Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creative Collaboration

Some of the Treehouse Shakers'  company backstage after Let's Talk About IT!, NYC  2010
Theater is about collaboration. So is dance. Having a dance and theater company means a lot of collaboration. Over the past thirteen years, Emily and I have created all of our eleven shows together. I write, she choreographs. I direct, she directs, sometimes both of us direct. At times she has written ideas, thoughts, and I have reworked those thoughts into the script. We have built on how we work over the years. Sometimes it has been hard, I don't always get to write the story I originally intended. With the choreography, she has to make the dancers look good, but also the actors. She has to weave dance into the script. I give suggestions about where I think the dance should play out between the words, woven within the rhythm of the speech. She may tell me she doesn't understand a character, or questions a structure. We talk it out. We are always trying to improve our working habits, our style, and our communication with each other. Our performance company has a lot of input in our creative process as well. They throw out ideas when we are building the piece. For all of our young audiences dance-plays, our amazing percussionist, Roderick Jackson, blends the art forms together. Perfectly communicating the writing, the movement, and the acting, through music. We meld what works. We created this process together, the way we work, the way we collaborate.

Mara and Emily at a Treehouse Shakers' Gathering, Brooklyn, 2008
In many ways Emily and I collaborate because we have similar reference points. When I was little I was surrounded by artists. Emily was too. My mother is a painter, I used to joke that as an only child of an artist, her canvases were my other siblings. Her friends were other artists. We went camping with musicians, on picnics with sculptors, dinners with writers. My father, a pipe fitter by day, is a notorious storyteller. He can turn any incident into a tale that is captivating, interesting, and mesmerizing. He used to dabble in acting at the community playhouses. Emily's dad is a sculptor, and her grandmother was a modern dancer, she danced in NYC. Her great-aunt Susie was a painter. Susie was my mother's mentor, and in many ways my surrogate grandmother. Emily and I were raised to live creative lives.
Mara and Emily NYC, 2002 The year we premiered "Outside of Kissing Rock." about our lives growing up in Wyoming.
As Treehouse Shakers grows, changes, expands, explores our boundaries, so will our collaboration process. I am positive we won't be the only collaborators in the Treehouse Shakers of the future. Recently, I have been meditating on how to expand our creative process. Change directions with the company, slightly. Build a company that can sustain without us controlling every string. Perhaps we will bring in a new choreographer, a new director, take submissions for scripts. No matter what changes we implement, I will always want to be a part of the creative process. I see the collaboration as my paintings. My children. I don't want to give this making part, up. I love it too much. It is my breath. After all I was raised to create. I would be going against my own nature if I didn't write, dream, make, collaborate.


  1. First - the pic from 02 is just so stinkin cool. You guys just look like cool performing artists ;)

    Two, I completely agree with the idea of experimenting with collaborators, of taking some of the burden off ourselves eventually but still being involved. I think it's natural to want that but also a smart way to grow a company. I encourage my hubby to explore collaborations and thus far, they are too controlling about certain aspects of their business. I always say - how do you expect to grow? The business and ultimately, oneself.

  2. Ah, this reminds me of one of my favorite projects that I worked on at Playhouse Square. We workshopped Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" with The American Place Theatre...and Tim O'Brien. It was an amazing weekend and one that I feel so fortunate to have been a part of. The project was an actual collaboration - Things I said were included in the final result. It was a really cool experience and definitely one of the most creative things I have ever gotten to do in my professional career. Thanks for reminding me about creative collaboration!

  3. I still remember seeing Outside Kissing Rock in NYC. As I've both matured and struggled creatively, the value of that piece - its skill and sensitivity in telling how two lives intersected with that place - continues to grow in my memory.