Collaboration

| October 12, 2011 | 4 Comments
I have always been a huge believer in collaboration.  As a young instructor and designer I was very lucky that in my first few years I met someone who took an interest in helping me learn about the winter guard activity. He arranged for other, more experienced individuals, to work with me and my group in various areas of specialty such as rifle choreography, saber choreography and even drill design.  I learned very quickly that it was not only helpful to have others involved, but it also elevated the end result.I read a book last month called The Creative Life by Julia Cameron.  In it she recounts her experiences as a writer and composer over the course of a year, providing insight into the life of a professional and successful artist.  One particular passage jumped out at me:

“As I practiced more humility, my work became far more accessible.  People liked it better, and I liked it better myself.  My ego became less invested in “my” work.  As a result, I found myself able to collaborate.  I discovered that others had ideas that could strengthen my own.  This was a far cry from me as a young writer, who couldn’t bear to have a comma changed.”   -Julia Cameron

My experience has been much the same.  I find collaboration exciting and fulfilling.  It has always been true for me that a preliminary idea becomes elevated through collaboration.  These ideas begin to take on new life, and occasionally new direction, and reach heights I’m quite certain I never would have achieved on my own.

I have been lucky to have collaborated with many generous and talented choreographers and designers in my coaching experience, but collaboration can extend beyond the sphere of coaches.  I have sought the input and collaboration of a wide variety of people with valuable insight and expertise.  One idea I had for a show which required backdrops that needed to change in design three times during the performance, as well as store equipment, came to life after collaborating with a generous and resourceful group of team dads and a wonderfully talented artist mom.  When we were finished we had wooden carts on wheels that stored covered equipment on both sides and provided support for a system of foam boards that folded down mid-show to reveal a new “set” and turned later in the show to reveal yet another scene.  These were expertly designed, beautifully painted and engineered to fit neatly in our equipment trailer for easy transport.  I provided the general idea and they improved upon it immeasurably.

In another instance I designed a show that required my young performers to exhibit a range of emotions including joy, hope, anger and sadness throughout their short, four-minute twenty second story.  They were conveying joy successfully but really struggling with anger and sadness.  This was pointed out to me by a judge at their first performance.  I simply could not figure out how to get them past their fear of looking silly.  I knew I needed help and, in this instance, I reached out to the school’s drama teacher.  He was more than happy to share his expertise and provide some exercises to help them gain both confidence and understanding.  At championships these Regional A performers moved a judge to tears on their adjudication tape – something I’m certain never would have happened had I not been open to the ideas and experience of others.  And in both of these situations I didn’t have to look far for collaborators – there are people all around us with experience, ideas and expertise who are willing to help if you ask them.

I have always viewed my adjudicators as collaborators as well.  When we are blessed with the opportunity to have a well-trained and thoughtful adjudicator view our show it is wonderful to approach the post-contest discussion as a moment of collaboration between an artist/designer and someone who greatly cares for this wonderful visual medium we teach.  If one approaches the table abandoning the feelings of judgement and instead welcoming the opportunity to collaborate, even in a few short minutes, we may discover insight that can help further develop our ideas and further refine our vision.  We know that realistically this cannot happen in every short critique conversation – but when we open the door to approaching this part of our activity as a collaborative opportunity we open up the potential for growth.

So often as young instructors (and even still as experienced coaches) we are full of passion and excitement for our ideas.  We “see” shows in every song we hear on the radio.  We are so moved by this art form and so inspired by design that we spend hours cataloging music ideas, dreaming up costume and flag designs, perfecting our visions and waiting for the opportunity to be in the driver seat.  We become protective of these creative children we have borne.  We love them.  We believe in them.  And just like real children we fiercely defend their honor. Yet we are afraid to ask for input, afraid of collaboration for fear that we might not end up with the exact vision we have been dreaming… afraid of rejection… afraid of compromise.  When someone suggests we might do something differently we become defensive.   We find it difficult to detach ourselves from our creative offspring.  We feel hurt.

But the truth is if we open ourselves to collaboration, if we take a deep breath and trust in the input of others who believe in us, we just may find that our ideas take flight.  It takes a good deal of confidence in ourselves to collaborate – to open our ideas to even gentle criticism.  But in the end it can be so rewarding.  Is it hard sometimes?  Sure!  Can it be stressful… of course… but it’s worth it.

In the end, the ideas are still our own, because as directors or designers, we still have the ability to accept or veto.  But the collaborative process leads us to explore, to get to know our vision from every angle, to see our vision through another’s caring but discerning eye.  It can provide us with an insight that is less emotionally invested and sometimes more objective.  It can help us see shortcomings and turn them into strengths before they manifest as weaknesses.

When we choose our collaborators thoughtfully and carefully, the process often elevates the art.

So I say, let’s not be afraid of collaboration.  Seek opportunities to bounce ideas off of other colorguard educators, talented parents, school staff, adjudicators, even interested performers.  Train yourself to listen without defense, to seek out those who believe in your abilities and to let them help you.  Trust yourself in guiding your visions to reality.  It can be challenging and sometimes scary but it can also become an intensely rewarding part of your experience as a colorguard educator.

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Category: Choreography, Costumes, Design, Drill & Staging, Equipment, Floors & Props, General, Instruction, Professional Development

About the Author (Author Profile)

Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.

Comments (4)

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  1. Terrell says:

    I, for one, am a control freak. I realized, though, that collaborating with others makes my job as a director so much easier. At the credits at the end of a movie the director is always listed first, but right underneath them are hundreds of other names who made the director’s ideas come to life. Collaboration is like the support structure, and without it so many programs are doomed to fail.

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