It takes time

Online time has a different quality than real life time. Attention spans are shorter, and conversely some things, often technical things, take longer to do. Pauses can feel more awkward, and sometimes significant time is spent on resolving technical difficulties. It can also take more time to get to know people. That’s an important part of the process to acknowledge when you’re working with new collaborators. Development, rehearsal and production processes might need to stretch over longer periods of time. Presenting companies might need to set deadlines and schedules in atypical ways. Consider new structures of time that are different from the standards you’re used to. What are the possibilities of time and duration for your process?

Things to try on: tools, activities and resources

  • Practice patience

Relax into the likelihood that everyone has different technical aptitudes and sensory capacities. Acknowledge and be patient with the fact that attention limits and real life constraints will be different for everyone.

The more people that are in the digital room, the more you have to consider the timing. This is also affected by the different languages and cognitions in the room…it’s important to consider tempo. If it’s information sharing we can speak more in a normal tempo. If it’s information that people have heard three times already, or received in written form, this is more just a reminder, so we can speak more quickly, looking directly into the camera. If it’s something totally new, slow down and look directly in the camera. If it’s something where we’re moving more into the practice of the body, you can invite people to move away from their screen and listen to your voice. Maybe you start to slow down even more, metering your voice and moving into a flow of speech that takes them into an embodied experience.

— Andrea Nann

It’s exhausting. Way more exhausting than any kind of in person stuff we’ve done. That’s what really stands out for me. One hour of rehearsal on Zoom is like a six hour day. It really requires a different level of energy.

— Jordan Campbell

  • Work a shorter day. Consider extending your process.

Four hours seems like about the maximum at a time, for most people we’ve talked to. People often need a brief break after an hour. Try meeting less frequently, or more regularly. What could those structures look like?

  • Make time for productive conflict: I’ve made the mistake of not building in time for productive conflict in my artistic processes. To me, productive conflict includes check-ins when collaborators need to slow down, stop, and re-assess collaborative dynamics or re-assess goals as they shift. Now I ask myself: do I have enough space in my schedule to book time in case not everything goes to plan? — Maddie Bautista
  • Consider how you begin: When I do a first day now, I don’t even read the play anymore. After making sure that everybody’s clear about the HR policies and the anti harassment policies that are in place — and I actually try to dedicate time to this conversation to say “no, really, if you have a problem, are you really clear what the process is?” — after that I just spend the whole day now sitting down and asking people how they like to work. And I say, and again, I say: we just really need to get to know each other. I may think I know who you are, but I don’t; and I need to before we actually agree to step into the whole process of making something. I’ve realized that taking that time on the first day is really beneficial, before we all get really panicky about time. Then, because we’ve done that work, all of that stuff that we learned on the first day doesn’t come bubbling up in a negative kind of way later. I’m trying to create a foundation of circular communication, to the best of my ability, in terms of: all right, we’re all here. Who are you? How do you like to work? I wish I had taken this approach with earlier projects, before I barreled forward and then got into a snag in terms of artistic process. If I had just taken the time to better understand who the people in the room were as artists, I would have been able to navigate the process in a whole different way and everyone would have had a better experience. So now I’m just trying to change the status quo — and who determined what the status quo was anyway? A lot of it was marketing and a lot of it was administration saying: well, we have to get this done on the first day. And now I’m like, Nope. Not anymore. Not for me. — Jani Lauzon

When you know each other already, you’re kinda able to launch into an actor, director dynamic right away — to navigate the kind of weirdness of the remote medium, without having to learn what kind of note you can give to somebody, or learn how — especially with a writer, when the work is really emerging: what kind of feedback they actually want. Do they actually want me to say: “I think this is a bad idea, take it off the table?” Or do they want me to say: “tell me more about that idea.” How hands off do they want the co-dramaturgical voice to be? So I recognize that knowledge and trust in each other really helps. Now say if I had a cast of five people that I had never met. If I had to meet a brand new group of people, we would need a lot more time. Literally, I probably would want to do one-on-ones. I would probably just want to hang out with those individuals and literally talk about everything but theatre, right? Just to gauge a vibe, gauge an energy, all that important stuff. Right now I’m working with someone I know very well, and we already had that work under our belts. So what really helped was to have a producing company that was pretty hands off — to let us create our own model. We devised our own creation timetable. So we created a situation where we’re rehearsing 20 hours a week, because it was just one person show and the performer/ creator was like: “I can’t be online more than that, and I have to have time to write.” So we got to set our own trajectory of work, based on some deadlines the producing company had established, which was great. We had a lot of what one of my students, Heather Cant, calls artistic sovereignty. I feel like that was the bedrock of making.

