each other, and the experience drew us much closer together.
Our goal for 2013 was to take this one step further. Could we create larger pieces and present them within an organized framework for a paying audience? Was our experiment capable of going to the next stage? Could our unique process be more than a laboratory for us to explore techniques among ourselves, but also a way to create new work that had value of its own?
We are in the middle of that process, and it’s been a significant challenge. It’s one that we’re still discovering if we’re capable of achieving.
Producing work is a far different thing than experimenting in a laboratory. And the expectations of the 12 directors have not been the same. Some of us have had to regularly produce our own shows in order to work, often with little to no funding, and those directors understood better what we were in for. Others have not, and have no inclination for or experience with producing. Some of us hit the ground running this year with a ticking clock and a game plan to create work. Others are taking a more developmental route and may not have their pieces completed until they happen in front of a live audience.
And this has all been very, very hard. We seem to be having a lot of fun in rehearsal, but problems with communication, conflicts with scheduling, exhausting production meetings, different expectations of how this production is going to happen, and different degrees of taking responsibility for the hard producing work has led to a lot of tension this year. This was bound to happen. We’re no longer playing anymore – we’re making.
This process could bring us together in the end. We have all given so much time and brought so many personal resources to the World Wide Lab these past three years because we feel lonely in a way as directors and we want a collective of compatriots with whom we can commiserate and speak openly about the challenges of what we do. And each of us has a certain skill set when it comes to production that the others can learn from. Some of us are quick processors and decision makers who can improvise their way out of a problem. Some of us are methodical and meticulous planners who can see the big picture before we begin. Others keep focused solely on the art and somehow, everything else falls into place.
The big problem is that a multiplicity of voices – our greatest potential strength as an artist collective – is a problem once you get into production. You need a solid producing team that agrees on a plan and executes it. Without having to take 12 directors’ input into consideration. Discussion isn’t something that you can spend much time doing when you’re producing. But we’re producing this together and, at least this year, we have no other way of working.
We will see where this takes us. I’m not sure how much of a risk everyone realized we were taking by moving to this next stage. I know I didn’t realize how risky it was until we started working this month. But great art always comes out of great risks. If the work we produce – two programs of thematically-linked director collaborations – turns out to be better than the sum of its parts, then we will have achieved something wonderful and will figure out how to take it even further next year. If not, if the pressure of production keeps us from furthering our artistic development and the two evenings we create don’t resonate with an audience the way we hope they do, we will need to regroup and figure out how to continue and to nurture what it is that brought us together to begin with.
One week from now is closing night. By then we’ll have come through the other side. Whether we make it through intact remains to be seen. But that’s the other side of risk – you have to open yourself up to the possibility of spectacular failure in order to achieve something spectacular.
— Jay Stern, New York