Collaboration as a way out of the talent vs. hard work trap

Collaboration as a way out of the talent vs. hard work trap

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Collaboration is not a skill that comes easy to me, so why do I direct a company with collaboration at the heart of its mission? I think it is a trope that creative people are headstrong and passionate about their ideas; I am no exception. I find it hard to kill my darlings and let go of things during the creative process. I can be obstinate, I don’t always like to compromise, and I get defensive in the face of confrontation. Off the bat, these characteristics seem to make me a poor candidate for collaboration, so how did I end up here?

It may seem counterintuitive given what is written above, but I think part of what used to drive my isolation during the creative process was insecurity. It is one thing to share a finished product with another person, but to invite someone in at the beginning of creation, to reveal yourself in the vulnerable state of not-knowing, of figuring it out, that can be truly terrifying. I always wanted to hide the missteps, the messy parts of creation, and wait to show off the polished, finished product. I felt confident in creating such a product; I didn’t always feel confident about all the steps along the way.

The idea of confidence in the finished product vs. confidence in the process brings to mind an essay about talent I read in the 9th grade. The thesis was that talent is overrated and that hard work is a better road to success. I wish I remembered the name of the essay so I could quote it properly here, but I don’t, and when I google “talent essay,” there are simply too many hits to sift through. Anyway, I imagine it’s an essay that most people in a liberal, capitalist society have had to read in one form or another. I think this dichotomy, of those who are gifted vs. those who work hard, can produce insecurity in the process of creation.

Growing up, I never considered myself incredibly talented, but I was always a hard worker. I always believed that if I put enough time into anything, I could make it good. Thinking about my worth as an artist in this way put me in a position of constantly trying to curate peoples’ perceptions of me. It made me insecure about the process because I measured my worth in hours spent. But, after years and years of working for the outcome, of pitting myself against task and time, I hit a wall. I began to feel like I wasn’t growing anymore. The problem in the dichotomy of talent vs. hard work is that it ignores the quirks of individuality. Both categories force you to compare yourself to others. Sure, comparison is necessary in any field, but it is also important to celebrate individuality.

Individuals are at the heart of the collaborative process and this is what excites me about collaborative work. Collaboration isn’t about good or bad, it isn’t even necessarily about hard work; it’s about bringing individuals together and allowing each of them to bring something unique to the process.

Opening myself up during the creation stage has allowed me to grow a great deal as an artist. It has helped me embrace my own quirks and find validation in what makes me unique as opposed to how I measure up against others.

Audrey Stanley Photo by Shane Velazquez

Audrey Stanley
Photo by Shane Velazquez

One the most fruitful collaborators with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working is my long time dancer, Audrey Stanley. Audrey is a beautiful dancer, but one of the things that make her most valuable to my work is her willingness to engage in the process. Sometimes, that means trying something crazy, sometimes it means saying no, sometimes it means suggesting something different, sometimes it means talking through ideas and flushing out concepts; whatever the direction, she is always present and contributing. What draws me to Audrey is the way her willingness has allowed her to grow as a dancer, not only through my work, but with the countless other artists she works with in New York. I consider myself very lucky to have her on board with E.D.E., and I hope you will get an opportunity to see her in our upcoming performances at the Montreal Fringe.

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