Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Welcome Back, Tom Loughlin!

After several months of silence that coincided with a stint as interim Dean at SUNY - Fredonia, Tom Loughlin quietly stole back into the theatrosphere on the Fourth of July without my noticing. Welcome back! As Tom notes, he and I are "generational contemporaries faced with many of the same issues and problems in our careers." For instance, his July 18th post could have been taken from my own journal (or from this blog):

It leaves me wondering where does real change begin? This is a very critical question for me, because as someone engaged in public education, it seem I really need to re-think in some manner how I will continue to approach the classroom. I like writing, to be sure, and I am in some ways glad to get back to this blog. But I cannot hold any illusions that writing will be a catalyst for change. it helps me clarify thought, but thought must be put into action. I need to figure out, and quickly, what form that action will take.

Where does real change begin? I've been reading a book lately called Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work, which looks at groups of artists (e.g., the Impressionist painters; C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the Inklings; John Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Alan Tate and the Fugitive poets, and so forth) who have inspired each other through constant interaction. In some ways, I had often hoped that the theatrosphere could serve such a function, but the jury is out on that. I agree with Tom that writing alone is not a catalyst for change, but I would also argue that action alone isn't either. There is a great deal of action going on in the country, but unless somebody shines a light on it, it will tend to go unnoticed. Harold Clurman directed, yes, but he also wrote about the Group Theatre and its ideals; Brecht wrote plays, yes, and he directed, but he also wrote his ideas about how theatre ought to be and this added to his renown; same with Richard Foreman; would Look Back in Anger have launched a revolution without Kenneth Tynan's review?

Change happens, it seems to me, when there is a strong circulation between thought and action, and when there is a community of artists who push each other to go further than they expected. In this respect, the hyper-individualism of our current theatre scene seems to work against change. In many ways, the "collaborative circles" discussed by Michael Farrell resemble in many ways Daniel Quinn's "occupational tribes" that I have been discussing of late. The question in my mind is: is it possible to faciltate the formation of such "collaborative circles," such "tribes"?


Brian Santana said...

Hi Scott,

Another book that might interest you is Diana Gyler's The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community (2007)

I read it earlier this spring after viewing an excellent PBS documentary entitled, The Question of God, which examined and compared the lives and writings of C.S. Lewis and Freud. The Inklings, which I previously knew very little about, were featured prominently in the documentary and caught my interest.

Paul Rekk said...

I'll certainly have to pick up a copy of Collaborative Circles and read more, but it sounds as if it's a better definition of the ideas I had been trying to work out under the tentative heading of "tribalism".

I had some hesitation (and many had much more than that, it would have seemed) at some of the necessary structure of the tribe. If I'm jumping to the right conclusions, Farrell's subjects are closer to the vein of my ideal.

The facilitation question is a biggy, though (and one that I could really use an answer to in my current position). Aside from the common occurrence of college or otherwise close friends deciding to work together, it seems that the group can only be spawned from the individual. As artists we enjoy our blogosphere and the discussions, arguments, and theoretics that take place here, but we are inspired by creative acts.

How does one get others to riff off of ideas and play hot potato with artistic impulse? I'm starting to imagine it's by creating work as an (but not exclusive to the) individual and hoping like hell that others can still see the immense value in creative relationships enough to come play along.

Scott Walters said...

I guess when I think about facilitation, it isn't about spawning collaborative circles so much as supporting them once they start to come together. What is it about colleges, for instance, that often leads to such groupings? The tendency is to take a real laissez faire, almost mystical, attitude toward the development of talent and new ideas, but I'm not certain that it has to be that way. Other disciplines have think tanks, for instance. And where is the theatrical version of writer's colonies and retreats? This all intersects with some of the other writings about class, and how wealth allows certain people to have these experiences, while less well off artists struggle with day jobs and exhaustion. It just seems counter-productive to me.

Paul Rekk said...

Scott, I think this is where we differ on the matter. The mystical attitude needn't be applied to talent or new ideas, but the collaborative circle idea (again, without having read it) seemed to be very much also based on close personal relationships -- for which colleges are very fertile. This is a somewhat mystical endeavor, and no amount of workshops are going to create the sort of relationships that result in a grouping of this sort if it just ain't there.

I think this is part of the reason why I'm more in tune with the collaborative circle idea. It seems less commercially or agenda-driven and more instinctual and free-form. I have to say I'm not terribly concerned with the economic side of these discussions; do what I gotta do to get by and always hope for better, of course, but the sort of creative hotbed that emanates from these hardscrabble groups could never be achieved by think tanks.