— Christine Brubaker

Case Study: Kiinalik:
These Sharp Tools,
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory and Erin Brubacher

Taking time to build relationships is sometimes the only way to build material.

Re: Kiinalik: These Sharp Tools created by Evalyn Parry (writer/performer), Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (writer/performer), Erin Brubacher (director) and Elysha Poirier (live video), with Cris Derksen (live music). Design by Kaitlin Hickey and Rebecca Picherack.

Kiinalik was made by a group of new collaborators living in Iqaluit, Toronto and Montreal. Because of the obstacles to travel ($2000 /flight, and no roads between us, for starters), we knew we would have very limited time in a room together to make something. So, over an eight month period before the whole team met in Iqaluit, we crafted a process that would allow the co-writer/performers to develop a shared artistic vocabulary and creative trust. Through that process, we also generated materials that would find their way into the show we ultimately premiered in Toronto and later toured around Canada and the world. Here is how we began at a distance:

  • September- November 2016: lots of emails. Laakkuluk and Evalyn got a lot of prompts from Erin, both with the aim of generating material about what we were trying to explore (climate change, the north and the south, colonization, personal histories…) and also with the intention of coming to know each other, in order to be able to make something that would weave very personal histories and narratives. Images were pulled from each of Laakkuluk and Evalyn’s previous works on these subjects and served as prompts to go in new directions. Example:

What (‘sharp tools’) have you inherited? Set a timer for 5 minutes to start. Write down everything that you can think of that might go on a list of what you have inherited. Keep writing until the timer goes off. Then look at your list and categorize things you have inherited from your fathers, from your mothers, from your culture, from our collective culture… What don’t you feel you know what to do with? What do you feel is new to your here and now as compared to the inheritance of previous generations? What is a repeated condition? Go from there where you might go… 

  • November 2016- January 2017: weekly interview-conversations
    • First Laakkuluk and Evalyn sent Erin a list of questions they might ask each other and Erin crafted these into an interview script that they only received at the moment of the interview. We recorded this interview, which was a document that helped to generate more material, while the act of interviewing itself, guided a process of knowledge and experience sharing. Here are some of the questions Laakkuluk asked Evalyn:
      • Where do you find ease? Where do you find difficulty?
      • What are your favourite things to do in each season?
    • After this interview sequence, Laakkuluk and Evalyn met weekly to ask each other a new question. Their answers were recorded to be added to the chest of materials. The questions got more focussed on areas they were interested in exploring for the show as time went on. So they were continuing the work of getting to know each other alongside more focussed script development.
  • February-March 2017: call and response. Laakkuluk and Evalyn moved more into responding to each other’s work/ newly generated material. One would send the other a more resolved piece (a song, poem or audio/visual work) and then the other would answer by making a new piece that responded to that piece.
  • Between November and April, the three of us met semi-regularly to unpack the materials chest and discuss the materials that were being generated.

By the time the team met in Iqaluit, in April 2017, we had begun to develop relationships and had drafted material to try on its feet. While we had no real idea of what the show would be, we had lattices and scaffolding thanks to that durational process and time taken in advance. Now we needed less prompting. As our relationship evolved, the deep and hard conversations that were necessary for our show became second nature. We continued to have in-depth discussions, comparing and contrasting our experiences, asking more probing questions and feeling the weight of the subject matter: colonization, climate change, the intimacy of our stories and the enormity of trying to articulate all these things, in ways that were understandable to our northern and southern homes. We ended up stripping the aspect of time constraints away from our process at this point, and that is what allowed the spirit and power of the show to flow through: we went on a trip to Laakkuluk’s cabin, which has no electricity, running water, cell phone signal and only a honey bucket for a toilet. We went by skidoo over the sea ice and stayed there for several days, children and dogs running in and out, sunshine and moonshine hitting the snow covered hills in alternating sequences. The fresh air, the challenge of getting there and being there for people who were new to the Arctic, and the feeling of family revealed that our conversations, and our being together as whole artistic human beings, were the show itself. Once we came back into town and re-entered the measurement of time, we were able to build the show with a zest and vigour that was exciting for everyone. We would not have had Kiinalik without that timeless time to find grounding on the land.