Building a Community of Artists
An interview with entrepreneurial theater maker Jeremy Williams on forging artistic collaborations.
Jeremy Williams (© Alex Miles Younger)
Young actors are told that a key to becoming established is to take control of their careers. I've already talked about the need to self-market and network. Now I turn to something equally important: forging creative collaborations. A natural to provide perspective on this is Jeremy Williams, a director/choreographer (actor, writer, dancer, consultant...) whose versatile talents and diverse interests underscore the spirit and unity of artistic partnerships. Jeremy's passion to create original work and re-envision the classics moved him to form Convergences Theatre Collective, a supportive group of theatre artists and teachers from around the U.S., become resident director/choreographer for Phoenix Theatre Ensemble's (PTE) Phoenix for the Family Series, and serve as Community Manager for the Audience Engagement Platform (soon to be GoSeeDo.org), where his Web Reading Series is using technology to open the creative process to a larger audience.
Next up on Jeremy's horizon is a dizzying array of new and re-imagined works -- all requiring the careful orchestration of numerous artistic partners. These include Refracting Miss Julie, a Strindberg classic, Rumplestiltskin, a new children's musical by Kathy Menino, and a new play reading online by Mark Snyder.
BCG: Jeremy, is creating work a necessity to build a career in theater?
JW: Creating your own work is wonderful, but there are a lot of other important roles that can help to forge a career. Being an entrepreneurial theater maker is one of them. Theater makers (i.e., directors, producers, impresarios) are out there creating the partnerships that are the foundation of successful theater. And those who excel at this are the ones who are constantly active in theater work. They are creating their own opportunities; and doing that is a necessity to sustain a career.
BCG: How have you found the right, trusted partners?
JW: I've been creating new work for over ten years. With Refracting Miss Julie, in particular, it's been the right people and the right material in the right room. It's not always like that. But when you look at "success stories" in our field, it's not about a singular person; it's about a team. A lead creative may get the primary accolades, but that person is always surrounded by an amazing team: even a solo show can't get staged on its own. As someone who creates new work, I feel a big responsibility to always be cultivating community: supporting the work of others, connecting people, and asking and doing favors.
BCG: What drives you most in selecting or creating a theatrical work?
JW: That varies. I'm intrigued by projects that present a challenge, stay in my mind and set a "high bar" for everyone on the team. I'm not drawn to work that's already spelled out and set already. I love being a director, but I never set out to be one. I love bodies and how they move in space -- whether it's a dance or staging a play. So long as I'm story-telling with bodies, I'm thrilled; and if I get to make a dance, I'm the happiest guy in the world.
BCG: How do you move projects into forums where the work gains recognition?
JW: I tend to start small, producing work and events frequently. They include doing studio showings of work-in-process, open training, staged readings, etc. These less formal but more frequent experiences can have a HUGE impact on a project's chance of gaining recognition. You have to put work out there to create opportunities to get new opportunities.
BCG: As a teacher, how would you advise students in a post-BFA/MFA class to go about building creative collaborations?
JW: Don't wait for an invitation; make it happen yourself! Know what you want to do and share your ideas; it will lead you to like-minded artists. Ask a director you want to work with to consider your idea for staging a play - or to work with you to develop a piece. Help a playwright "hear" a new draft; gather actor-friends and hold a reading. Be bold. Make a plan and follow through.
Jeremy reaffirms that, at the end of the day, it all goes back to finding a wonderful support network of people who believe in you and your vision! I'm off on a new adventure abroad where I expect to meet some wonderful new people who will open up my "community" even more. Catch you back here in a month!
For more on Jeremy's work, click here.