Teaching Designer Collaboration

Another great session I attended at conference was Risking Innovation in Collaboration: Teaching the Vital Art Form of Designer Collaboration. Special thanks to the following professors who made this session happen: Sarah Martin and Sara Nelson of Adelphi University, Ethan Krupp of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Kim Axline of the University of Denver, Robert Gander of the University of Nevada-Reno, Cynthia Turnbull of Denison University, and Laura Tesman of Brooklyn College.

I was really glad to have the opportunity to go to this session because I am currently planning for my VERY FIRST Adjunct teaching position at a community college for an Intro to Theatre course, for which there will be a design component. Certainly I have vague recollections of my own college level Intro class, and of some required design courses I took. (Plus, I’m a pack rat so I bet if I looked hard enough I could find those syllabi somewhere.) But I really hope to step out of my comfort zone with this new experience, so I was eager for some new ideas and resources.

Some Use-Tomorrow Activities I Got From This Session:

  • THE COMMUNICATION EXERCISE: Divide the class into partners and give a simple stick drawing to one of the partners (Student A). Student A has to write a description of the drawing and then give the description (and not the drawing) to Student B. Student B is then asked to recreate the drawing using only Student A’s text as a guide. Then examine/compare the drawings that result as a group. Where does the interpretation go awry, and on whose part does clarity stray? Discuss how this happens with a simple stick drawing, and how much more challenging it would be to communicate clearly about the range of media involved in theatre production.
  • ROLE PLAY ACTIVITIES: Role play production meetings. Role play common collaborative disasters. Focus on getting directors to say, “This is the story I’m trying to tell. How will this design support that?” Focus on getting the designers to say “Tell me what the problem is in your scene and then I’ll bring you 3-4 solutions that might solve this problem.”

Other Important Bits of Wisdom From This Session:

  • Design Training may grow creative artists, and it may grow expert technicians. But if a designer doesn’t learn to navigate collaboration, business etiquette, and interpersonal challenges effectively that talent and ability may not get them far. Emerging designers really need to have practical experiences in theatre, particularly those where things may not go as planned. It occurs to me that many design classes require a project of some sort, it gets handed in, and a grade given. But in the course of a rehearsal process a costume or set piece might be changed, argued over, cut,  re-painted… Young designers would do well to learn to expect surprises as a part of the process, and emergent directors need to learn to empathize with designers as to how their expectations and communication style impact their work.
  • A lot has been written about the “Millenial Generation” recently and I think the issue of intergenerational misunderstanding is pervasive in all aspects of the professional world. More needs to be done to discuss how generational differences impact communication and working styles and what this means for teaching.

Question for the World: Any other great thoughts on working with designers and/or on teaching design, for any age level? Got a favorite exercise or collaboration tool?

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